I spent the first 24 years of my life living on the West Coast enjoying the occasional summer party. I pretty much knew what to expect when invited to a barbecue – ribs with sticky, sweet sauce, corn on the cob, potato salad, a cooler full of pop (yes, I said pop, not soda), and citronella candles to ward off the mosquitoes. I always had some sort of sweatshirt to tie around my waist in anticipation of the chilly evening air.
Then, I moved to North Carolina – Eastern North Carolina, to be specific – and realized I didn’t have a clue what was going on and nearly passed out from some of the things I witnessed. After some shock therapy, I now enjoy, and even look forward to, a summer “cook out” with all it’s regional specialties. And since I like to share my life through words and pictures, you are cordially invited to attend my blog version of a Pig Pickin’. Welcome, y’all!
This little party took place in honor of Pa Daw, also known as Melissa’s dad. He’s born and bred in Eastern North Carolina so it was only fitting we eat pig at his celebration. Melissa’s brother and sister-in-law live near Topsail Island and have the perfect place for entertaining family and friends. We arrived to a barn set up for a party – balloons, cupcakes, tables and chairs, homemade barbecue sauce and parts of a porcine sizzling on the grill.
This brings me to the aforementioned trauma I experienced at my first ever cook out. Knowing that I have a severe dislike for seeing any type of meat attached to the bone, Jason thought it would be funny to take me over to the grill and let me make my own plate. It’s called a pig pickin’ because you literally pick the meat off the carcass of the pig while it sits on top of a grill the size of a car. Certain parts of the pig are apparently more desirable including, but not limited to, the neck bone and skin. Barf. At that particular party, there was a very recognizable pig body splayed open for all to enjoy. Thankfully, at Pa Daw’s party, the pig had been somewhat dismantled before cooking so I was able to capture these photos for those of you who aren’t appalled by dead animals.
As is customary, the guys were outside, chatting by the grill and aiding the grill master by taste testing. You can see Jeff doing work and wiping the sweat off his face in one photo. While it would be easy to assume he was hot simply from standing in front of an open flame, I’ve also included a photo of the thermometer boasting a cozy 103 degrees. If that isn’t love, I’m not sure what is.
Inside, Melissa was busy doing what she does best – mowing down on cupcakes and other sweet delicacies. Her mom, affectionately known as Ma Daw, was busy making the most delicious hush puppies I have ever eaten. Here’s another little lesson for those of you not in the know like I used to be – hush puppies are a special version of manna sent by God to Southerners. So maybe that’s a bit extreme but hot diggity dog, they are delicious. It’s basically deep fried cornmeal batter and if you want to get serious, you dip them in butter for added nutritional benefit. Not that I do that…
Pig pickins are always served buffet style and no matter how hot it is, they’re usually outside because you generally serve yourself right off the grill. Eastern North Carolina barbecue is vinegar based and has very little resemblance to the barbecue most people are accustomed to eating. If you don’t pick it off the pig directly, it is served chopped up and doused in the chef’s own vinegar sauce. Jeff, your sauce is the boss. Delicious. I always mix mine with coleslaw, but again, it’s much different than the type you get on the West Coast. Eastern NC slaw is finely chopped and extremely creamy. When mixed with the vinegar BBQ, you’ve hit the jackpot. There’s also usually potatoes in bbq sauce, brunswick stew and of course, sweet tea. This little party had all that and then some and thankfully, the temperature was so miserably hot that I didn’t have the energy to make a second plate. Otherwise, I might still be in a food coma somewhere near the Atlantic Ocean.
The final staple for all Southern cook outs is a golf cart. I haven’t quite figured out why, but most people have golf carts in NC. And they’re not used on the back nine, either. My guess is that it’s an easy way to go visit your neighbors after eating yourself sick plus it’s just so ungodly hot, no one has the energy to actually walk. This is just a theory, however, Lena was happy to hitch a ride with Maddie and Ma Daw while I snuck inside to try and cool down.
To top off the festivities, Pa Daw got to blow out a single candle on his cupcake. With it already being 100+ degrees outside, I think we were all worried about the heat 90+ candles would put off. Just kidding, Mark!
Any time we get together with this family, I’m struck by the realness of each of them. What you see is what you get and I love that. Plus, they make fun of each other non stop which, for me, is what being a family is all about. What a great legacy Mark and Diane have created. Two kind and loving adult kids with great spouses and beautiful grandkids. I think it’s a goal that all of us would be lucky to achieve. And it doesn’t hurt that they can throw a great party, either!