Southerners are hog wild about pig pickin's. So when Linda Gaines invited 60 or so tarheels to a pig pickin' at her place in Hampstead, N.C., the majority response was "All Right!" It's like that when you have a pig pickin.'

Americans have been barbecuing outdoors for a long time. Early settlers roasted squirrels and rabbits and venison and wild boar and 'possum and other game over an open fire. That was a matter of necessity.

Later on, the "cooking out" took on a social aspect. In 1799, a European gentleman visiting America wrote disdainfully of the colonists' fondness for an outdoor event called a "barbecue" in which a whole sturgeon or pig was "roasted over hot coals." The event was confined, he sniffed, "mostly to the lower ranks."

George Washington, however, knew a thing or two about a pig roast. An entry in his diary states: "Went down to Alexandria to a barbecue. Back in three days."

That's how it was in plantation society. Plantations were far apart and travel was difficult, so when plantation owners planned a party, they planned a party. Guests were invited to "stay awhile."

The traditional way of cooking pig is on a grid over a deep bed of hardwood coals in a pit. This is a slow process that can take up to 48 hours for a large pig, so the plantation guests had plenty of time for talking, dancing, playing games, racing horses and undoubtedly doing some judicious imbibing and injudicious betting (or vice versa).

Even today some traditionalists insist on digging a pit and cooking the pig the old-fashioned way. And now, as then, when the pig is done, it is each man for himself.

With such a colorful history, it is no wonder that the pig roast as a feast and form of entertainment survives today -- even increasing in popularity.

A pig pickin' is many things to many people: a family gathering, a church social, a fund-raiser, a party-for-the-hell-of-it, a political-payoff bash, or even a contest. (The latter is called a pig cookin' contest, or a cook-off.)

But whatever the excuse for the event, guests at a pig pickin' count on being served their choice of cuts of pork from the whole roasted pig. (Sometimes only hams and shoulders are cooked, because it's easier than roasting a whole pig.) During the long, slow cooking, the pork is basted with barbecue sauce.

When the meat is removed from the bones and chopped, it is, then, a proper barbecue. Just as everyone has his own definition of a pig pickin,' so everyone has a definition for barbecue. Loud arguments and even fist fights have been known to erupt over disputes about who "fixes the best barbecue," or makes the best sauce, or even what kind of pig cooker is best. A lot of volatility surrounds the subject of slowly cooking a pig.

On the appointed Saturday at Linda Gaines' house, arriving guests were greeted by the mouth-watering aroma of an already-roasting pig drifting across the lawn. The pig cook, Al Woodworth, had been at it since early morning, when he flung the 128-pound pig over his shoulder and then dropped it onto the grill of the gas (rather than wood) pig cooker.

The pig cooker, designed along the well-researched barrel shape, was made by the hostess' brother, Wesley Newell, and had a whimsical metal pig welded to the top of the lid. Basically, a pig cooker is a metal barrel, cut in half, laid on its side on a frame. The top half is hinged to the bottom; in the bottom half is the fire (coals or gas) with the grill over it. Once the pig is laid on the grill, the lid can be closed and the temperature controlled. The top of the cooker has a temperature gauge and two valves for ventilation.

Most pig cooks say it is a good thing to make the barbecue sauce several days or even a couple of weeks ahead, to allow the flavor to deepen. Basic ingredients are oil, vinegar and hot pepper, and mysterious seasonings known only to the alchemist at work. Never a touch of tomato brightens many sauces, yet others insist on a hint.

Barbecue sauce is a highly individualized thing, but the tastiest seem to consist of the basic combination of oil, vinegar, red pepper and salt. Any trace of garlic or other foreign flavors is generally anathema. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems to be a good maxim for barbecue sauce.

When the dinner bell is finally rung, the lid of the pig cooker is rolled back -- and there for all to see is a golden brown, perfectly roasted pig. Guests file by the cooker, asking the cook for their favorite cut. After that, it is up to guests to help themselves to second servings. Nearby is a table from which the feasters can serve themselves coleslaw and baked beans and hush puppies. It is a feast fit for George Washington.

When planning to barbecue a whole pig, begin several days ahead of time by preparing the sauce. A couple of days before the feast is to be held, dig a pit roughly 5 feet deep by 6 feet long by 4 feet wide. Build a good hardwood fire. When it's roaring, put on layers of hickory. Let the fire burn down to a thick bed of coals -- a foot or more is about right. Use galvanized fence wire or a large metal grill to cover the pit. Secure this firmly, so it will support the pork. Put the meat on to roast, and swab with sauce frequently, turning the pig periodically from one side to the other so it cooks evenly. You'll have to judge cooking time by the size of the pig or the section of pig you are roasting. A rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours for a whole pig of about 85 pounds; if over 200 pounds, allow 36 to 40 hours. BARBECUE SAUCE (For 1 pig)

1 gallon cider vinegar

8 ounces crushed red pepper

1 cup salt

A few days before you plan to roast the pig, make the sauce so the flavor can develop. Mix ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool, then refrigerate until ready to use. ANOTHER BARBECUE SAUCE (For whole fresh ham or whole loin of pork)

