Well, butter my buns and call me a funeral sandwich.

This Saturday marked my last judging gig at the State Fair. It was for SPAM, and had the most entries—twenty-three. The trepidation I had about sampling dishes made with this classic canned ham product was multiplied many times over.

Every contest sponsor chooses their own rules and theme. For example, the sweet potato folks are looking for tailgating recipes. They also set the parameters of how it’s cooked and the type of ingredients that are allowed. The breakdown of scoring varies, too, by a certain percentage for each factor. Added together, they reveal the total score for each recipe.

The SPAM competition was broken up into one adult and one youth category. Each had only two factors to be considered: ease of preparation and taste, weighted 50/50. Basically, if someone had just popped the meat out of the can they could have earned fifty points. To make the recipe quicker and easier, boxed foods and mixes were allowed.

Happily, the majority of entries were good. Most of the contestants made thoughtful choices and possessed the skill to turn out tasty dishes.

In the pecan contest last Saturday, the prevailing trouble that many of the entries had was a need for salt. Pecans contain a good amount of oil, and oil requires salt as a balance.

The SPAM creations had an opposite, but equally prevalent glitch. There is quite a bit of sodium in the meat itself, and lots of boxes and mixes were used, which are also salty. The lesson here is to taste as you go, and if you’re using prefab ingredients, be very careful with added salt.

But the winners in both competitions had well balanced seasoning.

In the end, the SPAM winner was a unanimous choice: delicious miniature sandwiches made with a pack of King’s Hawaiian rolls. They were sweet, salty, and gooey. Topped with a sweet mustard glaze, nobody wanted to stop eating. We probably could have demolished half a pack per judge.

In naming her creation, Gail Fuller paid cheeky homage to the ubiquitous food of Southern funerals: ham biscuits. She calls them “SPAM Funeral Sandwiches.”

First Place: Gail Fuller, Raleigh
SPAM Funeral Sandwiches

1 12-pack King’s Hawaiian rolls
1/3 cup mayonnaise
12 oz. can reduced sodium SPAM, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
dash of onion powder

Spray a 7-by-10-by-3-inch deep baking dish with cooking spray.

Remove rolls from package and slice them horizontally in half. Place the bottom half into the prepared baking dish and spread with mayonnaise.

Layer Spam and cheese evenly over the base, then replace the tops.

Combine butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, brown sugar and onion powder. Mix well and pour over the rolls. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least two hours or overnight.

Bake rolls at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, uncovered, and serve warm.

Second Place: James Hardy, Apex
SPAMagaina (a SPAMified version of an Italian Easter ham pie)

1 package prepared pizza dough
7 large eggs
12 oz. can of classic SPAM
1/4 lb. each: genoa salami, prosciutto, pepperoni (other Italian meats may be substituted)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 lb. fresh ricotta
1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced or shredded
1/2 lb. provolone cheese, thinly sliced or shredded

Slice SPAM into 1/4-inch slices, then chop into half-inch to one-inch cubes. Prepare the remaining meat by stacking them into small piles, and dicing into half- to one-inch size pieces. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk 6 large eggs well until frothy. Whisk in the black pepper and the ricotta cheese. Then gently stir in all the cut meat pieces, mixing until all are evenly distributed.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease the inside of a 10 x 3-inch spring form pan with olive oil or nonstick spray.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Cut off one third of the dough and set aside for later. Shape remaining dough ball and then roll out into a large round (about 11 to12 inches in diameter). Gently fit the rolled-out dough over and into the prepared spring form pan, tucking it into all sides. The dough should go all the way up the sides.

Pour in about one third of the egg and meat filling, spreading it evenly. Top with one third of the mozzarella and provolone cheeses. Continue in this order until all the filling and cheese have been added (or until the filling reaches the top of the pan).

Roll out the saved dough and cut it into one-inch strips. Use the strips to form lattice on the top of the pie. Pinch together the top and bottom doughs to seal.

Whisk the final egg in a small bowl along with the 1/4 cup water. Brush the egg wash over the entire pie. Bake for 60-70 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool in pan for 30 minutes before releasing the spring and removing the outside ring. Transfer to a serving plate and let cool completely. Can be enjoyed the same day, or chilled up to two nights in the fridge before serving cold or at room temperature.

Third Place: Keith Henn, Yadkinville
Chicken & Waffles Cordon Bleu

8-10 servings
2 cans Hickory SPAM, cut into small cubes
25 oz. package fully cooked and frozen crispy chicken strips, thawed and cut into half-inch pieces
2 6 oz. bags shredded Swiss cheese
6 frozen “homestyle” waffles
1 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
5 Tbsp. salted butter
26 oz. can cream of chicken soup
1 cup half and half
1 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce, or more to taste
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3/4 cup maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Toss SPAM, chicken and one package of shredded cheddar cheese together so that they are all evenly distributed in baking dish. Set aside.

Prepare waffle topping: break up waffles and add to a food processor, along with brown sugar. Pulse mixture until the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs.

Melt butter in a medium bowl in microwave. Mix waffle crumbs into the butter bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine soup, half and half, Dijon and maple syrup. Stir to combine. Add 1 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce or more to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour chicken soup mixture evenly on top of chicken and SPAM mixture. Sprinkle with remaining package of cheese, then top with waffle crumb mixture. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Youth First-Place Winner: Lillie Merril, Denver
Rustic SPAM & Dumplings

Lillie says: “This recipe is a spin-off of my great granny’s chicken and dumplings. It is really easy, fast and fits a tight budget. [We bought] all the ingredients to make six to eight servings for $5.84 (after coupons). Could have saved more on super double coupon days.”

12 oz. SPAM Hot and Spicy
1 packet country peppered gravy mix
1 can refrigerated biscuits, 10 count
2 boxes of 32 oz. chicken broth (use only one if you like your soup thick)

Dice up the SPAM into small cubes. Brown them in a soup pot. Pour the chicken broth on top and heat on medium for five minutes. Break up each biscuit into 6 pieces. Place all the pieces into the hot broth and cook until all the biscuits are floating and done. In the meantime, mix gravy mixture with about ½ cup of water to dissolve and then pour into the soup pot while stirring.