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JCVB Blog

The Johnston County Visitors Bureau BLOG is published weekly with news and feature articles on visiting the county.

Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes

Savory & Sweet Potato Recipes


Fall is for cool weather and warm comforting food, which means we've added more recipes to our on-going, online collection. This Fall we've found 4 sweet potato recipes and one butternut squash bonus recipe. Johnston County is one of the top county's in North Carolina for sweet potato production. We have a long history of trying to work sweet potatoes into everything from a traditional casserole to the breakfast and dessert tables. The unique flavor of sweet potatoes makes them an idyllic ingredient that can be utilized in both sweet and savory ways. The butternut squash recipe is a twist on a classic pasta carbonara dish. Serve a steaming bowl of it at your next dinner party to bring Fall flavor and carbolicious comfort food together.

If you would like a recommendation on how to get a hold of some delicious, locally-grown, Johnston County sweet potatoes, look no further than the Clayton Farm and Community Market. Their winter hours are every other Saturday from 10AM to 1PM and this Saturday the 29th there will be free Halloween fun for families. Click on a recipe below to give it a try and let us know how it went on our Johnston County Visitors Bureau Facebook page here. Happy Fall Ya'll!

Leftover Sweet Potato Casserole, Brie and Bacon Grilled Cheese

Sweet Potato Tots

Baked Sweet Potato Donuts with Dark Chocolate with Coconut

Sweet Potato Hash with Baked Eggs Recipe

Bonus: Butternut Squash Alfredo Pasta


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Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Local Caterer Appears on Food Network's Cake Wars

Copied with permissions By Keith Barnes and the Kenly News

Joyce Jenkins of The Serving Spoon in Pine Level appeared as assistant to her daughter, Charlise Johnson, a Smithfield native who now lives in Atlanta, on Food Network’s “Cake Wars” last week making it to the final round of the high-profile competition.

“Cake Wars” episode, which aired on Monday evening, Sept. 5, featured the Johnston County team and followed four bakers competing in two timed elimination-style rounds. Each baker was vying for a chance at a $10,000 prize but only one master cake artist got the chance to walk away with the top prize. The team of Jenkins and Johnson County beat out two other baking teams before being eliminated in the final round of competition.

Jenkins is owner of The Serving Spoon located at 212 N. Peedin Ave. in Pine Level and has been a caterer in Johnston County for 13 years. Johnson graduated from Smithfield-Selma High School and now lives in the Atlanta area where she launched her custom cake-baking business in 2013.

“She’s been cooking with me since she was three years old and she’s 36 now,” said Jenkins. To get on the show Charlise Johnson sent in a video and her entry was selected by the judges leading to an invitation to come to California and compete.

“For the show the contestants each were allowed to get an assistant,” said Jenkins. “She asked me if I’d help her because she felt the most confident with me.”

“One contestant was from Pennsylvania, one was from New Jersey and the other was from California,” said Jenkins. “They were pretty formidable opponents.”

“They give you a list of ingredients that you have to choose from,” said Jenkins. “We made a lemon basil cake with tomato jam and used ricotta cream cheese icing and a sweet potato cake and whipped cream icing.”

Jenkins said every bit had to be prepared from scratch and they were given no hints or clues prior to the competition of what they would be doing. “It was an enjoyable experience,” said Jenkins. “We had fun and enjoyed meeting the other bakers who we became very good friends with before we left. I’m so happy Charlise took me along for the ride.”

“The biggest thing I got out of it was that I got to help my daughter grow her brand,” said Jenkins. “Anytime I can help my children succeed in life I’ll be there 100 percent.”

Earlier this year at the Johnston County Arts and Food Festival Gala held at Johnston Community College The Serving Spoon took home two top prizes winning in the most original dish and best appetizer categories.

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Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

Meet JoCo's 'Que Competition Master

In eastern North Carolina we like our barbeque simple. You could call us purist. Whole hog. Pulled. Splash of vinegar. But the great thing about barbeque is its tendency to be geographically dependent. If I say barbeque in Tennessee or in Texas or in Oklahoma, there's no telling what's gonna end up on my plate. It makes for some confusing moments, some great eatin', and some intense competitions.

Johnston County resident Jerry Stephenson Jr. knows all about intense competition, he enters about 17 to 24 KCBS competitions a year; for the un-indoctrinated that means the Kansas City Barbeque Society. The KCBS is the world's largest organization of barbeque and grilling enthusiasts to the tune of over 20,000 worldwide members. Jerry is one half of a winning barbeque cooking team called Redneck Scientific, the other half being his sister. They grew up on a farm in eastern NC and Jerry says he learned his 'que skills from watching others cook whole hogs, "I just watched and learned. Then I cooked pigs myself later in college for the fraternities, sororities, and the rugby team for extra spending money."

