New Orleans preeminent barbecue festival Hogs For The Cause, which not only showcases the top pitmaster talent across the country but does so while benefiting the fight against pediatric brain cancer, takes over City Park next Friday and Saturday, March 27 and 28. Before you get your tickets and head out to this spring's wildest pork and music event, it's good to know the hottest food items, the teams to look out for (or avoid with children), and the new changes that will make navigating the event easier for everyone.
Here now, the dynamic duo behind Hogs, Rene Louapre and Becker Hall, spill the beans on everything you need to know before you pull on your shrimpin' boots and go.
How is everything going, a week out from Hogs?
RL: Pretty good. Feeling confident and overwhelmed as normal. Trying to get all the pieces in places. Kind of a lot of last minute stuff. Did we order the cups? Did we get the chlorine for the jacuz'?
What are the top dishes everybody should try this year?
RL: People think we eat a lot at Hogs, but we basically subsist on a diet of Pringles, Cheetos, water, and dirt.
BH: Yeah. We don't get that much information from the teams anymore, because they want to be hush hush.
The 10 Must Try Dishes at Hogs For The Cause 2015
1. Grit cake with pork debris sauce, from Sweet Swine Of Mine
RH: They're our only all girls team. They usually feed me, whereas every other team tries to give me booze. They always do these Zapp's pies. This year they're doing a grit cake with pork debris sauce: good to lay down a base on Saturday morning." -RL
2. The Pig Newton, from March of the Pigs
RL: They're out for blood in the Porkpourri category. Their first time at Hog's they got third place in the category, and have been out for blood ever since. They're fighting to get back to the winners circle."-RL
BH: They're also doing the cotton candy with a bacon vodka syrup.
3. Any item from Messy Swine
BH: They always do creative, intricate things on the porkpourri side.
4. Croquette of pimento cheese and pork belly, from Porkin' Gently
RL: [It's the return of chef Adam Biderman's pork belly 'corn hog' with the addition of hot pimento filling] Sounds right up my alley.
5. Any item from Dinner Lab
RL: They're trying a few things at their dinner next Tuesday, and they're going to pick one of those. They've got this Vietnamese pork stew they're working on. I hope that makes it. It sounds really good to me.
6. Bacon Rum Cake from Porko Rico
RL: "They have some killer food they're doing this year too, and they bring a little Caribbean flare to everything they do." —RL
7. Dessert from Swine Crew
BH: I'd seek them out, because they usually do something sweet. They won last year with their macaroon." —BH
8. Catfish Dip from Ubon's
RL: Although it's not pork, our friends from Ubons in Yazoo City, MS are doing a smoked catfish dip. Pretty traditional Delta food. If you're not a pork lover, or it's Friday night, I'd swing by there to get some"
9. Barbecue from 17th Street Barbecue
BH: We have one of the most decorated barbecue teams in the country competing in Hogs for the first time. 17th Street Barbecue. Mike Mills is probably one of the most famous pitmasters in the history of barbecue. I would highly, highly encourage any enthusiast to stop by there.
10. Barbecue from Fox Bros
BH: If you're a whole hog guy, I think you can get the best offerings in the country on Saturday between these guys, 17th Street, Ubons and CarolinaQNOLA.
RL: If you're a barbecue novice or aficionado even, you really have to go on a road trip, and it would be an expensive undertaking to try all this barbecue. And they're all coming to our backyard next week.
Any Texans in the competition this year?
BH: The Fox brothers are originally from Texas. But Texas is a brisket state. They don't dig on swine, and we don't dig on them.
RL:And it's a whole other country, as you very well know.
BH: We got passports. But not passports to go to Texas.
What are your favorite teams this year?
RL: That could get us in a lot of trouble.
BH: What about our favorite team names?
What are your favorite team names this year?
RL: Some of the newbs, they're clever. Pork Tchoupitoulas is a good one.
BH: I like Sport Porkin', but hey, they are what they are. I don't think we should print that one.
RL: I think most of the team names are pretty clever, except Messy Swine. The funny thing is everybody on that team can't stand the name anymore, but it's too late to change. I think some teams picked a name five years ago that was cool and now...
BH: There's a lot of teams like that, that started a team and submitted a name and now they're furious about it. Like Whole Hog Hustlaz.
RL: Oh yeah. It's Hustlaz with a Z. There's Hoggy Style. We're pretty positive nobody brings their kids to that tent.
