0306 Pigmasters

Pictured are Creekside Smokers Joel Abee (right) and his wife, Renee. Joel Abee is the organizer of this weekend's Pigmaster's Challenge in Rutherford College.

RUTHERFORD COLLEGE — The smell of smoked meat and the air of competition will settle in the town of Rutherford College this weekend.

That’s when the Pigmaster’s Challenge invades the property at Town Hall with a dessert competition at 6 p.m. on Friday followed by the barbecue title fight on Saturday. The event is sponsored by Rutherford College-based South Mountain Distilling Company.

Competitors from three states — North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia — who belong to the Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioning body will converge on the town for the competition. For these pigmasters, the event will serve as a kind of preseason exhibition cooking chicken, ribs, pork and brisket.

“It is not sanctioned by the KCBS, but we use KCBS rules and judges,” said Joel Abee, the event’s organizer and a competitor with Hildebran-based Creekside Smokers. “What’s different about this event and normal KCBS events is that the normal events are blind judged. Meaning we’re assigned a number on the box we turn in on meat. In other words, the judges judge it without knowing whose box it is.

“This event is designed to assist the cook teams in preseason to improve their cooks and their scores. So, the judges will actually judge the turn-in boxes in front of the pitmasters. That’s what makes this event different.”

Abee said KCBS competitors are judged on three categories — appearance, taste and tenderness. Points are awarded for each event and standings kept in a system similar to NASCAR. With the kind of judging the Rutherford College event will have, competitors will be able to learn firsthand in what ways they need to improve or fix mistakes — or what they’re doing right.

On Saturday, chicken turn-in will be at 11 a.m., ribs will be turned in at noon, pork at 1 p.m. and brisket at 2 p.m. Folks who come to the event can see what the competitive barbecue arena is like and talk to the teams about their creations.

“In KCBS, folks who visit can walk around and actually see what’s going on, but it’s prohibited for the cook teams to be able to sell any of their products to the public,” Abee said. “Because this one’s new, we have limited the number of teams to 12. There will be 12 teams set up from three states and there will be 12 judges on Saturday, along with the other volunteers who help get the boxes to the tables and help with the scoring.

“As far as the public’s concerned, they can walk around the outside, look at the cook teams, look at their equipment, see what’s going on and ask questions. As far as coming inside during the judging, they won’t be able to do that.”

Abee said Friday’s dessert competition is open to the public. Selections have to contain a distilled alcohol like moonshine or whiskey as a nod to South Mountain Distilling.

Creekside Smokers consists of Abee, his wife Renee and Hank, a Boston terrier dog. The team has been competing and catering — staying “extremely busy” — for three years since the couple retired. Abee describes competing as a hobby, but that includes participating in 10-12 events each year. They will kick off their regular season in Lexington at the Capital Cook-Off in April and conclude in November at the Polar Pig in Concord.

Abee said competing in these events is about a passion to cook better barbecue — and please judges whose palates are finely attuned to savory and sweet elements — than the next team. Many people have seen similar competitions on television, he said, and that sparks the urge to compete themselves. This event is about bringing that passion and spirit of competition to the local area.

“This is my event and my idea,” Abee said. “I participated in one last year in eastern North Carolina that we actually won. In this particular event, as far as winning, it’s just a score. There’s going to be minimal prize — we call it gas money. The winning team gets $100 and a very nice apron that says ‘Grand Champion’ from South Mountain Distilling. The reserve grand will get $50 and an apron, and the dessert winner will get $50 and an apron.

“This is all about helping barbecue. We’ve got judges also from three states coming, and they volunteer their time. They judge across the United States, just like we compete. The judges are trained. They must attend a class from KBCS, and then they’re awarded their certificate to be able to judge.”

With any luck this will be the first of many Pigmaster’s Challenges in Rutherford College. The town itself is enthusiastic about that idea, he said.

“This event could turn into something on a yearly basis and could actually grow into a sanctioned KCBS event,” Abee said, noting that all the town’s officials will be in attendance and adjudicate the dessert competition. “The town of Rutherford College — all the town officials, the mayor and everyone — is pretty eager to see how things go.”

Justin Epley can be reached at jepley@morganton.com or 828-432-8943.

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