BELEN — Before the sun dawned on the Rio Abajo valley, 12 teams who participated in the 23rd annual World’s Largest Matanza Saturday were already busy preparing for the arrival of more than 12,000 hungry visitors at Belen Eagle Park.

They were stoking the fires, butchering the pigs and simmering the red chile to perfection against the backdrop of the Manzano Mountains.

As the sun began to warm up Eagle Park, bus loads of people arrived from all over, ready to taste every morsel of chicharrones and carne adovada that they could fit in their stomachs despite the near-freezing temperature.

Visitors came to the matanza for many reasons — all came for the delicious traditional food, many went to see old friends and maybe make new ones, while others came to watch the teams work together to process and cook the hogs.

David Apodaca has been going to the matanza since the beginning, and says his favorite part is the music and meeting all the people.

“They come from all over New Mexico, California, Texas, Arizona and they just have a blast here,” said Apodaca. “It’s like it’s like having a big ol’ party with people you don’t even know but everybody’s all friendly.”

The 12 teams comprised of friends, family and co-workers competed for the prestigious Grand Champion, the People’s Choice and the Rookie of the Year.

The best of awards included the best carne adovada, a specialty pork dish, chicharrones and the iron pig — where teams had to create dishes using ingredients from a mystery basket.

Jeff Flores, of the Farmers Insurance team, said that processing the hog is his favorite part of the matanza.

“Because we’re doing it traditionally; we wait for the people to show up (before processing the hog),” said Flores.

Richard Signs said his favorite part of the matanza is, “just seeing everybody’s different techniques of preparing this and preparing that, it’s just kind of fun to watch them all.”

The Hispano Chamber of Commerce of Valencia County sponsors the matanza every year, giving scholarships to local students from the money earned at the event.

The HCVC hoped this year would surpass last year’s total of $59,000.

UPDATE:

The Hispano Chamber of Valencia County reported the funds raised by the matanza grossed $120,086 and the amount raised the day of the event, totaled $71,000.

Jesse Jones | News-Bulletin photos

Silhouetted in the morning sun, members of Rio Grande Matanzeros team talk while the pork simmers in the giant cauldron at the 23rd annual World’s Largest Matanza on Saturday, Jan. 27.

A father and son process a hog together at the 23rd annual World’s Largest Matanza on Saturday at Eagle Park. The annual event is hosted by the Hispano Chamber of Valencia County.

Submitted photo

2024 Grand Champion:  Team Greg Baca

2024 World’s Largest Matanza winners

Team awards

2024 Grand Champion:  Team Greg Baca

Runners Up: City of Belen

Third:  Joshua A. Sanchez for Senator

People’s Choice Award:  Rio Grande Matanzeros

Rookie of the Year: Blackrock & TLC

Liver

First: Team Greg Baca

Second: 150th Special Ops Wing

Third: City of Belen

Carne Adovada

First: Team Greg Baca

Second: City of Belen

Third: Joshua A. Sanchez for Senator

Specialty Pork Dish

First: Rio Grande Matanzeros

Second: Joshua A. Sanchez for Senator

Third: The Chicarrones

Iron Pig

First: Los Lunas Schools

Second: Rio Grande Matanzeros

Third: Team Greg Baca

Chicharrones

First: City of Belen

Second: Rio Grande Matanzeros

Third: Team Greg Baca

Public Awards

Biscochitos

First: Alice Ramirez

Second: Andrea Trujillo

Third: Melissa Lucero

Natillas

First: Roseann Peralta

Second: Sha Luma Hicks

Third: Pamela Ulibarri

Pastelitos

First: Denisha Sanchez

Second: April Sisneros

Third: LouAnna Jaramillo

Red Chile

First: Tracy Armijo

Second: Gerard Quintana

Third: Lori Ann Martinez

Salsa

First: Kevin Jojola

Second: Audra Baca

Third: Ciera Carroll

Tortillas

First: TeeCee Centeno

Second: Dorothy Flores

Third: Nicole Carrillo

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Jesse Jones lives in Albuquerque with his wife and son. Jesse graduated from of the University of New Mexico twice. This spring, he graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism and, in 2006, he received a bachelor’s degree in university studies with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a current fellow of the New Mexico Local News Fund.