Worst to First

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MURFREESBORO – Three years ago, Beach Boys Barbecue rolled their shiny, stainless steel cooker onto the grounds of the Jefcoat Museum, just hoping – with a little luck – to at least place in the top five.

Instead, they finished dead last in a field of 20 cooking teams at the annual Roanoke-Chowan Pork Fest.

But instead of hanging their heads, Chris Fineran and Steve Sumner have persevered…heeding advice from their peers in the competitive world of whole hog barbecue.

That persistence reaped reward here Saturday as the “Beach Boys” topped the field at the 15th annual R-C Pork Fest.

Steve Sumner (left) and Chris Fineran – aka Beach Boys BBQ – display the first place trophy they won as the top cooking team at Saturday’s 15th annual Roanoke-Chowan Pork Fest in Murfreesboro. | Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

Steve Sumner (left) and Chris Fineran – aka Beach Boys BBQ – display the first place trophy they won as the top cooking team at Saturday’s 15th annual Roanoke-Chowan Pork Fest in Murfreesboro. | Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

“Wow, that’s what I say,” said Fineran after he and Sumner returned to their cooking site and proudly displayed the towering first-place trophy. “And to think, when we came here to cook three years ago we left with nothing. As a matter of fact, we finished in last place that year.”

So, what prompted the 180-degree turn-around….going from worst to first?

“Just look around you….over there is Joe Peterson, who won the 2015 Whole Hog Barbecue Championship for the entire state of North Carolina, and has won that title three other times; the only man ever to do so,” said Fineran, pointing out the competition at the 2016 R-C Pork Fest.

“And over there is Earnest Twisdale,” he continued. “Earnest once served as an apprentice to Joe and that led Earnest to win the state’s Whole Hog Championship in 2014 when he went out on his own. And up a little bit from our tent is the legendary Charlie Meeks, who won this event last year and is North Carolina’s reigning Pitmaster of the Year.

“All you have to do to get better is listen and learn from those guys; they are the best in the business and they love to teach folks like Steve and myself who show an interest in the art of cooking a whole hog,” Fineran noted.

Now, Beach Boys BBQ enters as many as 15 events per year. Next up for the team is the Kickin’ It Country Whole Hog Cook-Off this coming weekend in Raleigh.

“I convinced Chris to join me in cooking whole hogs a few years ago and now we’re in love with the competition,” said Sumner, who lives in Murfreesboro and employed by Commercial Ready Mix.

The two-man team is unique based on the fact that Fineran lives roughly 250 miles away in North Myrtle Beach, SC from where he is retired from that city’s police department.

“We married sisters,” said Fineran.

“I remember going home after that last place finish three years ago and my wife telling me that I wasn’t going to cook pigs anymore because that was an embarrassment,” said Sumner. “Well, we didn’t stop; we kept learning from the best of the best and now we seem to be clicking.”

“Clicking” may be an understatement. Of the six events Beach Boys BBQ has entered this year, they now have a pair of first-place trophies (the team captured the crown at the 38th annual Newport Pig Cookin’ Contest back on April 1-2); one second-place trophy (BBQ on the Bluff in Fair Bluff on April 22-23); a third place finish at the Wolfpack Club BBQ Bowl on April 8-9; and fourth place on the weekend of April 15-16 in Greenville at the 33rd annual Pigskin Pig-Out.

“The competition at any event we enter is fierce, but friendly,” Sumner said. “When we get to the state finals this year (they automatically qualify with a win at a NC Pork Council sanctioned event) we’ll see about half the field that was in Murfreesboro this weekend; that’s how tough this field was to beat because they’re that good at what they do.”

Rounding out the top five cookers at the 2016 R-C Pork Fest were Twisdale in second; Peterson placing third; David Grandy of Lazy Dayz BBQ in fourth; and Amy Whitley of Miss Hawg Head BBQ in fifth.

Judges sanctioned by the North Carolina Pork Council were responsible for tallying all the scores.

Saturday’s event, from where the proceeds benefitted the Jefcoat Museum of Americana, was held under picture-perfect skies….weather conditions that served to attract a large crowd to the campus of the old Murfreesboro High School.

“We’ve been mighty blessed over the years in holding this event; Mother Nature is always kind to us,” said Brinson Paul, one of the R-C Pork Fest organizers. “And, once again, we were blessed by the volunteers that come out in force to pull off an event of this magnitude.”

Among those volunteers is Tom Edwards. He holds the “key” to the top secret sauce used for the past 15 years to perfectly season the hogs grilled by the competitors.

“Our finished product, our barbecue, is famous all over the world,” bragged Paul. “And Tom’s sauce is the reason behind that success.”

Paul presented Edwards with a plaque, proclaiming him as the “Seasoning Master” over the life of the Pork Fest.

In a special tribute, Paul recalled the life of R-C Pork Fest founder Jimmy Gray, who passed away earlier this year.

“Fifteen years ago, Jimmy would not let me sleep until I agreed to hold a pork barbecue cook-off as a fundraiser for the Jefcoat Museum,” Paul recalled. “Jimmy was persistent; he was the one that recruited all the cooks and over the years he built a relationship with them. It was because of that friendship that these cookers kept coming back to Murfreesboro year after year after year. I know Jimmy is smiling down on us from heaven today.”

A moment of silence was held in Gray’s memory.

Those in attendance on Saturday were not only treated to an outstanding meal – highlighted by the home-cooked pork barbecue – but entertainment as well from The Early Station Band, Potecasi Strings Band, Shiloh Grass Band, and the Eyes of Emiline.

A Football Skills contest (punt pass and kick) and a Free Throw Shooting Contest were conducted by the Chowan University football and basketball coaching staffs for the youngsters attending Pork Fest.

The children also enjoyed a bounce house, fishing, tic-tac-toe game, and carpet golf games while the adults leisurely shopped among numerous vendors on site.

The Jefcoat Museum, which contains over 17,000 items of American history, was also open for tours during the event.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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