Thursday morning, pouring rain. Parallel to the Mississippi, a brown river rolls down the makeshift avenues between camps. Party Q’s dripping American flag has blown around its pole as two team members prep a stack of ribs that stands 8-racks deep. The ribs are intended for guests, not judges. Each team may enter as many of Friday’s ancillary competitions -- beef, poultry, seafood, and exotic (aka the “Anything But Pork” categories), plus tomato, mustard, and vinegar sauce -- as they want, but can enter only one of Saturday’s Big Three.
The “H” preceding Party Q’s stall number signifies they’re going Whole Hog, arguably most difficult category. Like shoulder, it’s an overnight cook, and you’ve got to nail every part of the animal simultaneously. The measures cooks take to keep the beast moist for the hours that competition BBQ can spend sitting around -- applying bacon, sausage, and butter to the loins; butterflying shoulder and sliding it under the belly as a fatty heat buffer -- feel like voodoo rituals. There are also less organic moisture-retention methods that are technically legal but frowned on by judges, namely phosphates, delivered with a fine needle to avoid detection. “[Competition barbecue] is like professional sports: unless you’re taking some kind of steroid, you’re not going to be able to compete,” says Canadian Barbecue Society’s Stephen Perrin, who personally rejects phosphates in favor of the voodoo method. A trained chef, Perrin is planning on injecting his hog -- with undertones of Filipino-style lechón, “so you have your traditional flavor of southern barbecue, and that je ne sais quoi of ‘what the fuck am I tasting?’”