• Richard Murff

Republic of Swine

It is a cloudy Saturday morning - about 7 a.m. The Memphis sun is up and the greasy smoke of some 300 charcoal and wood fires — from patio grills to whole-hog cookers — hangs in the air. The night, for some, isn't over.

“Dude, I’m fine! I only need 15 minutes!” The former team captain  trades  his cocktail for a Coke and takes off his hat.

Billy laughs at his teammate - they’ve been tending the hog since yesterday afternoon, the marathon end to a long week. He’s heard all this before. “Fifteen minutes! You need 10 hours. Where’re your keys?”

The team called Barbeque Republic arrived on the banks of the Mississippi River six days ago with a whole hog smoker and a trailer packed with a portable kitchen, a stereo, a big dead pig and enough booze to stock a bar for a week. Now there is three days of rain-soaked, booze-fueled mayhem to be hosed out of the two-story bamboo fort before the judges arrive. There is, however, another problem. We’ll call him Tom: He’s a big dude - 6”4’ and heavyset – and all of him is passed clean out. The team hoists him into the mostly empty trailer and, fearing that he will come to during the Presentation, lock it. Which Tom does three hours later. The team, now delirious, tries not to laugh as the trapped man’s rapping starts. The judge’s thoughts are unrecorded.

Later that afternoon I ask Billy how he’s managed to maintain all this time. He looks at me with a fine, relaxed grin and says, “Ya know, I try to keep it at a level 65 percent. You go much more than that and you hockey-stick … then you crash.” Undeniably good advice under the circumstances: This is the Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Competition, the Super Bowl of Pork.

This is where good pigs go when they die.

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