Whole Hog BBQ Myths
The BBQ world is filled with myths and tall tales. Fairly ridiculous claims like the 18 hour brisket or the 20 hour pork butt. Heck I've even had some guy tell me he cooked his chickens for no less than 8 hours. A lot of it stems from the "low & slow" target that people aim for, so theoretically Lowest & Slowest should make the best BBQ right? If you believe that. I have some beach front property in Arizona I'd like to show you.
Myth #1 200 Degrees and below cooking temperature
You've heard it before, people claiming that the key to cooking the perfect hog requires you hit a MAXIMUM cooking temperature of 225 degrees. I've even read about places claiming that they cook the hog at 185 degrees or perhaps just slightly higher just to keep the flies away.
One key fact people miss is the DENSITY of the hog. Now if you were cooking a little hog fetus, you go right ahead and do real low. My teacher, Ed Mitchell always said that the most important part of the initial temperature was to get "your heat into your meat". Do you know what they call a turkey cooked for 2 hours in a 500 degree oven? Raw. How long do you think it takes an animal the size of 10 Turkeys to get up to temperature. Just because your pit is 200 degrees doesn't mean you hog anywhere NEAR 200. Heck you're luck if its anywhere near 100 degrees. So raw meat in a moist warm environment, you know what that translates to? Yessir, that's some food poisoning bacteria making it's happy home in your dinner.
For many BBQ cooks, 180 - 200 is a HOLDING TEMPERATURE. You don't cook with it at all. This is the period where the BBQ is at the exact doneness that you want her to be at and she's going to hang out at this setting to rest, redistribute juices, and relax wound up protein. No one cooks at this temperature at any legitimate whole hog joint. If they tell you so they're either lying or trying to kill you.
Myth #2 It takes 24-36 hours to cook a hog
Now this is a pretty sad view of the pitmaster. Poor guy has to hang around a carcass for the entire day 6 days a week. All dating and sleep will take place on Sunday unless they're open on Sunday. So where exactly do they get this number?
The best lies are of course partially true. It's the same as the 18 hour brisket, despite what television tells you, the brisket is not cooking for 18 hours. Same with the hog, the longest a hog should take you is about 14 hours. Most people will get it done much sooner. What happens after it's fully cooked is that the pit has enough residual coals giving off light heat for the pitmaster to go home without having to fire the pit. If you cut off the drafts, your pit should stay warm for hours. Get a good night's sleep, come back and stoke the coals (re fire) and finish off your hog. So the math is pretty simple 14 hours cooking + 2 hours at the bar + 8 hours worth of sleep = 24 hours. The final 10 is a holding temperature where the meat is no longer cooking.
Can the meat be served at the 14 hour mark? Absolutely. It's fully cooked.