The 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog is this Saturday—and the Name is Finally True

Published Tuesday, June 26, 2018 at 12:29 pm

 

The 47th crew working on getting the meat ready. Photo courtesy of Jim Brooks

 

By Elly Murray

The 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog and Fireworks will be this Saturday, June 30th, at 6 p.m. The first 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog was begun in 1972 by John Wade and Jim Brooks.

No, that wasn’t a typo, I know what I wrote.

Every year since 1972, it’s been the 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog. This year it finally has actually been 47 years since the first one.

Now, a lot of you locals who have been around the High Country area for years, and watched Beech Mountain grow into the highest town in the East, you know the tale. For those of you who are a little new to the scene—or those of you who wish to reminisce—here’s the story of the first 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog and Fireworks.

It was around the Fourth of July in 1972 up in the extremely tight knit community of Beech Mountain. A couple of kids in their early twenties, John Wade and Jim Brooks, were working for Carolina Caribbean Corporation—the developer of Beech Mountain, Hound Ears Resort, and Tweetsie Railroad—up at the resort.

John Wade had recently moved there from Northern Virginia and was working in sales. He owned one of the first 50 houses—he said it was, “my first investment after college.” Jim Brooks was managing the Top of the Beech Mountain Inn.

It was just the ski resort up there so far and the wisp of an idea of a town, so there wasn’t much to do. There weren’t many restaurants except the Pinnacle Grill, and Wade said, laughing, “Everybody knew if you had breakfast there because you smelled like the place.”

They wanted to do something for the Fourth of July to bring some people up the mountain because, as Jim Brooks recalls, “It was just a small group of people that lived here early, early on and they were in need for some kind of social get-together for the Fourth of July.” Wade added that, “We entertained ourselves a lot, so this is kind of an offshoot of that.”

So the two sent out an invitation to have a party at Wade’s house, and according to Brooks, the invitation came from, “The Reverend John R. Wade the Third.” Now, John Wade wasn’t at the time—nor was he ever in his life—a reverend or ‘the third’, but as Brooks explains, “it was kind of a spoof.”

The invitation also encouraged people to attend, “the 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog.” Brooks says they called it the 47th because it made the event sound more credible, and, “if it’s been going on 47 years, it was something you really didn’t want to miss.”

 

What an original invitation to this event might have looked like.

 

Wade says that he’d wanted to call it that to create some curiosity in people as well, and that he’d said, “Let’s just call it the 47th annual roasting of the hog to let people wonder about what it is.”

When asked why he chose the number 47 specifically, Wade laughed, I don’t really know. It was probably the first thing that came to my head. I figured it had to sound like it had been going on a long time and 47 popped out.”

 

In 1972, people brought beer and a covered dish to share to the 47th Roasting. Photo courtesy of Jim Brooks

 

The first 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog was a huge success. Tons of people came to Wade’s house, because he admits that he may have, “invited basically everyone on the mountain.” The two young men cooked pig, and the guests brought their own beer and covered dishes to share.

They had about a hundred people show up that first year. It doesn’t sound like much at first, but if you think about cramming a hundred people into your home, people who are potentially carrying a beer in one hand and a breakable dish in the other, you begin to understand that it must have been a bit taxing.

Luckily, Wade’s friend Ray Mills, who owned the Beech Alpen Inn, agreed to have it up there the next year. As Wade explains, they had it under, “the porte cochere at the Beech Alpen Inn, that way we would be covered if it rained.”

That second year they had about 200 people show up, and Wade began to realize that it was going to get increasingly difficult to continue to pay for all of this pork for people. He explained that, “It was all I could do to pay for (the second one).”

So finally, the third year, they turned it over to the fire department, and it became one of their fundraisers. When asked if it was difficult to sort of give up the event they had created, Brooks replied, “When you’re doing something like that, it’s real easy to give it over…it was just the natural thing to do.”

He added a bit slyly, “Although, a lot of the guys that cook the meat were still on the fire department, so it’s kind of like we still got our finger in it”

That third year when the fire department took over was actually the year that Fred Pfohl, who now owns Fred’s General Mercantile in Beech Mountain, joined the crew.

 

Left to right: Jim Brooks, John Wade, Fred Pfohl.

 

Pfohl moved up onto the mountain to work for Carolina Caribbean Corporation, and became a volunteer fireman for the Beech Mountain Fire Department that year. He met Wade and Brooks at the 47th Roasting, and has become their close friend in the years since, as well as a part of the tale of the 47th Roasting of the Hog.

