It's fall, y'all. That means it's time for Arkansas Times' meatiest event of the year. The Arkansas Times Whole Hog Roast? Nope. After five years of celebrating all delightful ways one can cook an entire pig, we've moved on to other porcine wonders, a much jazzier name and a new location. So come one, come all to the first R&B Cook Off from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7. The R&B here holds a double meaning: pork ribs and butts, which you'll eat, and rhythm and blues, which you'll shimmy to while you eat. The former, along with a variety of sides, will come from more than 15 teams made up of barbecue cook-off veterans and chefs and cooks from local restaurants. The latter will be delivered courtesy of Lagniappe, the soulful local cover act led by Genine Perez. Advance tickets, available via centralarkansastickets.com, are $15; at the door, the price rises to $20.
Because the Argenta Plaza grounds, where past AT Whole Hog Roasts and Craft Beer Festivals have been held, are now under construction, we're having a street party. Fourth Street, between Main and Maple streets, will be blocked off. That's in front of Flyway Brewing, which also happens to be the beer sponsor of the event; it'll be available for purchase. There'll also be a Baggo tournament going, sponsored by Samantha's Tap Room & Wood Grill. As usual, the event benefits the Argenta Downtown Council.
Read on for previews of what to expect from this year's participants. We couldn't reach representatives from the Argenta Butt Rubbers, Big Sexy's Barbecue, the Carrigan Crew, Curley Tails Barbecue and Skinny J's, but with names like most of those, they obviously know what they're doing.
@ the Corner
"At a predominantly male event, I think it's important for us to be there," said Leila King, who co-owns the popular downtown breakfast and lunch spot @ the corner with her sister, Helen Grace King, and her sister-in-law and the restaurant's chef, Kamiya Merrick. "From skinning the meat, carrying it, smoking it — it's us." @ the Corner gets its meat from Brown Chicken Brown Sow in Mountain Home. To do the smoking, the trio will use their custom rig. It's outfitted with a smoker, fryer and prep station. No final decision on sides yet; King said cheese grits, collard greens and mac and cheese were all in the running.
John Crow, owner of 107 Liquor and longtime Argenta Downtown Council board member and volunteer, says his team will follow the "low and slow" wisdom in their efforts to perfect pork. In the spirit of a team repping a liquor store, they'll mix some Fire Whiskey into something, too. Their sides will be beans and coleslaw.
We couldn't reach the globetrotting Tony Poe for this preview, but we've heard that he's contemplating doing his meat "island style" on a Big Green Egg. We're eager to hear more about his new venture, Atlas Bar, opening sometime in the not-too-distant future on South Main Street.
Bad to the Bone
Robert Satterfield's Bad to the Bone team has been competing in barbecue competitions since 1999. It's traveled to 10 different states and taken home 41 grand championships. The team uses a 28-foot rig with a cooking patio attached. The winning formula for Bad to the Bone is "a special blend of spices for our dry rub finished off with a sweet and spicy homemade sauce," Satterfield said. He calls the combo they'll use for R&B "a Sweet Cajun medley." Look for sides of smoked rice and baked beans.
Big Al and the Butt Rubbers
This group of Central Arkansas friends has been competing in cook-offs since 2002, according to team captain Todd Stephens. Their process: They inject their Boston butts with a special blend of butter and seasoning, use a sweet rub and lots of it and, during smoking, they mop the meat with a special liquid rub and, Stephens says, "other hush hush stuff." "Famous" Boston baked beans and coleslaw will be available as sides.
First Responders Donuts
Former @ the Corner cook Chris Busick is a Hog Roast vet. This time he's repping his soon-to-open donuts and deli spot on Main Street (details on page 34). "I like to smoke with hickory, and I also have a sauce recipe from the old Minute Man [restaurant] days that was given to me that I have tweaked with a little Rock Town bourbon," Busick said. Look for potato salad and mini donuts for sides.
In last year's Arkansas Times Whole Hog Roast, Flyway teamed with Count Porkula to take home the top trophy. With Count Porkula nearing an opening date in the East Village, Flyway is going at it alone this year. "We make all the brines, rubs and sauces in house," Flyway co-owner Jess McMullen says. "We usually inject the meat with a brine and then use a house-made rub as well, then we have our own barbecue sauce, which is a tomato/vinegar sauce." McMullen says they're still mulling what sides to serve.
Four Quarter Bar
Look for Conan Robinson, the longtime purveyor of the best late-night grub available in Central Arkansas, to use his signature Four Quarter rub on his pig parts. And after R&B winds down, remember Four Quarter for your after-party needs.
Michael Rieser's team got together for the Arkansas Times Whole Hog Roast in 2015 and won. They've kept competing around the region since then. This year, they're coming straight from a cooking competition at the King Biscuit Blues Festival. "As far as brines, rubs and sauces, we use our own creations and mixtures of things we like," Rieser said, but that's as far as he'd go. "We can't give away all the secrets."
Martin Borchert Booty
The grand champion of the Average Joe division at the 2017 BuzzBQ, Martin Borchert Booty Backers believe in cooking slow and low. Team member Norris Lyman would only describe his rub as a "special blend of spices" and his sauce as a "secret recipe" that's tangy with a kick at the end. The Booty Backers will use cherry and oak to smoke. For sides, look for granny apple baked beans and smoked cheddar mac and cheese.
RED HOG BBQ
Chris Tanner, the restaurateur behind Cheer's in the Heights and Samantha's, always was in the mix of winners whenever he competed in the Arkansas Times Whole Hog Roast. Try the regular pork barbecue special at Samantha's to get an idea of his skills.