What started as a pig roast among friends has grown into a barbecue and roasting competition drawing teams from across the country. Hogs for the Cause also features bands including Shovels & Rope and Greensky Bluegrass this year, and attracts thousands of attendees to the two-day event at New Orleans City Park's Festival Grounds.
"Judging a barbecue competition should be on everybody's bucket list," says co-founder Becker Hall. "The camaraderie is great."
The event fills the festival grounds with teams who roast pigs overnight for judging Saturday. There's also plenty of barbecue and music Friday night, and teams raise funds for the nonprofit event's cause: supporting families with children fighting pediatric brain cancer.
Teams set up cooking equipment and vending booths, or tents and more elaborate stations with couches or entertainment — a snake handler entertained at the Porque du Soleil tent last year. Many competitors have clever names, such as Aporkalypse Now (see page 95), Piggy Stardust, Deuce Pigelo Pork Gigolo and the all-women group, Sweet Swine O' Mine. Hall estimates three-quarters of this year's 95 teams are local. The rest come from Florida to California and many compete regularly in barbecue competitions. Hall and cofounder Rene Louapre looked to top festivals like Memphis in May's barbecue competition as they developed Hogs.
Teams compete in the main categories of whole hog, ribs, pork shoulder or butt and Porkpourri, a category for creative pork dishes. There also are awards for best sauce, best booth, fan favorite and top fundraiser (Fleur De Que raised more than $130,000 in 2015). Two new categories are debuting this year, including one for side dishes. The festival also holds an Italian wedding-themed dinner organized by the Link Restaurant Group with cocktails from Cure, Bellocq and Cane & Table Thursday at Popp Fountain in City Park.
To add to the festival draw, Hogs has beefed up the musical booking on its two stages. Friday features Shovels and Rope, South Carolina's husband and wife folk duo of Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst, and North Carolina alternative country band American Aquarium. Ivan Neville's funk band Dragon Smoke, jam band Twiddle and Nashville's Great Peacock also perform. Michigan's jamming contemporary bluegrass band Greensky Bluegrass and Americana-influenced indie rockers Deer Tick headline on Saturday. Saturday also features Tab Benoit, Kristin Diable, Sweet Crude, Big Sam's Funky Nation and The Deslondes.
Admission is $25 per day, and there are VIP packages, such as the Boss Hog pass, which includes access to special bar areas and allows for re-entry to the grounds. Barbecue items generally are sold in small portion sizes that make it easy for attendees to sample many.
Hogs for the Cause distributed $545,000 in 2015 and $310,000 in 2014, Becker says. Money goes to families of children with pediatric brain cancer, and after annual grants are distributed, Hogs donates funds to cancer treatment facilities. In September 2015, Hogs donated $60,000 to Ochsner Hospital for Children for two patient rooms for bone marrow transplants.
"Most people think they have 18 years to save for college," Hall says. "Never do you think my kid's going to be affected by cancer. It's devastating, but it shouldn't be devastating financially too."
Attendees may notice the grant-recipient families at Hogs. Many wear gold bracelets and are guests of individual teams.