I get a call the other day asking if I would judge a barbeque cook-off at a Low Country festival in the fall.  As I’m getting the specifics on the event the guy asked me if I’m “certified.”  Well, I’m certifiably a lot of things but not a barbeque judge, so I tell him so.

This conversation leads to a series of events that has landed me with an invitation to attend barbeque judging certification school.

Having grown up in rural South Carolina, I’ve had a good bit of exposure to barbequing hogs.  It’s always tickled me a bit to see suburbia with their “pig pickins” wherein a cutie pie in an SUV goes to the butcher to get a fully cleaned and dressed half hog, takes it home and a bunch of guys in khaki shorts drink light beer for eight hours while the thing cooks on some high-fangled barbeque pit that cost a fortune and will never be used again.  Then cutie-pie goes to a local barbeque restaurant to buy hash, rice and coleslaw and they all think they’ve done something.  Pssh-ahh (that’s a sound Nanny Richburg used to make that can be closely translated to: whatever, as if, or pu-lease).

A hog is a vicious creature.  If I ever needed to get rid of a body, I’d head straight to a hog farm.  And if you’re ever stuck with filling up the feeder anywhere near a mama sow, you better be able to do two things: 1) move quickly with a 100-lb. feed sack on your shoulder and 2) jump a fence.

Not to say that you have to get bloody and bruised to cook good barbeque but my memories and experience of barbequing a hog are a little different and when it was over and done with and everyone sat down to eat, they could by-God say they’d done something.

My Uncle Earl raised hogs.  I can remember going over the evening before the feast for the men to slaughter and bleed the hog.  Then barrels of water were set to boil over huge fires.  The hogs were blanched in the boiling water to somewhat clean the skin but more so to soften the hide so the hair could be scraped off.  A few select cuts were taken to the smoke house to cure and the innards were taken to the house so the women could start the hash.

And let me go on the record with this: I don’t eat hash.  I’ve seen it made too many times and there’s nothing like seeing an eyeball roll up on a hard boil to put you off of eating something.  My friend Greg Lucas put it perfectly in a Facebook discussion the other day:

“Most of the hash you get at bbq joints consists of boston butt and beef cooked into submission then put through a grinder and mixed up with sauce. Y’all should give it a try, but if your daddy and a bunch of his drunk friends made it… well there’s prolly gonna be nuts and guts in it!”

The next variant would be sauce.  And we all have an opinion about sauce.   I grew up eating mustard based sauce.  In fact, I was in my teens before I even realized there was any other kind.  The older I get, the more I’m leaning toward the Kansas City red camp.  One of the things that sold me on attending the barbeque school is their focus on sauce.   Per the information I’ve received from them, “South Carolinians are naturally good judges of barbeque because only South Carolina, of all the nation’s states, regularly cooks and serves all four types of barbeque – light tomato-base, vinegar and pepper, mustard-based and tomato-based.”

So wish me luck.  By mid-July, I shall be an official Certified South Carolina Barbeque Judge and I’ll let you know what I take away from it.  I’m hoping that with my love of cooking, rural roots and appreciation of the process I will come away from this knowing a few more things about good barbeque!

I’m still not eating hash.

Mandy Richburg Rivers

Mandy Richburg Rivers

Mandy lives in Lexington, South Carolina, is a contributing writer for the Food & Drink section and is currently working on her first cookbook. Mandy is an award winning recipe writer and judges regional cook-offs and other culinary contests.

“I'm just a gal that likes food. Of course I like to eat, but what I've discovered about myself over the years is that there are more ways for me to enjoy food than just eating it. I like to shop for it, read about it, cook it, entertain with it and write about it. And when it's really good, sometimes I'm tempted to throw it on the floor and roll in it."