NEWPORT, N.C. – The smell of slow-cooked Southern barbecue lingered in the air at the Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest on Saturday.
And while the smell was pleasant, the competition was fierce.
“There’s a lot of people cooking and some of the best in North Carolina," said contestant Arthur Williams of Washington, N.C.
But with his 40 years in the pig cooking business, Williams was confident he had a chance at the top title.
“I’ve got a very good hog today, I think. But, you never know, it’s up to three judges, so we’ll have to see,” said Williams.
He was one of 80 hog cookers competing for a chance to head to Raleigh in September for the state championship.
For more than a decade, front runner and past state champion Chris Garner has joined his family cooking in the contest.
“We make sure we do this every year,” said Garner.
And following in tradition, he was a judge favorite yet again this year.
“I always hope to place in the top ten, that’s my goal every year. And there’s a bunch of good hogs, a bunch of good cooks, so anybody can win,” said Garner.
And while it was smooth cooking for some contestants, others had to work to get their pigs cooking.
"We had problems. We went through five regulators last night," said Leslie Keel.
But neighboring contenders were quick to jump in and help get the husband and wife duo back on track.
"Now that it's over, it's a big relief. He's really excited and really happy because so many people have commented on the taste and everything and the sauce. And even one of the judges came back for seconds, so that's always a good sign," said Keel.
Though the contest was challenging, the cooks agreed it is all about having fun and eating some good old fashioned Southern barbecue.