Local chef’s ‘pig pickin’ ‘ cuisine to be featured on Food Network
For most people, it’s a hunk of meat slapped on a gas or charcoal grill, slathered in a smoky sweet, souped-up ketchup, decked out with the unmistakable cross-hatches perfected by members of the male species.
That ain’t real barbecue, at least not back where Everett Garner comes from.
Barbecue is a cultural celebration in Scotland Neck, N.C., where Garner, an assistant chef at The Owl Grill & Saloon in downtown Grass Valley, spent his formative years.
Just thinking about barbecue sends Garner, 25, thousands of miles east to the flatlands of the family farm. Flames from a homemade charcoal grill lick a whole pig as cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles bring out platters of coleslaw, baked potatoes, hush puppies and Brunswick stew – a feast of corn, lima beans, chicken, pork and tomatoes, all simmered so long a fork will stand up in it.
Follow it up with banana pudding, peach cobbler and a glass of sweet tea or lemonade, and you’ll just begin to understand the role smoke and a good pig play in the Tar Heel state.
“It’s impossible trying to explain to people what barbecue is like out there,” said Garner. “It seems like whenever there’s a big event, there’s pigs involved.”
They’re called “pig pickin’s” and those with satellite television will find out Tuesday at 6 p.m. on the Food Network just how important they are in North Carolina culture.
Garner and his father Bob are featured in a segment of “Food Nation with Bobby Flay,” preparing a traditional pig pickin’ in Charlotte. Flay, 38, is a French-trained chef who specializes in Southwestern cuisine and has hosted several different shows on The Food Network.
Everett Garner’s father has spent years extolling the virtues of North Carolina cuisine to millions of viewers on the state’s public television stations. He’s written books on quintessential North Carolina cuisine, including the barbecue tradition.
“People love their barbecue in North Carolina – they love to talk about it and defend their reputation,” he said.
In eastern North Carolina, for example, they prefer their barbecue pig whole, seasoned with a red pepper and vinegar garnish. In the hillier central and western regions, the German influence reigns, and pig shoulders are roasted in a sweet tomato-based sauce.
“It’s a fun argument, like defending the Yankees or the Mets,” he said.
No matter how it is grilled, it is often served chopped, usually by meat cleavers – a time honored tradition so the dentally challenged can easily enjoy the food.
“North Carolina was a poor state, and people used to lose their teeth early,” Bob Garner joked. “It was considered polite to chop it up so even the person with the poorest teeth could eat it.”
During the television program, Garner and his father serve dozens of guests on stainless steel dinnerware – a far cry from the pigs served on paper plates, with whiskey served in Dixie cups drunk by men in overalls that folklore portrays.
No matter how it is served, the tradition of a pig pickin’ has withstood the passage of time, even to the younger types like Everett Garner, who gained his cooking chops working the kitchens at Trolley Junction and the National Hotel. He has no formal training as a chef.
“It hasn’t been transformed by technology, and that’s why I love it,” said Garner, born Fate Baker Everett Garner, a name derived from descendants who helped fight during the Revolutionary War.
“It’s pure,” he said. “I’d really, really like people to get a sense of the atmosphere about cooking and eating barbecue. If you ask anybody that knows me, I can’t shut up about home. It’s important to tell people where you come from,” said Everett Garner, who still speaks with a dusting of his accent. “I love to come out and talk about the food.”
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