That third year they had 2,400 people attend the 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog, and fed them about eighteen 300 pound hogs. Wade speculated that the attendance was so high that year because, “by then the word got out.”

 

One year, about 2,400 people came to the 47th Roasting, the largest attendance they’d had. Photo courtesy of Jim Brooks

 

Brooks believes that they had some of the largest crowds of people during the period of time when it was a fire department fundraiser. However, he says that, “At a point in time, the fire department figured out other ways to raise money, and it became a community effort through the Chamber of Commerce.”

John Wade stayed up on Beech Mountain for a few more 47th’s, but eventually he moved down to Charleston, SC. He still tries to come every year and help out, because he still has a lot of friends that live up here, and he likes getting out of the Charleston heat for a little bit. He describes Beech Mountain, saying, “Paradise up there, still is.”

Wade believes that the reason that the 47th Annual Roasting has remained so popular over all these year is Jim Brooks and Fred Pfohl. He says that, “It wouldn’t happen without Jim Brooks and Fred Pfohl. They are really the glue that has kept that thing together all these years, not me. I come every so often. I will be there this year to help, but they have it down to a science on how to do it. I figured it would fizzle after a while, but it certainly hasn’t. And it hasn’t because of Jim Brooks, primarily, and Fred Pfohl. Other people have helped, but it wouldn’t happen without Jim Brooks. Not all these years.”

When asked what he and Pfohl have done to make this event so popular for so many years, Brooks joked, “We sit around while the meat cooks very slowly and tell people a lot of lies.”

Pfohl responded to the question a bit differently and said, “ Events come and go, and there are reasons for things not lasting. This one has lasted because of the fact that it is a good event…I think Jim Brooks is the mainstay behind it all, that has kept it going all these years and recently John Wade, who originally started things, has come back around and helps us again too. It’s a gathering of old time acquaintances and friends, and it makes it kind of fun to see them again every year and work on this event. So that’s pretty much what it’s all about for those of us who have been around for a long time.”

 

The hogs cooked at this event are hickory smoked, slow roasted, and delicious. Photo courtesy of Todd Bush

 

A main part of why the event has done so well for 47 years has got to be the fact that they cook their meats in such a unique and delicious way. They take hickory wood, split it, and then burn it down to the coals. Only then do they start to very, very slowly cook the meat with those coals, to give it that amazing hickory flavor.

Brooks explains that, “Most folks today use gas, which gives it a gas flavor, or they use charcoal which is not the same as the hickory smoke.”

They use a selected cut of meat, called the Boston Butt, which is actually the pig’s shoulders. Using this cut of meat is actually a staple of barbeque in the Southern United States, and they slow cook it because, according to Brooks, “when you slow cook it, you don’t lose all the weight—pigs shoulders are full of fat—and that makes the meat tender. Then the slow cooking and the hickory smoke gives it the correct flavor. And then we put it out and we don’t cover it up in some kind of tomato sauce, so that you can get the flavor of the hickory and the meat.”

He also explained that they also slowly cook the turkey as well and, “you can cut the turkey breast in half and you can see where the smoke has gone into the meat because it turns it pink.”

When they first started doing this event, they would build two walls of cinder block, put a grate on top, and then start cooking the pigs. Now they have actual cookers, and they no longer have to chop everything by hand. Brooks says that they had a friend, Arnold Helms, from Monroe, NC, who showed them how to use a Buffalo chopper. This made cooking much easier because, “when you’re doing 1200 pounds of meat, it really helps if you’ve got something mechanical to chop it.”

They have three actual cookers now, and Brooks explains where they got them from, “So Arnold helped us for a bunch of years and we wound up with one of his cookers, and then the Linville Fire Department got out of doing bbq and we bought a couple of cookers that they had.”

This year they’re going to have to scrape up one more cooker because, according to Wade, “We’re doing one whole hog this year, to put out in sort of remembrance of the original one, which was a whole hog.”

They cook the meat right next to Fred’s General Mercantile, in the parking lot, which Fred is pretty happy about. He describes that, “a group of men get out early in the morning and get all the cookers fired up… People stop by while they’re cooking, wondering what’s going on, and they sometimes get a sampling of some of the meat.”

