11/12/04 — Man travels across United States taking pig pickings all the way

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Man travels across United States taking pig pickings all the way

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on November 12, 2004 2:02 PM

Steve Shafer pulls out a map of the United States and traces the red line stretching from North Carolina to Colorado, up to Washington and down through Texas.

"That was our route," Shafer said. "We drove 18,000 miles."

Shafer, and his wife, Sylvia, lived in their 18-foot-long camper for almost five months as they journeyed across America on a mission.

The mission was simple: Provide eastern North Carolina barbecue to missionaries living in the western United States.

During their trip, the couple weathered severe storms in New Mexico, a bevy of wild bats in Texas and a September snow shower in the Colorado mountains.

The couple held pig pickings in Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Washington, California and Nevada throughout the summer and fall.

They provided the vinegar-based barbecue at missionary reunions for the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints.

Shafer said he first got the idea for the trip when a missionary called him in 1994, saying how much he missed North Carolina barbecue.

"I told him to get a pig cooker and cook his own, but he said he didn't know how," Shafer said.

Not long after that conversation Shafer saw a program on the history of North Carolina barbecue. He taped the program and added a little extra footage about Goldsboro's history.

He also added footage from a pig pickin' in his own backyard to show how he cooked the pig.

Since that time, Shafer said, he's probably sent between 150 to 200 tapes to the parents of missionaries. The tapes made the families hungry for North Carolina barbecue.

"I decided that when I retired I would go out there and make them barbecue," he said.

Shafer learned to cook barbecue by watching Johnny Mangrum Brock of Grantham barbecue a pig.

His love for barbecue began 40 years ago.

"The first time I ate at Scott's Barbecue in 1964, liked it so much, I bought a case of the sauce," he said.

He took that case with him back on his Navy ship and spent the next few months doctoring up his meat with the savory sauce.

He shared that love of barbecue with over 800 people on his trip out west.

"People kept asking me if I was going to open a restaurant," he said.

When Shafer told them no, they asked him how they would get more of the barbecue.

"I told them to come to North Carolina," he said.

He also shared the secret of making North Carolina barbecue with about 35 people along the way.

"I had two people who stayed with me a whole day to find out exactly how it was done," Shafer said.

The only two people who didn't like the barbecue were members of Shafer's family.

"My brothers didn't like it," he said. "One of them had to have ketchup in the sauce, and the other one wanted honey. Everyone else liked it."

Shafer said that the pork barbecue was unusual in California, because most of the barbecue there was beef.

Shafer took several cases of barbecue sauce from local restaurants and gave them away to people at the pig pickings.

The most popular sauce, he said, came from Scott's.

"I had to order more of that one while I was out there," he said.

Though he and his wife got to see a lot of interesting sights, as well as visiting several national parks in Colorado, Shafer was glad to be home.

"Of all the places we visited, Goldsboro is the place I like the best," he said.