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The 4-H Cookery: Divine Swine

The smells wafting through the air at the North Carolina 4-H Cookery competition were nearly enough to break down a vegetarian. The parents and friends wading through the aromas were struck by the intensity of each scent as they wandered towards one booth for a sample… and then on to the next. Those smells were of pork, turkey, chicken and beef – all prepared in different and exciting ways by kids and young adults, ranging in age from 9 to 18, for a panel of judges.

“New People and New Experiences”
To the regular passerby, it would just seem like a bunch of kids out for a barbecue on a very hot day, but to those kids this, was so much more. Those in the chicken and turkey divisions were vying for a bid to nationals. Joshua Sholar of Duplin County won the chicken section last year and went to nationals in Kentucky. His chicken barbeque recipe came in ninth in the nation.

Sholar, in addition to being an excellent cook, is starting his second year in the 4-H Honor Club. And for him, the cook-offs are more than just a cook-off. The competition is about, “getting to meet new people and have new experiences.”

For example, his favorite memory of a 4-H experience was at a cook-off a couple years ago. Sholar had made a special recipe with homemade sauce. He had everything with him – the tent, the grill, the charcoal, the knives, the tablecloths, the meat – but he forgot the sauce at the hotel.

Two 4-H'ers at the Cookery
Chris Sherfey (right) and Joshua Sholar (left) take a break from their cooking to pose for a picture.
Without the flavoring, his masterpiece was not complete. One of his good friends, a couple of tents down, saw him panicking and offered him some of his own sauce. Well, the judges loved it, and when asked about the sauce, Sholar was truthful. He told them that it was not his, and the judges appreciated his honesty. He didn’t win, but he did walk away with a bronze medal.

And what does this have to do with the goals and success of 4-H as a group devoted to youth? It was that day that Sholar learned, “honesty is the best quality.”

A Family Affair
“If you like to eat as much as I do,” says 14-year-old Jacob Bryant of Henderson County, “then you got to know how to cook!” Bryant has been participating in cook-offs for four years now, and has even inspired his sister to join in the cooking too. It’s a family affair for the Bryants, who drove several hours for this competition. His parents say it’s totally worth the effort though because the cook-off and all 4-H activities give their children the chance to face new challenges and meet new people.

The story is similar for Payton Owens, a rising high school senior in Edgecombe County. “I grew up on a farm,” he said while explaining his passion for cooking, “I’ve been cooking since I was 9… just messing around with my dad.” He was encouraged to participate in the cook-offs by his Cooperative Extension agent, Leesa Walton – and he’s come to love them. Owens – who was accompanied by his mom — also shows livestock, has participated in indoor cooking competitions and currently serves on the teen council in his 4-H district.

The Most Wonderful Job: Judge
So who are the judges and what qualifies someone to judge the Cookery? “I like to eat good food,” states Harris Vaughan. But that’s not the only qualification for becoming a pork judge. “I’m a certified pork judge for the N.C. Pork Council,” he said. Who would have guessed?!

He’s judged numerous events throughout the years, but the most unique – and yummy – preparation he’s ever seen was at the Newport BBQ Contest where one contestant used cherry wood instead of charcoal, giving the pork an original, smoky and cherry-filled flavor.

The contestants are definitely encouraged to try new things, but there are some regulations which vary by tournament. For the Cookery, in addition to the two-hour time limit, the meat must be cooked using charcoal, and it cannot be injected with any flavors. The chefs must be knowledgeable about the meat industry, and they must know the nutritional facts and histories of the different meats. They also must be able to talk about all of that to the curious, wandering judges as they cook.

A 4-H'er's grill flames up
A 4-H'er's stands by as her grill flames away.
Vaughan said that one of the things that the pork judges were looking at – in terms of knowledge – was whether or not the contestants knew that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had changed the ideal temperature for cooking pork a couple months ago. The previous ideal temperature for cooking pork had been 160 degrees, now it is 145 degrees, which leaves the meat slightly pink.

Bon Appétit
The winners were announced at 11:15 a.m. in the N.C. State University McKimmon Center after the tastings. After the judges savored the multitude of flavors, the crowds attacked the tents and dug in. Most tents were decorated according to different themes – from Hawaiian to Asian to Italian – and some even had funny slogans like “Put Pork On Your Fork” and “Divine Swine”.

For most, it’s their favorite part of the competition. It’s fun for the crowd because they get to eat good food, and it’s fun for the cooks because they get to see people enjoy their work, while it lasts. One contestant, Chris Sherfey of Wayne County, said that LeAnthony Boone, the state 4-H president, told him, “there better be BBQ left when I get there or I’ll come out and make you make more!”

Before long though, the plates had been scraped clean and the nervous parents and thumb-twiddling contestants made their way to Room 5 to await the results of the competition. The head judge, Melissa Scherpereel, walked up to the front of the room, gave a quick speech, and started awarding the medals.

In the Chicken BBQ section for 14 to 18 year olds, first place was awarded to Maggie Gouge of Edgecombe Country, second to Jacqueline Wiggins of Gates County, and third to Jacob Bryant of Henderson County. In the Turkey BBQ section for 14 to 18 year olds, first place was awarded to Joseph Perkins of Lincoln County, second to Payton Owens of Edgecombe County, and third to Spencer Williams of Duplin County.

In the Chicken BBQ section for 11 to 13 year olds, Aaron Vick of Pitt County won first place. And in the Turkey BBQ section for 11 to 13 year olds, Leah Thomas of Yadkin won first and Ben Williams of Duplin County won second. Congratulations to all winners!

-Written by Sophia Robison