Drive down the main drag of Salley, S.C. and you’d quickly come to the conclusion there isn’t much going on. Sure, there’s a post office in this town of about 400 people as well as a convenience store/gas station and a restaurant named Frogs. But every Saturday after Thanksgiving about 25,000 people descend on this sleepy southern town to party down at the Chitlin’ Strut. For the uninformed, chitlins are pig intestines that when fried or boiled become a traditional delicacy served during the holidays.
People find all kinds of madcap reasons to celebrate, hence the existence of festivals in honor of spam, outhouses and fire ants. However, I know of no other one dedicated to eating swine innards. I’d say it was poppycock, except I saw it with my own eyes. After climbing down from our treestands, my husband and I headed into Salley, the town closest to our hunt club, for a bite to eat and to witness the 44th Annual Chitlin’ Strut.
First, people watching at the Strut made my airport observations seem like a total snooze. There was a fellow dressed like Michael Jackson from his early ‘90s phase when he looked like his sister LaToya. Also present was a guy who dressed and acted like a Hee Haw cast member circa 1969.There were disco divas, hunters in camo, teenage boys in droopy drawers, jogging suits, pajama pants and jeans worn so tight you know they’d eventually cause a medical emergency. There was even someone tooling around in a motorized scooter with a crazy animal print cover.
But the real feast wasn’t for the eyes, it was for the snout. Because the odor wafting out of the kitchen where the cooks prepared the chitlins was reminiscent of, well, excrement. Yet the line for chitlin dinners extended for blocks. In fact, the Augusta Chronicle reported about 4,000 pounds of chitlins were served, presumably covered in hot sauce, vinegar or something to distract the eater’s sense of smell.
While there were all kinds of goings-on associated with the festival including bands, carnival rides, a parade, beauty pageant, tractor show and craft fair, the crown jewel of the Strut was the first ever chitlin-eating contest. Sanctioned by the World League of Competitive Eating, this was no two-bit affair. When the nine contestants stepped up to the table, the crowd surged forward and it was game on. For 10 minutes the competitors gorged themselves to the delight and horror of the crowd. Dale Boone, the reigning world champion of the WLOCE claimed the $1,000 first prize by gobbling up 3 ¼ pounds of hog entrails.
I had briefly entertained the idea of trying a bite of chitlins, until I witnessed the eating contest. Watching people shovel handfuls of smelly pork guts into their kissers was all I needed to convince myself this was one culinary adventure I could skip.
Even though I’m no fan of chitlins, the Strut was a lot of fun. People put away their worries and troubles for a day to laugh with their friends, listen to music, dance and eat. Somewhere else in this country others are probably rejoicing over other edible piggy parts including hog jowls, ham hocks, pig’s feet, cracklins, and maybe even chops, bacon and ribs. That’s one thing you gotta love about porkers. They’re the epitome of gastronomic diversity, suitable to eat “from the rooter to the tooter.”
Check out the photos taken by Augusta Chronicle staffers at the this year’s Chitlin’ Strut: http://spotted.augusta.com/chronicle/display.html?collection=76619&gallery=167694&photo=826757