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ONDBEAT: In smokin’ N.C., competitive cookers barbecue their pork and verbs

On my “gallery” wall, aka non-soundproof room divider here in the Beacon newsroom to fend off fall football talk among certain armchair-quarterback colleagues (P.S.: It’s not working), a little red pamphlet from the North Carolina Pork Council has been tacked up for a long time.

The large letters on the front of it spell out, simply, bar-be-Q.

The description for bar-be-cue below it states it’s a noun or a verb. The first definition for it is “the premiere ethnic food of North Carolina,” followed by 2. pig pickin’; 3. catalyst for great debate; 4. a method of cooking; 5. pig as culinary art; 6. a culinary rite; and 7. all of the above.

In North Carolina, everyone knows or is supposed to know barbecue is a verb. They should also be educated on the proper ways and flavors to barbecue, or they may just suspiciously be from somewhere else.

That’s what happened the time years ago when, after moving to the Carolinas, I told my Tennessee mom I’d just been invited to a pig pickin’ in Farmville up the way in Pitt County.

“A pig pen?!” she exclaimed via long-distance phone.

Yes, people eat roasted pork in the Volunteer State (think Memphis), just not so much in the form of a fully cooked pig. They also tend to have outdoor barbecues — the noun form, that is — that don’t involve porky pig at all. That’s pretty much a pork profanation here in the Carolinas.

This is the time of year when we learn just how true “to barbecue” (verb) really is on this side of the BBQ fence.

I was reminded of this as I covered my first Bikes, Boots & BBQ event this past Saturday in Belville Park in northern Brunswick County, where competitors were stirring up some smokin’ hot pig event-goers could sample for just $1 per ticket.

It was obvious these teams, proudly bearing hot smokin’ names like Port City Smokers, Smokin’ Sycamores and Primitive Instinct Smokers, barbecue with the most serious of intentions and competition intent on winning acclaim and maybe even a big pig trophy.

Mostly, I think they just enjoy the camaraderie and cooking up yet another overnight mess of savory culinary pig-and-sauce to please the palates of BBQ aficionados, most of whom are definitely appreciative connoisseurs.

Then there are the unending regional debates and preferences about the proper Carolina pork sauces: sweet, sour, hot, spicy or salty?

The Smokin’ Sycamores team, which won last Saturday’s People’s Choice award at the fourth annual event, posted their educational options: Carolina Sauce (“eastern style” vinegar sauce); House Sauce (“sweet and tangy”); Bourbon Sauce (self-explanatory) and Fire Sauce (“K.C. style with a lot of heat”).

From my current home-base South Carolina side of the BBQ border debate, I’ve developed a preference for mustard-based sauce, aka “Columbia gold,” which is non-existent and unheard of in vinegar- and catsup-doused N.C., where I hope I don’t get run out of state.

When it comes to Carolina pork, like Carolina politics, sometimes it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself.

I hope I didn’t just barbecue myself out of a future pig pickin’ invitation.

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.