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Third winner in three years at S-P cookoff
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Ernest Twisdale of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., (third from left) nervously discusses the results of the judging of his pig with the North Carolina Pork Council judges. Twisdale won the Spencer-Penn Pig Cookoff on Saturday, his first win in competitive cooking. (Bulletin photo by Harrison Hamlet)
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

By HARRISON HAMLET - Special to the Bulletin

The annual Spencer-Penn Center Pig Cookin’ cookoff crowned its third different winner in three years on Saturday when Ernest Twisdale of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., took home the top prize.

“This is the first (cookoff) I’ve entered by myself. I’ve been cooking for five or six years with a friend, so this was my first one as the cook and it feels great. I’ve been telling my wife, I’ve been nervous for two weeks and she said ‘Ernest it’s not like you’ve never done it before,’” Twisdale said.

“I just bought this cooker and this is my first cookoff with it,” he said. “Everything went smooth and I’m glad it did. We usually do (a larger cookoff in) Greenville, N.C., but I wanted to come do this one and try this grill out here first.”

Twisdale added that he is familiar with the area because he regularly attends the NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Martinsville Speedway.

Twisdale won $500 and a trophy. He said he was not sure where he would keep the trophy, but added, “I’ll find somewhere special for it because its my first one. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it but it pays off. I’m very excited. This is my first win and hopefully I’ll be winning some more.”

Raymond Miles, of Bassett, was awarded $300 for second place by the trio of North Carolina Pork Council judges, and Gary Abbott of Brosville, the 2013 champion, took home $200 and the third-place trophy. Cody Miles, of Bassett, the inaugural winner in 2012, took home this year’s showmanship trophy and a $100 prize.

Twisdale claimed the first place trophy Saturday morning, but the effort of cooking the pig began Friday evening after months of planning by the Spencer-Penn Center’s staff and volunteers.

Shirley Flippin, who headed up the cookoff committee, said finding local cooks is a bit of a problem considering that the event is a whole-hog cookoff. Other competitions feature cuts of the pig — ribs, shoulder, butt, etc. — rather than the whole hog.

Virginia Rodgers, a committee member, said the decision to have a whole-hog cookoff was made based on input from a handful of local cooks before the inaugural event in 2012.

Still, Flippin said, “we’re cooking 11 pigs this year. That’s the most we’ve done. It’s a lot of fun, but sometimes its a little crazy” getting ready for the event.

Planning for the 2014 cookoff began in January. Ten cooks competed, and the 11th pig was cooked but not judged.

About 8:30 p.m. Friday, the pigs arrived in the center parking lot, supplied by Spencer-Penn. After the cooking throughout the night and judging Saturday morning, the meat was sold to raise funds for the center to people waiting in a lengthy line.

Eddie “Tater Bug” Tate, of Ringgold, was making his first appearance at Spencer-Penn as a cook.

As a part of the competition, the cooks must note any problems or defects with their pigs before cooking to aid in the judges’ decision. Tate, who seemed to keep a light mood no matter the circumstance, exclaimed that his pig was “dead, but I guess he’ll work all right.”

Tate did not seem too concerned about where he placed in the competition. “I think I’ve got a top-10 pretty much locked up,” considering there were 10 cooks competing this year, he added.

Also competing in the cookoff were Dwayne Tuggle of Martinsville; Dan Russell of Claudville; Joseph Brannock of Mt. Airy, N.C.; and Neil Doub and Eddie Matthews, both of East Bend, N.C.

The judges for the competition were Lois Barthalow of Winston-Salem, David Burke of Seaboard, N.C., and Wayne Putril of Murfreesboro, N.C.

Barthalow admitted that some of the judging is “just luck of the draw with the pig and the whole bit. I think the cooks all come knowing they could win or could lose and they take it in stride and head on to the next event.”

“I do think this event is organized very well,” she said. “If you don’t have a good organizer, you don’t have a good cookoff.”

Burke said judges must pass a class to become a judge for the North Carolina Pork Council, and experience cooking helps in the process.

“In our opinion, a lot of people should be cooks before they’re judges so they can understand what these guys go through,” Burke said.

Putril was impressed by the local cooks in the Spencer-Penn cookoff. “Some of these guys are just starting and did a great job,” he said. “Every time you cook you learn something going over your score sheet. It takes years and all these guys help each other; they’re in competition but still friends. It makes it nice when people want to incorporate and help you.”

Just don’t ask for their recipes or cooking tips. Those are closely guarded secrets in the cookoff world.

For first-time cook Brannock, the event was more about honoring his grandfather than anything else. “Getting to meet all the new people brings back old memories,” he said. “My grandpa used to cook a long time ago for his church and I used to stay up all night with him and watch him do it. This is the first pig I’ve ever cooked all by myself. It’s great (to honor him this way) since he passed away. It’s just great.”

For others, the cookoff was all about taking home the top prize, or in some cases taking down a family member along the way.

“As long as I beat (my dad), I’ll be all right,” said Cody Miles. Although he took home the showmanship trophy, voted on by attendees of Spencer-Penn’s bluegrass night Friday, he couldn’t beat his father Raymond Miles when it came time for judging.

“Cooking a pig is special. We just enjoy doing it,” said Raymond Miles, this year’s second-place finisher. “That first-place trophy is what look forward to most. We’re here strictly for the victory.”

When asked about his finish, Raymond Miles added, “it feels great, but I’d like to switch places with that fellow right there (referring to Twisdale).”

Abbott, who cooks with his sons Ben, 19, and Matt, 16, seemed happy to bring home a trophy for the second year running, even though this year’s third-place finish came on the heels of last year’s victory.

“Oh, it feels wonderful” to receive a trophy in back-to-back years, Abbott said. “I didn’t have any idea I was going to have my name called. There are good guys here that have been cooking for a long time.”

Doub, like many of his fellow competitors, said he plans to return for future Spencer-Penn cookoffs. “I do plan on coming back,” he said. “For us it’s about 24 hours straight with only a little bit of sleep. When I get back home and think about the events, a lot of times it’s (memories of) just meeting new competitors that turn out to be good friends. I’ve met a lot of people throughout this part of the country doing this.”

Abbott, though, may have summed up the spirit of the Spencer-Penn cookoff best.

“A lot of great (cooks) are here, working with the good people here and working with the other cookers,” he said. “They just put on a good cookoff here and we just couldn’t ask for more. Everybody is friendly. (The center is) always trying to improve and they make sure you’ve got everything you need. They accommodate you every way they can.”


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