Jerry says that he loves the simplicity of the whole hog approach to barbeque, a man after my own heart, "Low and slow cooking over coals that are burned down from logs. The coals are shoveled into precise places to cook the hog perfectly." Although Jerry likes to tiptoe out of my simplicity circle, going one step above vinegar to put a little Texas Pete on his pulled pork sandwich. That, he says, is his favorite type of barbeque. Fair enough. Although the Oklahoma relatives on my mother's side politely disagree.


Going Whole Hog


But how does one go from being a barbeque enthusiast to a barbeque master? Well, you sign-up and then you hope for the best. Jerry started cooking competitions with homemade barrel smokers that he also sold. He eventually trademarked the name of the ovens to Redneck Convection Ovens or RCOs. The name of his team and business, Redneck Scientific, was derived from these homemade smokers. With the help of the RCOs Jerry won a top ten nod in ribs during his first KCBS competition. In the next competition Redneck Scientific got 2 top ten nods in pork and again in ribs. Jerry says he was hooked.

"I still remember the first Grand Championship we won in 2011 at Squealin' on the Square in Laurens, SC. We placed top ten in all 4 KCBS categories (chicken, ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket)." Though Jerry was raised on the whole hog life, he enters all categories when he cooks. And often wins at them. And he doesn't deviate from the process he has for cooking each type of barbeque, whether it's pulled pork or brisket.

"My competition starts on Wednesday night when I make sauces and rubs for that week’s competition. On Thursday night I trim all of our meats and load our trailer to leave the next day.  Typically, we like to arrive around noon on the day before a competition. Once we arrive, we have our meats inspected and then inject some of the meats. Around 10 pm that night, I light my smoker and go to bed.  I usually get up sometime between 2AM and 5AM and put my big meats on. My competition day then begins at 5AM with a schedule that I follow every single time."

Sorry folks, that's as detailed as you're gonna get. A magician never reveals his tricks. I can tell you that all of Redneck Scientific's meats are procured locally. But any good competitor knows that a certain amount of superstition goes into the process, "I wear the same Superman shirt that I wore at my first competition, but I'm not really superstitious beyond that. My sister is a whole other story."

The female 50% of Redneck Scientific maybe has some winning history behind the superstition. Jerry's sister, Roxanne Manley, uses the ancillary contests at the barbeque events to showcase her skills as well, beating out 350+ teams at last year's American Royal World Series of BBQ to win Side Dish Champion. You go girl!

Rounding out the Redneck Scientific team are Jerry's wife Liz Stephenson and their two daughters Elle and Fiona. They all travel together to competitions as far away as Las Vegas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Redneck Scientific has been competing since 2011 and has had their name called in at least a top ten placement or higher over 200 times. That's a lot of wins, folks. Jerry creates his own sauces and cooks on Backwoods Smokers. The team is sponsored by Royal Oak Charcoal, BBQ Guru controllers, Oakridge BBQ rubs, Q Company Backwood Smokers, and Mojobricks.


Getting a Taste of Redneck Scientific


I know what you're thinking. How can I get my hands on some of this amazing barbeque? Well, I've helpfully posted up the Redneck Scientific schedule below. In addition, you can have them cater your next event. Yes, you can have Redneck Scientific personally feed up to 2,500 of your friends and family.

"We offer full service catering all over the Triangle area.  We have an established group of clients we feed each year.  We can cater for 25 or 2500+ people. Our catering menu can be found on our website. I’m also a 50% partner with a friend out of Charlotte and we vend up and down the East Coast at festivals.  Our vending company is called “The Redneck Bubba” after his BBQ team (BubbaJacks) and ours (Redneck Scientific) and you can find more information on that at www.RedneckBubba.com."

So, what is in the future for Jerry and his team? A restaurant perhaps? In Johnston County? He says that I, and everyone else, will have to wait and see, "I can't speak to a restaurant just yet, but the future of the competition team is my two little girls. They're already clambering to cook a meat or 2 in competition. Hopefully, they'll take over and I'll just get to watch like my Dad used to."

Well, if indeed a restaurant does happen I will be the first in line with a fork in my hand. In the meantime, Jerry has a ton of competitions lined up and a lot of cooking and winning to do this year still. While I would recommend a nice Double Barley or Deep River brew to go with your que', Jerry is ever the traditionalist, "I just think it goes really well with sweet tea." That's what I told my Oklahoma relatives about brisket and they almost made me sleep in the storm cellar. Just kiddin'.

