For those of you still living in the past–as past when Hillsborough Hog Day took place in late June–remember that the event moved to May as of last year… and will be held THIS weekend. The festivities kick off Friday night in suddenly almost-hip historic downtown Hillsborough, and the main shindig is on Saturday. Visit the website for details: http://hillsboroughchamber.com/hog-day/. Sure, the food is a bunch of mediocre, primarily gas-cooked swine, but it’s damn fun anyway so check it out. And don’t feel too bad if you pass on the BBQ sandwiches in favor of a giant turkey leg, gyro or other carnival food staple… or if you want some real, wood-cooked BBQ then make a short side trip to the Hillsborough BBQ Company just a few blocks west of the festival.
Hillsborough Hog Day, the classic barbecue festival, cook-off and cultural event, moves up a month from past years in order to beat the heat. The 29th annual event is held in River Park behind the courthouse and features live music, other entertainment, arts and crafts, and lots of chopped pork. I’ll be dropping by bright and early on Saturday morning to help judge the pork shoulder cooking competition, so I’m looking forward to partaking in some breakfast barbecue. I hope you’ll come out later on in the day to take in the festitivies, as it’s always a well run event and in the past the hot June weather has been my only complaint! While you are in Hillsborough, be sure to check out the new Hillsborough BBQ Company.
A few dozen miles east of Hillsborough in Raleigh this weekend is the sixth annual Carolina Pig Jig, which will be held at the state fairgrounds as part of the Got to Be NC Festival (meaning, there will surely be an appearance by the giant shopping cart–you’ll see what I mean if you don’t know already). The Pig Jig is a cooking competition organized by Raleigh Masonic Lodge #500 as a benefit for area children’s homes.
236 South Nash Street, Hillsborough, NC
Hours: Tue-Sat 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fri&Sat), closed Sun&Mon
BBQ Jew’s Grade: B+
Porky Says: “Unconventionally traditional barbecue.”
As of this moment, the Hillsborough BBQ Company is the newest barbecue restaurant in North Carolina, as far as I know (of course, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit may open three new franchises before I finish this sentence). It’s obvious from the vintage black and white barbecue pictures on the Hillsborough BBQ Company’s website that the owners of the newly opened joint respect the state’s BBQ tradition. And it is obvious from the simple fact that the joint has a website, and a fairly slick one at that, that the Hillsborough BBQ Company is not afraid of breaking from tradition. More to the point, Hillsborough BBQ Company shows its dedication to tradition by cooking whole hog Eastern-style barbecue over wood coals in a real pit. Yet unlike the few dozen other BBQ joints in NC that still use a wood pit, Hillsborough BBQ Company cooks much more than just pork.
Although hand-chopped pork barbecue is featured on the menu, diners may also order the following meats: beef brisket, pork ribs, chicken and turkey. The rest of the menu is similarly diverse: NC staples like hush puppies, slaw (white and red), okra and banana pudding; and non-traditional NC dishes like a wedge salad with pork skins and keylime pie. But the Hillsborough BBQ Company is definitely not trying to be all things to all people: the menu remains focused around barbecued meats and dishes that go well with them. The well-stocked bar–featuring draft beers, cocktails, and “vino”–is really the only jarring element of the BBQ Company from a barbecue traditionalist’s perspective. And since I am no teetotaller, I am willing to accept a bar as a nice addition to a barbecue joint.
Judging the Food
To be honest, it is much more difficult for me to review a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company, where the menu goes far beyond chopped pork, than it is for me to judge more typical North Carolina ‘cue joints. First, my primary reviewing strategy of ordering the same basic meal–chopped pork, slaw and hush puppies–at each restaurant in order to compare apples to apples is unfair to a place like the Hillsborough BBQ Company. Clearly, they want to be more than a NC BBQ purveyor, so it’s not really fair to judge them on one visit without trying more of the menu. Second, I simply have less experience with brisket, ribs and the like and do not fully trust my palate to assess the finer points of these relatively foreign dishes. But the show must go on.
I ordered a 2-meat combo plate with chopped pork and sliced brisket, as well as collards and white slaw (red slaw is also offered, but since the joint refers to its barbecue as “Eastern-style whole hog” I stuck to the variety meant for the pairing). The brisket was somewhat overcooked, fall apart tender rather than a little give to it, but tasted good–heck, it’s brisket after all. I was not especially impressed with the sauce available for the brisket. It was too ketchupy and lacked the depth of flavor that exists in the best Texas and Kansas City style sauces. Still, brisket really needs no sauce so perhaps that critique is irrelevant. The white slaw and collards were both good but not exceptional. The slaw was slightly sweet, delicate and well chopped–slightly too much so for my taste–as Eastern NC slaw specimens typically are. The collards tasted fresh and were not cooked to limp death, but were tender. There was a bit of bitterness present but other that that no Continue reading
It’s been a busy week and I haven’t mustered the creativity to write a gag post for April Fool’s Day. Instead, I’m pleased to report that the Hillsborough BBQ Company anticipates an April
5th 7th opening. They promise to serve wood-fired, pit cooked barbecue so I’m eager to check them out. Have a good weekend and may your April be fool-free.
Breaking news out of historic Hillsborough, site of the annual Hillsborough Hog Day. One of the event’s organizers, Margaret Wood Cannell of the local Chamber of Commerce, wrote to share the following news:
“[W]e have changed the date of the 29th Annual Hillsborough Hog Day. We have historically held Hog Day on the third weekend in June, but the temperature on that day has risen an average of 7 degrees over the last 10 years. It’s just too danged hot. So, for the first time ever, we’re holding Hog Day on the third Saturday in May. The event will be held in River Park, right behind the Orange County Courthouse (exactly where it was last year) on Friday, May 20 from 6 to 9 pm and on Saturday, May 21 from 9 am to 6 pm.”
That is good news, IMHO, as I’ve sweat through far too many brutally hot Hog Days myself. When the temperature outside feels like the inside of a pig cooker it’s just plain too hot. Plus, I have always been surprised that one of the Elvis impersonators at Hog Day haven’t had a Presley-like heart attack on stage in the heat–sequined polyester jumpsuits are brutal, take my word for it.
On a related note, I’m behind on updating the BBQ festivals listing on this website but promise to do so fairly soon. Keep an eye on the Events tab at the top of the page…
The 28th annual Hillsborough Hog Day festival takes place tonight and tomorrow in historic Hillsborough, but I guess you figured that much out from the title of this post.
Hog Day is a fun, free event that I have been to many times over the years, and the 2010 version of the event promises to be better than ever with the addition of the Hog Day Invitational People’s Choice competition. Last year’s top finishers from the festival’s shoulder cooking competition will serve their barbecue (cooked fresh this year, let’s hope!) direct to attendees, who will then vote on who has the best ‘cue. This is an improvement over the usual festival format where only judges get to sample competitors’ pork before it is lumped together to serve to the public.
Other Hog Day attractions include live music, a car show, a pig calling contest, arts & crafts for sale, and copious amounts of BBQ sandwiches plus various carnival foods (giant turkey legs, gyros, etc. etc.).
Oh, and did I mention that this year’s event also features a beer garden featuring Durham-based Fullsteam Brewery’s beer? Get thee to Hog Day!