The N.C. State Fair loves a deep-fried treat, but there is something about homemade food that warms the soul. The Home Chef Challenge at the North Carolina State Fair encourages the continued advancement of and love for cooking through daily cooking challenges.
Each day of the N.C. State Fair presents a new cooking challenge for our contestants who dream up their own recipes, prepare them at home and bring them to the N.C. State Fair for critique by a panel of judges…but only one can take home the coveted blue ribbon.
“Food is a way to bring people together,” said John Buettner, competitive exhibits director. “I cannot wait to see what the talented chefs of North Carolina cook up in our competitions this year. Recipes are judged on taste, creativity and appearance so let’s see what you’ve got, maybe you will earn the top prize of $500.”
With 11 days of competitions, there are options for every home chef to choose from. Last year, we kicked off a new Fair tradition with the “Not Your Mama’s Chicken Casserole Challenge.” This year, its all about sausage balls.
“We wanted Nahunta Pork Center to be involved in this challenge because of their tight-knit relationship with North Carolina Agriculture,” Sarah Ray, Public Information Officer with the NC State Fair said. “They have a stand at the Farmers Market and we love their products.”
The “Not Your Mama’s Sausage Balls Challenge” is sponsored by Nahunta Pork Center. In operation since 1955, they are excited to support North Carolina agriculture through their involvement in the State Fair.
“We are a family-owned operation that’s been in business since 1955 when my grandfather Mack opened a small slaughterhouse,” Brandon Pierce said. “It’s stemmed into a moderate-sized retail store where we still do the slaughter, processing, and everything. What started out as three hogs is now around 400-500 hogs a week.”
Growing up, the Pierce family made a tradition out of going to the Fair, Brandon saying “When I was in middle school I always wanted to go to the Fair for my birthday. I would go with my friends, and we would get 20 dollars to play games and ride rides. I have very fond memories of the fair.”
Being Fair Fans for so long, Brandon admits that the food is what makes the tradition special. From corn on the cob to ribbon fries, he enjoys it all.
“My wife and I are huge foodies and we’ll choose a day during the fair and not ride rides, but we will look at exhibits and eat food,” Brandon said.
Now, the Home Chef Challenge can be added to the list of Fair favorites. Brandon admits that sausage balls are one of his favorite foods, so this challenge was the perfect fit for Nahunta Pork Center.
“I can’t wait to see the creativity,” Brandon said. “I love sausage balls, they’re one of my favorite foods. I am very interested to see peoples take on sausage balls and seeing what they can come up with.”
Nahunta Pork Center is even providing contestants with the sausage to make their entries. When planning their partnership with the State Fair, this is what was most important to them.
“They must use our sausage, that’s what were probably best known for,” Brandon said. “On a yearly basis we make over 900,000 pounds. We wanted to donate the sausage so that people can know that that’s our product.”
So, what flavors can you come up with to take a classic sausage ball and add a twist to kick up our tastebuds and create a new family favorite? Start thinking about your recipes and we’ll see you Oct. 12-22 for the 2023 North Carolina State Fair!
Home Chef Challenges will be held in Dorton Arena. Contestants are allowed 30 minutes of free parking outside Gate 12. Check-in will be in the hallway. Contestants can either walk their food entry to Dorton Arena or allow us to transport it. Contestants must then move their vehicle. Free parking in Lot C with a free shuttle ride back to Gate 12 or Gate 3 is provided.
Nahunta Pork Center sausage is required for this competition and is being donated by NPC. You can pick up 1 lb. of mild and 1 lb. of spicy sausage at the Nahunta Pork Center at the State Farmers Market Thursday – Saturday the week of the competition. More details on pick-up requirements will follow after registration.
Entry deadline for Home Chef Challenge Competitions is Monday, Oct. 2. The full list of this year’s challenges is included below:
Slam-Dunk Sliders Challenge presented by N.C. State Wolfpack Basketball
Thursday, Oct. 12, at 4 p.m.
Your protein of choice is allowed…or you can really stretch your imagination and bring us an all veggie option…portabella caprese anyone?
Bella’s Birthday Bash Challenge
Friday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m.
Your tasty treats will be judged on appearance by our two-legged judges and some local celebrity canines just might join us for the ultimate taste test.
Boozy Bites: Appetizers with Spirit Challenge presented by The Distillers Association of N.C.
Saturday, Oct. 14, at 10 a.m.
Wow us with how you incorporate some of North Carolina’s best spirits as a featured ingredient in your dish. Check out the competition guidelines for a list of 34 N.C. spirits acceptable for the challenge.
Down Home Dessert Banana Pudding Challenge presented by Ambetter Health of North Carolina
Sunday, Oct. 15, at 2 p.m.
.Show us what you’ve got by sticking to your tried and true favorite, or bring us something even the most novice cooks can master.
Luscious Layer Cake Challenge
Monday, Oct. 16, at 10 a.m.
Whether you like red velvet, lemon, hummingbird or any of the countless flavors you can dream up as the perfect combo, make sure you have at least three layers and one of them must be cake!
Cast Iron Chicken Pot Pie Challenge presented by Carolina Cooker
Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 10 a.m.
There’s a reason chicken pot pie is a comfort food. When it’s cool inside, a fire is roaring and you’re settled in for the night…it’s the perfect complement to keep you just as toasty on the inside.
MREs in ’23: Make-Ahead Lunch Challenge presented by Wegmans
Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 10 a.m.
It’s Military Appreciation Day, and when we think of on-the-go chow, we KNOW you can do better than a standard MRE. Bring us your best!
Carnitas Street Taco Challenge presented by Smithfield Foods
Thursday, Oct. 19, at 10 a.m.
This year, we’re challenging you to bring us the heat…literally…with the Carnitas Street Taco Challenge featuring pork by Smithfield Foods!
Kickin’ Chicken Salad Challenge presented by House of Raeford
Friday, Oct. 20, at 10 a.m.
It’s time to test your skills to kick it up a few notches to dream up your own version of this stalwart of southern homes.
Let’s Get Cheesy Mac-N-Cheese Challenge
Saturday, Oct. 21, at 10 a.m.
Ooey, gooey and gloriously cheesy, do you have a recipe that is bubbling with creamy goodness? If you’re the family’s go-to mac-n-cheese maker, it’s time to compete for the ultimate first-place prize in the state.
Not Your Mama’s Sausage Balls Challenge presented by Nahunta Pork Center
Sunday, Oct. 22, at 2 p.m.
What flavors can you come up with to take a classic and add a twist to kick up our tastebuds and create a new family favorite? Nahunta Pork Center at the State Farmers Market will provide all entrants with free sausage for this competition. Entrants can pick up their sausage Thursday through Saturday the week of the competition.