Kicking off a very busy 2022 spring festival season in New Orleans is Hogs for the Cause, the annual charity barbecue cook-off taking place this Friday, April 1, and Saturday, April 2. Now in its 12th year (organizers canceled in 2020 and held a smaller version in Belle Chase last year), Hogs returns to its original location, the festival grounds at the UNO Lakefront Arena, with a heavy-hitting music lineup, an ambitious gastronomic undertaking, and noteworthy Friday night parties. Still, the ultimate goal remains the same: to raise money for families affected by pediatric brain cancer.
Here is Eater New Orleans’s guide to everything you need to know:
The two-day music festival, barbecue cook-off, and charity event mashup is the primary fundraising event for Hogs for the Cause, a local organization that provides resources and funding nationally to families with children receiving treatment for pediatric brain cancer. The competition at the festival is stiff, with over 90 teams rivaling for the rights to this year’s awards, such as best sauce and the overall whole hog. However, the biggest rivalry is with their 2021 selves, as they work toward raising even more money than last year’s whopping $2.8 million.
General admission tickets start at $50 for Friday, $60 for Saturday, and $99 for a two-day pass. A ticket comes with a wristband for cashless payment at the festival and grants you entry into the festival’s grounds, where you can access food from 90-plus teams and over 20 bands playing across three stages. This year is by far the biggest live music lineup yet, with both local icons and regional favorites like Galactic and Shakey Graves. VIP tickets start at $219 ($449 for both days) and add complimentary cocktails in the VIP tent, a pre-loaded wristband, re-entry privileges, and fancier “private” porta-potties.
Gates open at 3:30 p.m. on Friday and at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the UNO Lakefront Arena Festival Grounds, 6801 Franklin Avenue.
What to bring
Besides an appetite? The professional festers already have their blankets and festival chairs packed up by the door. This isn’t your first rodeo. But, in case it is, don’t forget the sunscreen, tums, and rubber boots if it’s raining.
What to eat
The better question might be what not to eat. The 90-plus teams are made up of some of the region’s top chefs, professional barbecue teams, and self-proclaimed kings and queens of their own backyard grills, so there are no bad choices to be made.
Friday night is known as Bacon Night, a night dedicated to honoring the candy bar of meats. The teams vie for the best bacon dish and craft Frankenstein-level creations like candied bacon bread pudding, bacon boudin sushi, bacon jam deviled eggs, and maple bourbon glazed bacon. Friday night attendees can also benefit from the concurrent chicken wing competition, “Just Winging It.”
Saturday features the main event of the weekend: the Ben Serrat, Jr. Cook-Off. Festival attendees can sample the creative offerings from every team for donations. Be sure to visit some of last year’s winners like Lard and in Charge, Swineaux, and Mr. Pigglesworth. Most food items found at Hog’s are exclusive to this year’s teams and can’t be found on regular restaurant menus around town. Some concoctions, like a peanut butter bacon brownie from Hog Dat Nation or Aporkalypse Now’s pulled pork Texas toast grilled cheese, will not be easily accessible year-round.
Start supporting and training on Tuesday, March 29th
On Tuesday, March 29, the famed Parkway Bakery is hosting an event to benefit one of the teams that competes at Hogs, Silence of da Ham, by constructing a 300-foot-long smoked sausage po’boy. For a $40 donation, you can witness and participate in the construction and destruction of this epicurean feat. The donation includes a raffle ticket for a chance to win the first party in Parkway’s new dining room, currently under construction.
Don’t sleep on the Friday night activities
As if bacon sampling and Galactic weren’t enough reason to lure festival lovers out to the UNO Lakefront Arena on a Friday night, it’s actually when all the magic happens. The teams stay up all night preparing their porcine magic for Saturday’s showdown — a great time for the attendees to get to know the teams and their menus. Once the bands wind down around 11 p.m., some of the teams host late-night parties at their tents.
Don’t miss long-time party champs, The Boar’s Nest: a $60 donation grants entrance to the party, where guests can expect “purple drank,” ice luges, and music from Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Mannie Fresh, and Juvenile.
Hogs for the Cause survival tips
Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. To get the most out of the cook-off, it’s important to have a game plan or you’ll peak early. Here are a few tips for maximizing your eating potential. Behold, cook-off math:
- Arrive with an appetite, but don’t starve yourself before. Eat a light meal in the morning to get your metabolism going.
- Plan ahead. Take a preliminary look at the teams and their offerings. Do a lap before committing.
- Prioritize and start with your favorites. They say save the best for last, but those people clearly haven’t attended a food festival. The secondary items only make the cut if there is enough room.
- Hydrate: To help digest and boost your energy.
- Stay active. Work up an appetite and make room for more by dancing to the live music and making laps to browse the food offerings.
- Share. If your strategy for conquering the cook-off is more about quantity over quality, then share with friends. Sample all the goods at your own picnic buffet.
- Don’t carb-load. Don’t go for the carby items too early in the day. Pros know to pace bread intake at select intervals throughout the day.
For a full list of festival FAQs, see the Hogs for the Cause website.