Wade explains that a lot of the guys who were cooking stayed up all night. He tells a funny story about one of the guys, “One time I came up and I went home to try and get a couple hours of sleep in the middle of the night. He had been drinking whiskey when I left and when I got back he was still drinking whiskey when the sun came up!”

He went on to say that, “a lot of the local mountain guys that work up there help out, and they’re a hardy lot.”

When they cook the meats now, everybody has a station that they work for most of the event. Wade describes it saying, “Everybody has a task, and it’s all done differently. They’ve put up a makeshift tent and moved the pig cookers in there. They get the fire going and everybody has a job. Jim Brooks, Fred Pfohl, and I usually cut up the meat and get it out to be served…it’s kind of fun because people come up and talk to you. It’s a lot of work; we’re talking about 800 pounds of pork and 300 pounds of turkey. It’s a lot of work to get all that out and feed the multitudes”

Pfohl says he’s usually on the line chopping up the meat every year and that, “through the years I’ve always had a good time helping with some of the cooking, getting the fires going.”

One of the things that all three men say is definitely very different compared to when they first started this event is the fireworks at the end of the night. As Pfohl explains, “We didn’t used to have fireworks like they have now, but the town does a good fireworks display. It’s a great family time, great family occasion, and a lot of people come. Of course, being out of doors, sometimes you get rained on and sometimes it’s beautifully wide open and clear. On Beech Mountain, you never know what the weather’s gonna do, so that always makes it interesting. But through the years I’ve always had a good time.”

Brooks enjoys the fireworks as well, and finds it funny that the firemen at Beaver Dam are always asking him, “What day are you gonna have your deal because you supply the fireworks for our deal?” As he says, “They have a big barbeque, and they can look up and see Beech Mountain from Beaver Dam.”

Wade also remarked on the addition of music, “Now they have bands, which we didn’t have in those days.”

The three young men who helped to create and foster this event have since grown up quite a bit, and are enjoying life.

John Wade sold his house up in Beech Mountain a few years back, and now operates a food truck down in Charleston called Cooking Carolina. He’s always been a big fan of the Eastern Carolina barbeque style, so he’s pretty excited about it.

He says that, “We do a lot of catering, pig roasts, private parties, weddings. We have certain places where we go to and do lunches from time to time. It’s my retirement job. I love cooking barbeque, so here we are. It’s the ideal thing for me.”

 

John Wade(right), helping to cook and slice the hogs.

 

Fred Pfohl and his family lived above his store in Beech Mountain for 20 years, until recently when they built a house, “We built the house and live about a mile and a half from the store, but still on Beech Mountain. My family started getting big, with people getting married and grandchildren coming around, so we needed a little more room and that’s why we built a house.”

Pfohl says that the 47th Annual Roasting is, “one of the special times of the year for us old timers that think back, who have worked on it every year since. It’s just a lot of fun to be a part of every year.”

Wade is excited to come back this year and see all of his old buddies. When asked what he thinks of the event being called the 48th Annual Roasting next year, seeing as this year is the actual 47th, he responded, “We’ve always called it the 47th, so whether they decide to rename it the 48th next year, I don’t know. Of course, a lot of this depends on Jim and Fred; they’re there. They’re in business up there and they’re the driving force behind it.”

“The question is,” he says, “who’s gonna try to step up as everybody ages out of the thing? I don’t know; it remains to be seen.”

Brooks has a similar concern, “What’s happened is these folks who got involved initially, some of them keep dying. So we’re the last ones standing.”

He went on to say that, “And then there’s whole thing of ‘what’s it gonna be next year?’ Well, it’ll be the 48th. And then after that, the 49th. We just wanted to make sure that it was credible. But you won’t find many places that go to the trouble that we do to make the charcoal and cook it the way we cook it. But it’s the right way.”

These three men, and the many other people who have helped them over the years, have truly given something lasting back to their community. They have created and maintained an event where little kids can run around on the grass, screaming with laughter, while their families socialize with the other members of their community, and form lasting friendships like these three men have.

I sincerely hope that maybe another group of good friends will step in and take up their mantle, because the High Country without this good-spirited event wouldn’t be the same kind community that it is now.

The 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog takes place at the Beech Mountain Resort. For more information on the 47th Annual Roasting of the Hog, please visit https://www.beechmountainresort.com/2012/05/13/47th-annual-roasting-of-the-hog/

 

 

 

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