BH: Five years ago we thought Hoggy Style was funny, but now we have kids ourselves and have to be like oh yeah, hmm.
RL: Porkin' Gently. There's a lot of those that go around...Two names I really like are Mansura Candidate, that's a team out of Baton Rouge. Their leader is from Mansura, which is not in China, but is in Louisiana. And I've always liked the Notorious P.I.G. We've been trying for years to get a Tupork Shakur in there because that would be an epic rap battle"-rene
BH: We've also been trying to get Sweinfeld, but can't. So we did a little spin on it ourselves, and if you look around the yard this year, you might see some signage that references Sweinfeld.
Any new stuff you guys are really excited about?
RL: We've got a jello shot base. We took jello shots to Charleston, and got to test them out. Charleston was a good way to tune-up for this year.
BH: For the record, I have an MBA and have worked in finance for 10 years of my life. And I spent nine hours making jello shots in a one room kitchen in Charleston wondering what the hell I'd done with my life. Rene was on an RV from New Orleans and I'm going you son of a bitch, I'll never talk you again.
RL: The original plan was to make them in the RV as it rolled down the road, but thank God we didn't try that... We talked to Cathead, who was up in Charleston with us. It's a great fit. Jello shots are such a huge part of barbecue culture. Everybody always has them in a cooler.
BH: The key here is we're trying to sell them all on Friday night.
RL: If we sell 10,000 jello shots on Friday night, I'm going to get a tattoo of a Jello Shot.
Jello Shots will be available for purchase, 1 for $3 or 2 for $5, and "they pack a punch."
BH: People assume there's no food out there on Friday night, but there is tons of food out there on Friday night.
RL: As for the cocktails, Rouxgaroux is doing a mojito in the yard. High West has a great Ginger Buck with ginger beer and bourbon. We have a strawberry gimlet. And we have the Hog Tied beer getting released. It took us 700 man hours to create. We love the play on words, and having NOLA Brewing do it. It's a nice Belgian White beer, and we're stoked. We'll have it for sale in the draft beer area (with other NOLA seasonals) next to the NOLA Brewing stage.
BH: We don't really know what all the tents are going to look like this year, but I think we're going to be seeing some really cool things. As you know, they get bigger and better every year. If you're not even a fan of barbecue or loud noises, it's just worth it to walk around and see what pops up in the city of New Orleans out of nowhere. It's like a circus almost.
RL: They're building incredibly intricate plots this year. March Of The Pigs is doing a Swine Garden, and it's going to be a German beer garden with tables and fat guys in liederhosen. I believe Messy Swine's theme this year is inspired by Billy Joel's Scenes From an Italian Restaurant. I'm pretty excited for some checker tablecloths and bottles of red and white.
BH: They're Billy Joel fanatics. They believe that will draw the people to their tent.
RL: I believe it will too.
How did things go in Charleston, and are y'all going back there again this year?
BH: Rene tells me they went wonderfully. I don't remember anything.
RL: It was smaller, less hectic, but with a big crowd and good weather. We left feeling pretty good about ourselves. We really had a blast. People were like this is a great festival; we want you to come back. That was a relief because we left last year's Hog's [in NOLA] like we need to hide for a couple of weeks. I didn't want anybody's bills for trench foot.
BH: We're starting to plan the next Charleston Hogs right now. It will be in October.
Are you doing ticketing or cash at booths?
RL: We know there was a problem last year. We overthought it last year. We're still doing hoggy dollars, but what we're going to use now is wooden nickels. You can use them for food, cocktails, merchandise, whatever. They come in increments of fives and ones. They're much more durable than those flimsy tickets. That's also why we encouraged the PassPork (2 day admission and $45 to spend). It's a separate line to get in and we hand you the $45 of hoggy dollars as you walk in, so you don't have to stand in line, you don't have to wait. The other thing is we have a beer/water/wine booth at each beverage corral. We have a Cathead and Bristol Gin booth. We have a wine booth. We have bourbon booth. So it will help spread out the people. We have more bars and more hoggy dollar tickets. We think we'll be able to handle it. We never know how many people are going to show up, but we're trying to work hard to get better every year. We hope we've solved some of those issues from last year.
Final thoughts on the event?
BH: I want to spend as much time as I can in the jacuz'.
RL: The rest of the year we work hard. This is our weekend to kick back, have a couple of frosty sit in the jacuzzi, and watch everyone have fun.