A team from Hogs for the Cause concluded that bacon is the right finishing touch for a white chocolate smoked bread pudding. Another is a sort of homage to sushi made with bacon, boudin, and cracklin’.
And when it comes to the chicken wings, many teams ditch any Buffalo notion, employing Thai coconut smoked wings and fried chicken wing gumbo to make a mark with the bar snack staple.
Such dishes offer just a taste of the eye-popping contributions that make Friday night at Hogs for the Cause different and help set this New Orleans-born event apart from the more straightforward barbecue competitions held across the country.
Hogs for the Cause is back at the grounds around the UNO Lakefront Arena this weekend after missing 2020 due to the pandemic and temporarily relocating to Belle Chasse to return in 2021.
The charity cook-off features around 90 individual teams competing for trophies in various food categories and giving the proceeds to Hogs for the Cause, which supports families struggling with pediatric brain cancer.
The climax of the two-day event comes on Saturday, when competition barbecue entries are judged by judges, the musical headliners perform and finally the award winners are called to the main stage.
But Friday at Hogs for the Cause has gradually taken on its own identity, with the free play of food creation far beyond the confines of traditional barbecues.
If slow and slow is the key to grilling properly, Friday night at Hogs for the Cause could be the motto.
Hundreds of dishes, one thing
In the early years, Friday was simply the night that teams began the long process of preparing the barbecue for the next day’s judging. Now, similar to Saturday, there is a music program on three stages and endless creative food from the teams. Hogs organizers encouraged this by creating Friday competition categories for bacon and chicken wings.
Team Swineaux’s fried chicken wings gumbo, Team Sweet Swine o’ Mine’s Thai smoked coconut wings and Team Pork Fiction’s white chocolate smoked bacon bread pudding are some examples of this year’s menu, which features hundreds of individual dishes from the collection Field of competitors including many others outside of the chicken wings and bacon niches.
Since its launch in 2009, Hogs for the Cause has grown to become one of the most popular food events on the New Orleans calendar and the nation’s premier fundraiser for its cause.
Its development has been incremental, often influenced by what the teams themselves are doing and what resonates with the crowd.
“The story of Hogs is truly a story of our teams and participants telling us where to go,” said event co-founder Rene Louapre.
This also applies to the role of Friday in the event.
Bacon boudin sushi, of course
As the teams patiently tend to the smokers overnight, they also knock out quicker dishes to sell over the counter, all vying to capture attendees’ attention and appetites.
That explains Team Smokeshow Cook Squad’s bacon boudin sushi. Bacon represents the seaweed of sushi, boudin is a rice and pork filling, and crushlin’ tops it all off.
“It’s definitely something that gets people’s attention and you need that out there,” said team captain Clint Thibodeaux. “Hogs has gotten so big. You have famous chefs out there. If you’re just normal boys and girls, you have to do something out of the ordinary to get noticed.”
Build, get started
Active year-round, teams not only plan the festival, but host their own fundraisers and pop-ups to increase their fundraising tally. Friday comes with unifying energy when all the pieces finally come together for the big event.
“All the excitement that has been building over the year is coming to a head,” said Team Pig Latin captain Sarena Teng. “When the first people come down the field, you get so excited.”
Pig Latin, a team best known for their crackers, draws on the talents of seasoned professional chefs for their kitchen teams. That includes Andrew Lu, who runs Chinese fusion pop-up Get Your Mom + Dim Sum.
This year, Friday food themes play through peanut butter and bourbon bacon jelly sandwiches on homebrew beer bread and hot wings with honey garlic cayenne pepper and a brown sugar boba tea with bacon whipped cream and five spice oatmeal Cake.
Big parties and food highs are part of the Hogs high spirits, but team leaders say the underlying mission of supporting children struggling with brain cancer is always close at hand.
Many of the founding members of Team Pig Latin are doctors with the Ochsner Healthcare System, and some work directly with families undergoing treatment for childhood cancer.
“Seeing the impact and the opportunity to alleviate some of their suffering really motivates us to do this,” said Teng, a pediatric anesthetist.
The Ochsner connection is also bringing Hogs for the Cause its first Eat Fit NOLA dishes, which are part of the program being run by Ochsner to promote healthier meals when eating out. This includes a kimchi slaw with a “dusting” of crackers.
Smaller teams shine
Some teams at Hogs for the Cause have become their own year-round independent nonprofits, raising enormous amounts of money for the cause. Longtime fundraising leader Team Fleur de Que, the largest team at Hogs, contributed $700,000 last year from the combined 2020 and 2021 efforts.
Smaller teams have learned to use Bacon and Wing Night as a time to shine creatively. Team Pork Fiction, for example, is a family-run team of about a dozen members. Team captain Brian Herzog said they often team up with teams nearby, helping with logistics and food production tent after tent, and collaborating at their Friday night parties to make a bigger entrance.
This year, Pork Fiction members will be sipping old-fashioned cocktails while serving up white chocolate smoked bacon bread pudding, artisanal pork and crayfish sausage and a returning hit from last year: Bacon Jam Deviled Eggs.
But before the first cocktails are drunk, Herzog said an important part of Friday at Hogs is a get-together with all the teams, where the organizers introduce a beneficiary. The assembled team members remain silent as families share their stories in the midst of childhood cancer treatment.
“That brings it home for everyone, I think, hearing from someone who’s directly affected,” Herzog said. “Usually not a dry eye stays in the tent. It’s very grounding before the big party starts.”
pigs for the cause
Where: Grounds of the UNO Lakefront Arena, 6801 Franklin Ave., New Orleans
When: Friday, April 1, 3:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.; Saturday, April 2, from 11:30 a.m
Tickets start at $50 and vary by day and package, with different tiers available
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