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup water (or apple cider)

2 cups apple cider vinegar

Juice of 3 lemons

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (or crushed red pepper to taste)

6 ounces steak sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Marjoram, thyme and basil to taste

Mix all ingredients, bring to a boil and cook until sauce is reduced by one-third. Then refrigerate until ready to serve. If You Have a Pig Cooker

Have pork supplier prepare pig for roasting; 120 pounds is standard size. Since the pig must be turned at least once during cooking, it is easier if it is placed on a metal grid, cavity side down, for the first half of the cooking time. Then two people can flip the grid, dropping the pig, skin side down, directly on the grill of the pig cooker for the latter half of the cooking time. There are no hard and fast rules, but it is generally agreed that a temperature of 170 to 175 degrees should be maintained to properly cook the pig, and it may be necessary to have the heat a little higher than that at the beginning. When the pig is done, a meat thermometer thrust into the thickest part of the pig will read 175 degrees. Another test for doneness is to twist a ham bone -- if it rotates freely, the pig is done. The pork should be thoroughly cooked, well done. The skin should be brown and crisp, hard. The pig should be basted from time to time, and you'll need about a gallon of barbecue sauce. Toward the end of cooking, poke holes here and there to release grease. Depending on the efficiency of the pig cooker, it can take from 6 to 10 hours to cook a pig weighing 120 pounds. The pig cook must pay attention and baste the pig to prevent burning, and also watch that the temperature is constant. Common sense is a high priority when cooking a pig. When the pig is done, let guests pick their favorite cut, and serve with coleslaw, baked beans and hush puppies or cornbread. Sweet potatoes, too, are excellent with barbecue. WINGING IT BARBECUE SAUCE (For whole fresh ham or 12 chicken halves)

1 pound butter

5-ounce jar prepared mustard

1 pint cider vinegar

3/4 cup worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

Juice of 4 lemons

1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce

2 teaspoons red pepper (crushed)

Mix ingredients and boil them briefly. Swab sauce on meat frequently while cooking slowly over hot coals. DOWN-HOME COLESLAW (6 servings)

1 medium head green cabbage, chopped or shredded

1 medium green pepper, diced

1 small carrot, finely ground

3/4 to 1 cup chow-chow or sweet pickle relish

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Mayonnaise to bind mixture

Mix all ingredients together well. Chill. Stir again and serve. COLESLAW FOR A CROWD (Serves 25 to 30)

4 large heads cabbage (green or purple or mixed), shredded

2 bunches radishes, sliced

1 pound carrots, peeled and shredded

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons salt

4 tablespoons celery seed

1 1/4 cups vinegar

3 tablespoons prepared mustard

5 cups mayonnaise

Place mixture of cabbage, radishes and carrots in one or more bowls. Mix remaining ingredients and toss with cabbage. Chill well. HUSH PUPPIES (Makes about 24 hush puppies)

2 cups white cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon salt

1 egg

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients. Add egg and buttermilk to make a thick batter. Drop from teaspoon into deep hot fat (375 degrees) and cook until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. Serve hot. BAKED BEANS (12 servings)

2 pounds dried pea beans

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 pound salt pork cut in 1-inch squares

1 medium onion, peeled

10 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1 teaspoon dried mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Soak beans overnight in cold water (water should be 1/2-inch above beans). The next morning, parboil beans in the water for 10 minutes with baking soda. Strain the beans in a colander, reserving the hot liquid, then run cold water over beans. Put half of the pork and the whole onion in the bottom of a bean pot, then pour beans into pot. Arrange remaining pork on top. Mix remaining ingredients with reserved hot liquid and pour over beans (add more water, if necessary, to bring the level to that of the beans in the pot). Bake six hours in a 300-degree oven, covered for the first three hours only. Add more water as necessary during baking to prevent beans from drying out. UNBAKED BEANS (12 servings)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

3 1-pound cans quality baked beans

1/2 cup ketchup

3 teaspoons brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, briefly saute' onion and pepper in bacon drippings. Add remaining ingredients. Allow beans to simmer about 30 minutes over moderate heat. (These beans can easily be cooked outside on the barbecue grill.) EASY SWEET POTATOES

1/2 large or 1 whole medium sweet potato per serving

Salt to taste

Brown sugar for sprinkling

Butter for dotting

Peel and quarter sweet potatoes lengthwise. Parboil until just tender, but not soft, then drain. Arrange potato slices in buttered casserole and sprinkle with salt to taste. Add about 1/4 inch water to casserole. Sprinkle potatoes with brown sugar and dot liberally with butter. Bake at 325 degrees until hot and bubbly (approximately 15 to 20 minutes). Baking Plain Sweet Potatoes ---

Choose medium sweet potatoes approximately the same size. Wash and snip off any tough ends, but do not peel. Place on rack in oven and bake at 350 to 375 degrees for about one hour until soft. Serve in the skin with plenty of butter on the side. Summertime Peaches

A day ahead of the party, pick a bushel of ripe peaches. With garden hose, spray peaches thoroughly. Set bushel of peaches in shade. Tell guests to help themselves. (Provide waste basket for pits.)