It seems you can’t swing a dead hog without hitting some sort of barbecue festival or competition in the South, but Hogs for the Cause held March 27-28, 2015 in New Orleans was definitely a pig of a different color. In just its seventh year, organizers Becker Hall and Rene Louapre have grown this massive party into a premier source of funding for pediatric cancer research. Here are some of the elements that really make this event stand out from the rest of the pig pen:
- First and foremost, it’s held in New Orleans. The residents of the Big Easy (Pig Easy?) really know how to throw and attend a festival. From Mardi Gras to Jazz Fest to French Quarter Fest and New Orleans Food and Wine Experience, all you have to do is put some chainlink fence around a field and New Orleanians will show up en masse wearing comfortable shoes and a beer coozie tucked in the back pocket of their shorts. Hogs for the Cause was no exception with thousands of attendees packed into City Park for a weekend of music, food, and fun.
- Music is definitely a big part of Hogs. Unlike other food festivals where the entertainment is an afterthought, at Hogs for the Cause, two large stages feature a constant stream of excellent local bands. The majority of them have some connotation of the words “funk,” “phunk” or “funky” in their name, and that’s a good thing.
- Although Hogs is ostensibly a competitive event, it’s not your traditional barbecue competition with categories like best ribs, pork shoulder, or brisket. While the organizers do award trophies for on-site cooking, the real prize is for the team that raises the most money for the cause. Teams conduct their own individual fundraisers before the actual weekend of the event and then augment that total by contributing their proceeds from food sales during the event.
- You can actually eat the food that the competitors are cooking. Unlike most barbecue competitions where—unless you’re on a cook team or friends with a pitmaster—you’re pretty much resigned to eating carnival food from a vendor’s trailer, at Hogs the teams sell samples of their meats all day Saturday to help augment their contribution totals. Each team presents a special bite in the “Porkpourri” category, and that’s the first one to ask for at each tent.
- Some teams throw special parties on Friday night where you can give a donation ($10-20) to the charity and party like a team member with unlimited food and drink. If you’ve ever wanted to see what it’s like to partake in the social aspects of competitive cooking, this is definitely the way to go. Especially popular are crawfish boils and fried fish suppers, because after all this is a Friday during Lent in the Catholic-heavy city of New Orleans.
- Backyard pitmasters compete with and against cooks ranging from noted pitmasters to fine dining chefs. Yes, that was the reigning James Beard award winner for Best Chef: South Ryan Prewitt of Peche in New Orleans wearing a tank top and sweat bands manning the fire for the Pig Slayers team. And having a helluva good time doing it!
- Volunteers whip up more than 10,000 jello shots for sale to attendees, guaranteeing a festive festival. Booze+Bacon=Awesome.
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