Judging the pork

Charlie Martin of Greenville, left, judges a cooked pig Saturday during the 41st annual Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest at Newport Community Park. (Dylan Ray photo)

NEWPORT — Chris Fineran of Little River, S.C. has again won first place in the 41st Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest, taking home the $1,000 cash prize.

This marks the third year Mr. Fineran has won. He first competed in 2016, when he took first place, and won a second time in 2017.

Brooke South of Newport took second place this year, winning a $500 cash prize, while 14-year-old Casey Fields, also of Newport, took third place and a $400 cash prize.

Mr. Fineran was pleased and excited to have won again.

“We’ve been here four times and won three of the four,” he said. “We’re ‘Beach Boys Barbecue.’ We’re a two-time N.C. State champion and a three-time Pit Master of the Year (by the N.C. Pork Council).”

One thing that makes this year’s contest stand out is contest organizers expect to break $1 million dollars raised. Local charities and organizations help run the contest each year, and the revenue generated goes to those groups.

Mr. Fineran said he’s proud to be a part of a contest that shows so much local support.

“This is a community that most communities should want to model themselves after,” he said, “to raise this much money for local charities.”  

This year’s pig cooking contest started out with cloudy skies and a bit of rain Friday, though most of it passed by Newport. During the opening ceremonies, Contest President Jim Bristle said this year’s contest was dedicated to Charles Hill, a contest managing board member who died this year. Saturday, the day started out overcast, but that didn’t stop visitors from turning out for the barbecue plates, rides and live music.

One of North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District candidates, Dr. Greg Murphy of Greenville made an appearance Saturday morning. It was his first visit to the contest.

“We’re coming down to enjoy the festivities and meet the people of Newport,” he said. “It sounds like it’s a perfect example of how communities come together to enjoy fellowship and support worthy causes.”  

This year, 68 cooks signed up to compete, according to Mr. Bristle. Among them was Edgar Hargis of Burlington, who’s competed in the contest since the 1990s.

“I think the highest I’ve placed is fourth,” Mr. Hargis said. “I got interested in pig cooking, did some local cooking and then got into competing. I’m proud to be a part of the contest; I think it’s great they’ve been able to keep going this long.”

Also returning this year was longtime cook and sponsor Smokey Colwell of Newport. Formerly from Havelock, Mr. Colwell has competed in every contest since its start in 1978.

“I hope we (his team) get a good pig this year,” Mr. Colwell said. “We should do better than last year. I don’t remember what we placed (in 2018); if it wasn’t in the top 10, I don’t care.”

This year, Mr. Colwell said he’d try a different strategy, cooking his pig a bit longer on the ribs-down side.

Mr. Colwell said one of the reasons he keeps competing is for the support the contest gives to local charities and organizations, such as the Newport Fire Department.

“I think a lot of the cooks feel that same way I do,” he said.

Second-place winner Brooke South, lead cook for the “Purdy in Pink” team, said she’s competed in the contest for about 15 years.

“We live in Newport,” she said. “All these people (the contestants) are family friends. It’s a good time while being able to give back.”

Ms. South said she thinks the support the contest gives to the community is “fabulous.” Cook Danny Woodring of Belhaven seemed to agree; he and his wife, Cheryl, make up the “Down East BBQ Boys” team.

Mr. Woodring said this is their second time competing.

We probably finished about 40th last year,” Mr. Woodring said. “We’re doing a lot better this year. We decided to jump into this (competitive pig cooking) with both feet. It’s been a learning process. This is an important contest to us because of our local sponsor, and overall it’s a very well-run competition.”

This year, Mr. Woodring said they’re using specific types of wood for their grill.

“We cook on wood,” Mr. Woodring said. “We’re using a mix of maple for flavor and oak for heat. One of the biggest things that hurt us (the score) in the past was our skin crispness. We’ve worked on that.”

Mr. Woodring said he thinks the support the contest gives the local community is “awesome.”

“Anything the American Pork Council is involved in, the money goes back to local charities,” he said. “My wife and I, we support our local emergency responders and our church. We’re eastern North Carolina children, and that’s where we want the money to stay.”

Friday and Saturday, visitors came out, some from as far away as Pennsylvania. Ashlie Canale was there with her husband, Eric, and their 7-month-old son, Braxton.

Ms. Canale said they live just outside of Pittsburgh. The Canales are in Carteret County while her husband helps with repairs from the damage from Hurricane Florence in September 2018.

“This is our first time (at the pig cooking contest),” Ms. Canale said. “It’s neat, it’s very nice for the community.”

Ms. Canale was very impressed by the amount of support the contest gives the local charities and organizations, saying it’s “amazing” that they’re likely to break the $1 million mark this year.

“This community is very sweet,” she said. “I think all towns should take a page from Newport.”

Another family of first-time visitors to the contests was the Lucketts. Jason Luckett was at the contest with his wife, Elizabeth, their 7-year-old daughter, Emily, and their 11-year-old son, William.

Mr. Luckett said they’d moved to Newport about three years ago from Dare County. He often has to work weekends, but came this year since he had the weekend off and they’d heard about it through their son’s Boy Scout troop.

“It’s pretty cool,” Mr. Luckett said. “It looks like there’s a big turnout (this year). We’re just getting going, but the smells are great and the people seem really happy.”

The volunteers seemed pleased, too. Crystal Coast Habitat for Humanity representative Tammy Blizzard said she’s volunteered for about 10 years.

“We have a group that will be running the funnel cakes (this year),” Ms. Blizzard said. “When it’s the pig cooking, you can count on a weather anomaly, but we’ve got some dedicated people who come out here very year. They’re just phenomenal.”

Ms. Blizzard said all the nonprofits that volunteer with the contest are worthy causes.

“They all deserve the funds (they receive),” she said. “One of my favorite groups is the Broad Street Clinic; they’ll bring about 20 people. It’s team building for them.”

Newport Middle School Athletic Boosters representative Chris Germain said this year was his first time volunteering.

“Last night’s ribs were wonderful,” he said, referring to the food provided by local restaurant Fat Fellas BBQ on Friday. “And they have a great team today (Saturday). I know our club is really appreciative of this. We’re really exciting about the possibility of helping our boosters with uniforms or equipment for athletic events.”

Newport Rotary representative Maher Saikali said he’s volunteered at the contest for about four or five years. He had previously been a contestant in the contest, but he said it became a bit too much for him to handle.

Mr. Saikali said the camaraderie and giving back to the community keeps him volunteering at the contest.

“I think this is one of the best ‘little’ contests,” he said. “We can’t compare to big contests, like the fishing contests in Morehead City, but for a town this size, it’s great.”  

Newport Councilman Mark Eadie, who sponsored a cook in this year’s contest, agreed.

 “Everybody’s spirits seem high this year,” he said. “The volunteers, the town staff, their spirit is a reflection of the town. We overcame adversity with the hurricane, and this (contest) is a reflection of that.”

Mr. Eadie said he thinks the $1 million milestone likely being passed this year is another reflection of the character of Newport.

“The folks who started this – those who are still with us and those who’ve moved on – I think they’re very proud,” he said. “I think there’s an emphasis on supporting local charities (in Newport). People like to help in a way that helps their neighbors.”

Mayor Dennis Barber also seemed confident the contest will pass its $1 million mark.

“We were blessed by the weather and a big turnout last night (Friday),” he said. “It looks like today (Saturday) is going to be a success as well. I’m so grateful for all the people and organizations that turn out for Newport. We’re so grateful to the charities that come out. They’re part of what makes this (contest) a success.”

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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