Jerry is an eastern North Carolina traditionalist about another thing too, the bonds that keep him tied to barbeque and coming back to compete year after year, "Learning to cook whole hog at an early age left an appreciation in me for the unique taste of eastern NC pulled pork. But, more than that, it impressed upon me the camaraderie and fellowship that comes from standing around a pit."

Cheers to that and good luck this year!


Redneck Scientific Schedule


DC BBQ Battle  6/24 Washington, DC
Deep River Brewing vending 6/30 + 7/3
Festival of Discovery 7/8  Greenwood SC
Smoke in the Valley  7/22  Maggie Valley NC
Pigs and Pedals  8/5  Asheboro, NC
Sams Club Richmond VA  8/12
Sams Club Charleston SC  8/26
Low Country Fest 9/2 Charleston SC
Beak Week 9/9 Goldsboro NC
Tilley HD Bike Blues and BBQ  9/16 Salisbury NC
Butts and Beans  9/23  Newton NC
Squealin in the Square  9/30 Laurens SC
East Carolina BBQ Throwdown  10/7  Rocky Mount, NC
Smoking in the Foothills 10/14  Lenior NC
American Royal World Series of BBQ  10/28 Kansas City, MO
Hog Happenin  11/4  Shelby NC
World Food Championships  11/11 Orange Beach, AL

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The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

The Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina

I was going to start this blog off with the phrase, "can you think of anything more southern than ham?". But then I started to think about sweet tea, pecan pie, fireflies, and moonshine. So, I took a step back. The history of ham reverberates back in time to an era and place far from the American South. There is no denying however, that the South has a tradition of taking the pig and making it our own. One first thinks of barbeque. I'm going to talk about curing.


Master of the Cure


Let's begin by understanding the difference between curing meats and being a Curemaster, like Rufus Brown from Johnston County Hams in Smithfield, NC. According to the website Johnston County Hams are the epitome of a very Southern tradition. Our hams are the result of a traditional curing process Sam and Rufus discuss their Lady Edison product at the Smithfield Ham Shop at Johnston County Hamsdeveloped, perfected and handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years dating back to the first American colonists. While many understood the process, and curing meats was a widely used practice, a few curemasters were able to fine tune their recipes, practices and techniques to a point of pure mastery.

It is this mastery that southerners are so proud of and the reason that ham finds itself at the center of our family dinners and cherished recipes. This tradition and taste is honored at events like the Ham & Yam Festival, held every May in downtown Smithfield. Johnston County Hams was started in 1946 but began receiving national attention in the late 60's. Curemaster Jesse Brown refined the curing process down to a science, consistently producing a finely aged, delicate, not-too-salty cured ham. His son, Rufus Brown carries on the cure legacy at Johnston County Hams.

And now, a partnership between Rufus Brown and Sam Suchoff is poised to usher in a new era of high quality and delicious pork. The product is called Lady Edison and she is the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina. It sounds sexy, intriguing, exciting. It sounds like it goes great with red wine. Since you already know Rufus and his incomparable background in curing, you should know that Sam runs The Pig restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC. As Sam tells it, "I first met Rufus 7 years ago when I called up Johnston County Hams to see if they would cure out some hams for a friend of mine.  He's been my ham guy ever since!" An instant camaraderie.


A Savory Product. A Sustainable Idea.


Lady Edison is a labor of love and a product whose quality is based on patience and time. Sam uses his contacts as a barbeque restaurant owner to partner with hog farmers that sustainably raise hogs and are members of the North Carolina Natural Hog Growers Association. This means that the pigs are raised on open pastures without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. The reason the partnership works so well Lady Edison Logois that every part of the pig is utilized. Hogs are purchased whole by Sam and then processed at Acre Station Meat Farm (locally owned and operated in the eastern part of the state). Sam then takes the bacon, barbeque, and other useful parts for his restaurant, while Rufus takes the hams to his ham shop in Johnston County to start the process of making Lady Edison. Before I discuss the process, it may be helpful to explain to those not in-the-know that pork curing is also called putting-up or hanging hams. This is because the curing process demands that hams are literally hung in the air to cure.

According to Sam and Rufus the process involves the hams being hand rubbed with a dry blend of sea salt and sugar... and held at near freezing temperatures for 40 days. These “winter days” allow the cure to penetrate the meat as it extracts moisture. The hams are then rinsed and hung at spring-like temperatures with a “steady breeze” that facilitates the equal penetration of salt throughout the ham and removes excess moisture. Next, the hams are hung in the smokehouse and exposed to a light hickory smoke—imparting signature flavor before the final aging process begins. This final stage of maturation occurs in a warm and semi-humid aging room where the hams hang over hickory sawdust. It's these conditions under which the ham really comes into its own.

