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Where Y’Eat: Around the Smoker, BBQ Culture Develops at Hogs for the Cause

 Hogs for the Cause in New Orleans
Ian McNulty
Hogs for the Cause in New Orleans

For one weekend, the charity cook-off Hogs for the Cause transforms a big outdoor spread in New Orleans into something like a Southern-style never-never land.

To visit this festival and fundraiser is to see life in the barbecue bubble, a self-contained meat lover’s dream world of pork and beer, live music and wood smoke, all arrayed around outdoor party pavilions, some built up like sets from Hollywood blockbusters, some like DIY tree forts. That’s where the action happens and where the endless calories for the cause are dispatched too.

But, Hogs for the Cause doesn’t stay confined to the festival weekend; the reach of this big barbecue event makes an impact across New Orleans and far beyond.

Hogs for the Cause returns this Friday and Saturday to the grounds outside the UNO Lakefront Arena. The money raised supports families coping with pediatric brain cancer.

For many of the cook-off teams that make it all happen, the event is just one part of the experience. Planning and logistics extend across the calendar. Yes, so too does the partying – after all, downtime event planning is best conducted around an ice chest. And there’s always cook-off practice. When you’re woodshedding some smoked pork, it naturally becomes a party. But, most significantly, the Hogs for the Cause teams have also stretched their fundraising across the year and around the region.

There are some 90 cook-off teams at Hogs. Some have grown into formidable fundraising machines and serious barbecue practitioners.

They are focused on barbecue – whether it’s inspired by tradition or creativity, by Louisiana cochon or Latin American lechon, by tried-and-true recipes or by over-the-top, wrap-it-in-bacon stunt cooking.

Sometimes, these teams can start to look more like clubs or even tribes. They’re cultivating their own internal cultures and rituals and, along the way, they’re adding new layers to the social, charitable and, yes, culinary landscape of New Orleans.

This weekend, all that will be evident at Hogs for the Cause like the smoke ring in great barbecue.

Ian covers food culture and dining in New Orleans through his weekly commentary series Where Y’Eat.