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Dances with Pigs


Bob Garner


Sunday, December 17, 2017

With a pig’s arms around your neck and your arms around the pig’s back, all snugly and warm, who knows what might happen later?

My first solo pig-picking after a decade of assists taught Lesson 1: “Make sure you have your own assistants.” Having no help nor a big cooler, I had spread the hog’s plastic wrapped, iced carcass on a cool basement floor overnight.

But I discovered getting the dead weight of a barbecue pig down stairs by yourself is much easier than getting it up stairs, especially if it has been trimmed so it will fit under the cooker’s lid.

See, there’s just nothing to grab a-hold of.

I finally ended hugging the pig and slowly backing up a flight of stairs. I was still backing through the door and across the yard when I dropped the now-unwrapped hog straight into a patch of dirt, grass and twigs. I spent two hours picking bits of vegetable and mineral matter from the sticky meat, and the event was rescued, albeit delayed.

Pig cooking remained strictly a hobby for me long after I married an eastern North Carolina farm girl in 1969, wrangling her father’s consent during an interview at his pig parlor. I herded pigs as I talked … my first dance.

Ruthie’s brothers continued tutoring me as I pursued a TV journalism career. I never thought of taking it further than throwing occasional barbecues for newsroom colleagues.

Not until after I was 50, that is, when I was assigned to do some UNC-TV features on famous North Carolina barbecue restaurants, east and west.

Somehow, the stories were popular, and from that mid-1990s point on, my career shifted toward food writing and reporting.

I wrote several cookbooks and transitioned from being known mainly as “the barbecue guy” to roles as a free-lance food writer-producer, reviewer and observer of North Carolina traditional foodways in general.

I love to listen as people get downright misty-eyed about food. For me, it’s about rural landscape and seasons, community sense, celebration of finished tasks and observing solemn events.

Getting in all the tobacco, for example. Pig pickings often followed.

Besides, I’m like everyone else. I also need someone to listen and respond.

My viewers, readers and social media followers are good for my overall mental health. Maybe I haven’t always been good for theirs, but people reacting to what I learn and think and do has been a great gift to me.

I’ve been blessed with it on TV, in print readership and online. I hope I’ll benefit from it here, too.

I’ll try to return the favor so everything flows both ways.


The Daily Reflector today begins publication of a regular column from Bob Garner. Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. He will write about food and life in North Carolina and produce regular video extras to appear with the column on reflector.com. He lives in Greenville. Contact him at bgarner2662@gmail.com and look for his column here on Sundays.