Washington man competes for barbecue state title

Published 7:30 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wesley Bowers borrowed his granddaddy’s grill, and the rest was history.

Bowers, a Washington resident, will compete for the barbecue state title at the 32nd-annual Whole Hog Competition in Raleigh this weekend.

His nine-year barbecue contest career started at Smoke in the Water in Washington, and his barbecue roots trace back to his grandfather.

“It started with my granddaddy. … When he passed away, he left me his grill. Everything I do is in memory for him,” Bowers said.

Bowers’ interest in barbecue sparked from watching his grandfather cook pigs for fun, and after borrowing his grandfather’s grill, Bowers was hooked himself. He started competing, and with each competition, he honors the man who introduced him to the world of barbecue — the words “In Loving Memory of ‘Papa Sam’” are printed on the grill.

Bowers won Smoke on the Water last year, and the victory qualified him for the state title this weekend. He said for years, he only competed in Smoke on the Water because he didn’t think he was qualified enough for bigger ones. But earlier this year, he competed at the 36th-annual Will King Hog Happenin’ Cookin Contest in Kinston, and took home first prize out of 88 teams.

Bowers’ team, “Gettin Piggy With It,” is made up of a group of about five rotating members, but his 15-year-old daughter, Shayna, competes with him every time. He said she was an integral part of the Kinston triumph.

Now, “Gettin Piggy With It” will compete against 30 of North Carolina’s strongest barbecue cook teams. The competition is the product of more than 20 contests across the state, hundreds of hours of cooking and pounds and pounds of barbecue.

Bowers said his team will arrive in Raleigh on Friday around noon to set up and prepare the grill for the competition.

“And then we cook … all night long,” Bowers said.

The competition is steep, according to Bowers. The top three contenders from each local competition across the state are invited to vie for the state title. Some cook teams even have more than 40 team members. The competition is judged on skin crisp, sauce, appearance, moisture and brownness, Bowers said. Members from N.C. Pork Council, including former Washington Daily News Publisher Brownie Futrell, will judge the barbecue, along with a panel of other “celebrity” judges.

Bower’s said the trick to his trade is simple: preparation. His team will meet Friday morning to take the grill apart, clean the burners and grates in an effort to minimize any mistakes in the cooking process. As the only team competing from Beaufort County, he said he is ready to represent his hometown.

“I’m feeling good. We’re going to bring the state championship back to Washington,” Bowers said.