Lowell Sun, October 8, 2001
Long lines, hot food: Pig ‘n’ Pepper’s back in town
Westford -- Australia native Paul MacKay looked out from behind his sizzling grill -- jam-packed with ribs and chicken -- at the throng that packed the 4-H Fairgrounds yesterday for the 10th annual Pig ‘n’ Pepper festival.
“I notice that people love standing in line,” he said in an Aussie accent as he dipped a mini-mop into a vat of barbecue sauce and slathered the concoction over the racks of ribs lined up on the hot grill. “But maybe that’s not their choice.”
Long lines were the order of the day yesterday, the first day of the Pig ’n’ Pepper, a festival of barbecued delights and country music that benefits the Westford and Carlisle school systems.
Thousands of hungry festival-goers trudged through woods off South Chelmsford Road to the fairgrounds, which was hosting the yearly fest for the first time. For the past several years, the party was held at Kimball’s Farm on Littleton Road; organizers made the move to accommodate the growing crowds.
But reviews of the new venue were mixed.
At 2 o’clock yesterday, the lines at the barbecue vendors were outrageously long. A string of patrons waiting to buy pulled pork and barbecue chicken sandwiches at the stand for Nick’s Thrill on the Grill were the lucky ones -- their hourlong wait was the shortest for any of the six vendors.
“Boy, these better be good ribs to wait this long,” muttered one man as he neared the front.
Prior to the weekend, organizers said as many as 40,000 New Englanders might flock to the barbecue if the weather cooperated.
Yesterday, under bright sunny skies, Pig ‘n’ Pepper Chair Jeff Brown said the crowd was much larger than organizers had anticipated.
Though firm numbers were not available, Brown estimated yesterday’s crowd was the largest in the event’s history. He said he received only about a dozen complaints about the wait for food, but acknowledged that logistics at the fairgrounds might need to be tweaked to better handle the crowds.
Away from the long vending lines, the party was in full swing. The Porch Rockers played cajun swing music to an enthusiastic crowd of families. Nearby, children packed the new Kid Spot play area where offerings included face-painting and pony rides.
On an open field near the back of the grounds, more than 30 amateur barbecuers were at work, fine-tuning their entries in the various cook-offs.
“We have a lot of fun,” said Dirk Burrowes, a member of the Bastey Boys barbecue squad, for which the annual barbecue contest is simply a hobby.
The team’s captain, Andy King, was hard at work over a handmade grill, cooking a tequila lime orange roughy that would be the Bastey Boys’ entry in the “Chef’s Choice” category.
Nearby, Garry Howard of the Cambridge-based Liquid Smoke team cut into a fig and chipotle pepper pork loin to make sure it was cooked through.
Howard, a Texas native who has lived in New England for 10 years, called the Pig ‘n’ Pepper the “biggest” barbecue event in the area.” He said he was shocked to find so many barbecue enthusiasts in the Northeast.
“I was really amazed,” he said. “I think it’s great.”
In the pepper tent, where sauces, relish, and peppers compete in several different categories, the best action was at the table holding the entries in the “Hottest Hot Sauce” category.
A bottle of “Uncle Mike’s 402 Hot Sauce” was adorned with a skull-and-crossbones label and a warning: “Use extreme caution when tasting this product. Not for the faint-hearted.”
But the three-member jury was more than up to the challenge.
“Puffery,” said judge Alex Parker of Carlisle after sampling the sauce with a toothpick.
“There’s some heat there,” conceded judge Ivan Bausch of Lexington.
The sauce that caused the most reaction was the “Mad Dog Inferno 1999 Limited Reserve,” which sent judge Paul Rosenthal scrambling for a jar of plain yogurt -- the most effective antidote to dull the pepper’s heat.
Just to his side, Bausch’s eyes welled up as he drew measured, heavy breaths.
“I feel like I’ve got razors in my throat,” he gasped after tasting the Mad Dog Limited. “That’s hotter than hell,” the 66-year-old Parker said softly, his eyes closed.
After he recovered, Bausch talked about how he came to this role as judge of the hottest contest going. He first came to the Pig ‘n’ Pepper as a patron, he said, but soon saw that his skills and interests could be put to use.
“I have credentials: I’m willing to eat it,” he said.
“It’s beyond food,” he added, in a statement that could have applied to the entire festival. “It’s entertainment.”
The Pig ‘n’ Pepper continues today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the 4-H Fairgrounds in Westford.