Lady Edison is a savory pork experience, more buttery than salty. It's comparable to its Spanish counterparts and the serving recommendation is thinly sliced and raw like prosciutto. Rufus and Sam's partnership has already proven fruitful. Lady Edison products can be found on menus in over 25 restaurants across the state and country. Raleigh restaurants like Gravy, Asheville restaurants like Bull & Beggar, and even places as far off as Manhattan and Kiawah Island. Restaurants and chef's that use the product in tapas, salads, and other dishes report rave reviews. I've tried it myself and can speak to the deliciousness. The extra aging on the Lady Edison product gives a supple texture and a melt-in-your-mouth flavor that would pair well with cheese and, as I earlier surmised, red wine.

There is nothing more central to a Christmas dinner or an Easter lunch, nothing more coveted at a cover-dish, then a country ham or country ham biscuit. Lady Edison invites you to try an extra fancy country ham. A ham above the rest. In the South we take pride in doing certain things real slow. But, that's because patients often lends itself to reward. Your next dinner out, look for Lady Edison on the menu at your favorite restaurant and give the Hoofed Temptress of North Carolina a try.

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JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week

JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week


 JoCo Takes a Bite Out of Triangle Restaurant Week


It is times like these that it is important to remember that Johnston County is part of the Triangle. We share news. We share an area code. And we now share events. If you've never heard of or participated in Triangle Restaurant Week, you're in for a delicious surprise. Restaurant Week celebrates the best culinary adventures to be found at Raleigh restaurants and other area dining establishments. Chefs serve up unique, creative menus offered at excitingly low prices. It's a great time to explore the amazing tastes that the Triangle area has to offer.

Triangle Restaurant Week

Don't just take my word for it. The Triangle Restaurant Week website declares, "Triangle Restaurant Week is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence designed to incorporate the premier Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and surrounding area restaurants. During TRW, participating restaurants offer special three-course menu options and fixed pricing, a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to indulge in the area’s finest cuisine! No reservations, tickets, or passes required."

This year, Johnston County's own Manning's is taking on TRW. Located in downtown Clayton just 30 minutes from Raleigh. "Manning’s Restaurant offers a combination of both modern creative and traditional southern style dishes. Our southern regional themed restaurant portrays our Chef Howard Manning’s favorite dishes growing up in the Carolinas with a modern twist." Visit the Manning's website for more information, menus, and hours. Or give them a call at (919) 585-7005.

Restaurant Week is happening now! The last day to enjoy these amazing menus at these wallet-friendly prices is this Sunday, January 31st. The good news is that events in Raleigh like this happen every year. Triangle Restaurant Week will be back, and back in JoCo, next year!

Expanding the Triangle, Adding to the Plate

Manning's Cheesecake


Manning's is participating with a four-course meal priced at $30 per person, plus tax and gratuity. The menu includes: a crab cake appetizer, your choice of either a bowl of gumbo or a side salad (pro tip: the spicy avocado ranch dressing is to die for), a 1/2 rack of BBQ ribs with coleslaw and fries, finished off with a slice of cheesecake.


The prix fixe menu does not include drinks, but Manning's has a full-service bar with mixed drinks and wines that can be paired with your meal. They also have local craft beer on tap. Try a Double Barley or Deep River brew made right here in Johnston County. Finish your Manning's Restaurant Week experience by visiting these two breweries. Deep River is just a few miles down Main Street from Manning's and Double Barley is a quick 10 minute car ride away.

So, if you're visiting Raleigh, the Triangle area, or Johnston County this weekend, stop by Manning's for a southern style dinner at a great price. And be sure to check out all the other restaurants participating in Triangle Restaurant Week. Bring your appetite!

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Beer Wine & Shine Trail

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Travel around the county to four award-winning wineries, two breweries and get a taste of brandy along the way!  Receive a Free $30 coupon book when you complete the trail.

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Meeting Planners

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Johnston County offers conveniently located and affordable conference facilities for meetings, reunions, and unique destination weddings sites.  Why not select a historic home or horse farm for your next event?

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Group Tour Operators

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Groups have discovered exits along I-40 and I-95 for outlet shopping, music theatre, museums and heritage sites.  Call today for custom itinerary planning.

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Hotel Packages

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We have created several special hotel packages including a Girlfriends Getaway for outlet shopping, we know you need a break and great deals on shoes!  Click here to book your getaway today.

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Check out what other travelers say about Johnston County, North Carolina on TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor
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