A Test of Limits

It started beautifully. I sat down at a judges’ table at Hogs for the Cause on Saturday and had a rib in my hand in moments. I discovered that it is possible to have oversmoked ribs, but I had numerous ribs that earned B’s that I would happily buy once a month and rave about. We really wanted to give love to a non-standard approach to the rib, but the non-standard approaches didn’t work, and one was actually unpleasant. Despite trying to be good and save ourselves for the task at hand, we cleaned up one of the A entries when Grand Isle and Sucre’s Joel Dondis brought its leftovers back to the table when rib judging was done. It was such a good experience that many of us decided we’d come back to help judge “porkpourri” – the more eccentric entries in the Hogs’ pork-cook-off.

While visiting friends, they told me that someone had made a pork belly corn dog—the sort of genius idea I was hoping for. When I returned to judging, I told Dondis and Sucre’s Tarriq Hanna about this and told them to keep an eye for it since we were seated at different tables.

Porkpourri turned out to be harder. Much of what we had was well-executed—a killer open-faced bacon and egg sandwich, a couple of fine roulades—but we didn’t see much pork belly corndog-level of inspiration. Someone nailed a jambalaya, but jambalaya—really? You want to show off your pork-cooking prowess and you come with jambalaya?

Hogs for the Cause 2011 New Orleans

As B- and C+ dishes cycled through, the bloat that accompanied sampling 30 or more dishes set in. Maybe it would have set in anyway, but when Dondis and Hanna’s table got the corn dogs, our table deflated. (And they were good, with a little honey mustard to give the dish a surprising note). By the end of judging, we were a mess—sluggish, pork-stupid and sad that no one blew our minds.

The power of pork, though, is that as stuffed as I was and as punchy as I was, when one team brought in its whole hog on a platter of chain-link fence, I stopped and wondered, “Can I…?”

At the other side of the judges’ enclosure, Hogs for the Cause was just getting into second gear. Honey Island Swamp Band was finishing up and, as I went to my car, people continued to flood in. And as sad as I was to discover that there’s a limit as to how much pork-related product I can eat, I officially announce that I’m available for judging next year.