RALEIGH -- It takes about 17 hours to properly smoke a hog.
That's a lot of preparation for a traditional tailgate pig pickin', but it's just how things are done for sporting events in North Carolina.
Ed Mitchell is the pit master of The Pit, a restaurant in Raleigh that specializes in authentic barbecue cooking, and he wheeled out a massive hog Sunday for some lucky fans in the parking lot of the RBC Center before the 2011 NHL All-Star Game presented by Discover.
It sounds like a special meal for a special occasion, but it's just another day for sports fans in Raleigh.
"We do a pig pickin' for anything -- any occasion, any good time," said Mitchell, clad in his trademark overalls. "We brought it into the arena of football and now hockey tailgating. Tailgating, it doesn't matter. It's really about celebration of good times, good events, camaraderie with friends. It's what makes it all special."
Fans gathered around Mitchell's tent about an hour before the pig was ready for consumption. It's hard to blame them, as the sight of a whole pig being smoked in a parking lot is quite the spectacle for locals and visitors alike.
Eventually they were rewarded for their patience. The pulled pork was served free of charge to anyone who wanted to have some, and there was no shortage of people who were willing to wait in line for the uniquely prepared sandwich.
"This is certainly a lot better," said Kevin McDonnell of Charlotte. "A bit better atmosphere and a free sandwich doesn't hurt."
"This is the best barbecue ever," said Raleigh's Kelly Ballard. "We saw the sign and we had to come over."
Mitchell considered the event a complete success.
"It went great," Mitchell said. "Absolutely. We have a tremendous staff that just knows exactly what to do and make it all come together."
The pigs prepared at The Pit aren't kept in cages. Instead, they are raised on farms in the most humane way possible and not given any hormones.
"They're raised by local farmers in more of a natural setting," Mitchell said. "They're not stressed. We have an opportunity to put more emphasis on the quality of the product by controlling their diets. That makes the flavor real good.
"In order get good results, you have to start with the best product you can get. That's what I think is what made the restaurant successful."
It definitely made Sunday's tailgate successful as well.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo