Where Y’Eat: The Barbecue Tribes of Hogs for the Cause

Mar 30, 2017

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 necessarily stay confined to the festival grounds or the festival weekend, and these days the reach, even the flavors of this big barbecue event make an impact across New Orleans and far beyond.

Hogs for the Cause returns this weekend, with a new location outside the UNO Lakefront Arena. As always, money raised supports families coping with pediatric brain cancer.

For many of the cook-off teams that make it all happen, the big event itself is just one part of the experience. For them, the 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 for the Cause. Many started small, maybe even cautiously, and some with little experience in competitive barbecue. But they have grown much larger and better organized, becoming 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. 

Beyond the smoker, though, many now have their own branding, their own corporate sponsors and their own satellite events throughout the year, with some held in different cities, all adding to the total haul that Hogs for the Cause brings in for families.

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, yup, culinary landscape of New Orleans. One team even started its own barbecue restaurant- Frey Smoked Meat Company in Mid-City started, and continues, as a Hogs team.

What explains all this pork-driven passion? It’s a recipe that draws on a compelling cause, on the urge to organize socially and on a uniquely competitive yet freewheeling festival format where serious cooking meets flair and fun. That’s a combination not to be underestimated, not in south Louisiana, and it’s one that runs through Hogs for the Cause like the smoke ring in great barbecue.

What: Hogs for the Cause

Bands on three stages, drinks and snacks available for purchase from vendors, cook-off competition on Saturday

When: Friday, March 31, 3:30-11 p.m.; Saturday, April 1, from 11:30 a.m. (“hoggy hours” allow admission one hour earlier each day with special ticket)

Where: UNO Lakefront Arena Grounds, 6801 Franklin Ave., New Orleans

Details, tickets and schedules at hogsforthecause.org.