Arrogant Swine

Beer Hall Carolina Whole Hog BBQ

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Whole Hog Pitmaster Ricky Parker has passed

The Southern Foodways Alliance alerted us to the passing of Whole Hog BBQ legend Ricky Parker.

Mr Parker was taken far too soon from us. At 51 years of age he was still relatively young gentleman. With our country seeing a resurgence in interest and passion for BBQ, there was hope that he would be able to see a revival of a tradition he loved so dearly.

I wrote a bit about Parker HERE concerning his specific style of cooking and his preferred hog breeds.

Parker definitely wasn't a celebrity pitmaster. He wasn't particularly known save for a few foodies and even amongst those, very few understood exactly what he was doing and what he was preserving. When I was in college, my linguistics professor was collector of rare and dying languages. A brilliant man, he noted that we can collect data for future generations to study and make contributions to Linguistic Theory. However, any attempts to preserve dying languages are sadly futile. Regional barbecue styles are like languages. Even in its limitation of expression it can sometimes most clearly describe who we are.

Barbecue has become more popular now than ever before. Television shows, forums, Youtube videos, all point to the fact that people really care. Not only do they care they're opening their wallets for good BBQ. Real BBQ. Parker sadly is no longer with us to see the next chapter. Hopefully he will have inspired the next generation in Western Tennessee to continue the art of whole hog cookery. Express to us the public and to themselves their heritage in the living language of smoke.

Rest in Peace Mr. Parker.

John Brown Day is Coming!!

BGupa4rCAAAFCnS

"His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine—

it was as the burning sun to my taper light—

mine was bounded by time,

his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity.

I could live for the slave,

but he could die for him."

 - Fredrick Douglass

This Sunday is John Brown Day over at John Brown’s Smokehouse. In a year promising to one of may firsts – this will be the first BBQ event I have ever done that featured a lecture by a Harvard Professor. Who says country cooking and academics can’t exist together?

I never particularly read up on John Brown prior to my current tenure as Whole Hog expert for JBS. As a child we’ve always been given the impression that John Brown was a necessary evil. Rational logic would not force this country to recognize her violations of the sworn creed of liberty. Slavery was the norm and it required zealous violence of a true believer to get people to start noticing. Our history books would have preferred one that was not so indiscriminate with his killings. Historians to this day debate the characterizations of John Brown – domestic terrorist? Civil rights hero? Martyr? Serial killer?

Any place naming itself after John Brown makes a statement. He’s not an easy person to like. He’s impossible to ignore. If nothing else, John Brown perhaps overturns the “flawed hero” concept. He was not a hero with flaws but his flaw and zealousness pushed him to heroic actions. It’s not a concept foreign to religion. Especially in a Judeo-Christian culture, saints and sinners are not binary figures. In contrast, all saints were sinners, the most famous of them perhaps the worst offenders.

Harvard Professors, Blues Legends, and a whole hog cook will be strange bed-fellows this weekend. I have written at length before about how North Carolina whole hog BBQ is deeply embedded with American slavery. Perhaps it won’t  be all that strange after all.

Franklin's BBQ - Brisket Series

Now celebrity Pitmaster Aaron Franklin's entire PBS series of his nationally acclaimed Brisket. Enjoy! [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMIlyzRFUjU]

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGZ39yYxeBk]

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gybrM6EQ6fg]

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmTzdMHu5KU]

This I Believe

I am inspired by an old essay written by  Leslie Scott, co-owner of the legendary Ubon Barbecue in Yazoo City, Mississippi titled "This I Believe."

Steve Jobs shadowing Picasso said "Good artists copy but great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing good ideas". Here's my version.

This I Believe.

I believe in America and her unwavering commitment to liberty, freedom and the human spirit. Barbecue is America's single native culinary creation and is the nation's finest food.

I believe whole hog is the best barbecue. It is neither the most difficult barbecue to cook nor necessarily the most fullest flavored. It is the best barbecue because of that it represents. Unlike other cuts, it is neither thrift nor utility which gave birth to it. It represents celebration, thanksgiving and rest from toils with those most important to you. Whole hog barbecue came not from the kitchens of kings but from pits dug in the ground by slaves. Men and women who lived lives of unimaginable suffering who yet could still smile to one another as they shoveled wood embers below their next day feast.

I believe in old fashion cookery. The use of wood as the source for heat and flavor. It is not that gas and electric can not produce good tasting food. In fact cooking with gas or electric produces very consistent food. What they can not produce is romance. This is fine for burgers or pork chops, but it will never invoke the primal passion of hardwood fueled flame.

I believe in feasting. A perfectly decorated plate does not scream out family and friends. It's a fantasy of perfection rather than the glorious imperfection of real life. Feasting comes from whole joints of meats. We tear into the same flesh and dine together on the same beast, at that moment we are family.

I believe in generosity. You can not have great barbecue without generosity. Generosity is not an action, it is a product. Generosity comes not simply from portion size but the effort, time, and passion in creating the dish. Those who are committing themselves over to the old school processes are selling generosity everyone else is simply selling smoked meat.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in the value of our nation's ancestral barbecues. I believe that the future generations will do too and will pay for it. This will require the creativity and aggressive marketing that only capitalism can provide. Historians will not save our heritage. Our heritage will be saved by the almighty dollar because it is a worthy product and others will value it too.

Soy Sauce in Alabama Barbecue?

Cooking through Chris Lilly's Big Bob Gibson BBQ book, you will notice the man seems to have a thing for soy sauce. It makes its appearance in marinades, as seasonings for his steak, and in his signature red barbecue sauce. In very few contexts does it use soy sauce as an "Asian" flavoring. He explains that Alabama's been incorporating soy sauce into their beef dishes for the past half century.

This is particularly interesting as soy sauce is not a subtle flavor yet it has been blended as an ingredient in such a way by Lilly that it doesn't overpower his dishes with an Asian accent. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the art is incorporating foreign ingredients and making it a uniquely American seasoning.

Salt Lick Barbecue in Texas also incorporates soy sauce as part of their signature mustard sauce. This is largely due to a Japanese matriarch of the joint and it's 100% Texan. Cuban cuisine as well as Peruvian cooks have long added soy sauce as part of their flavor profiles.

Soy sauce was developed in around 2 BC in China and became actively traded all around the world by the late 1700's. We see various types of soy sauce being used all over Asia. Japan alone has over 10 major varieties of the stuff. For the most part you can break soy sauce down into 2 major categories - DARK and LIGHT.

DARK = Sweeter, thicker, and likely to stain your meats a dark color. Better for glazes. Best not to use in injections because it stains the meat. Even for marinades, be careful how much you use.

LIGHT = Saltier, thinner, and possess more of a soy "flavoring" better or marinades, injections, and seasoning.

The big reason you can blend soy sauce into BBQ is because it's a fermented product like Worcestershire. The process develops Glutamic acids which enhances meaty flavors. My personal favorite are the mushroom flavored soy sauce for that double punch of umamai.

I believe this is an exciting trend where more and more people in the US will begin to use soy sauce in manners that are different than how they would be used in Asia. When one thinks of Alabama BBQ you lean more towards the seasonings that are part of the general South eastern american landscape like brown sugar, ketchup etc. But now we can confidently say that soy sauce has a firm place in the barbecue profiles and it has nothing to do with Kung Pao Chicken.

Conversations with Charles Stamey - Trying Something New

Stameys 44

On my most recent trip to North Carolina, I had an hour and half long conversation with a mystery pitmaster at Stamey's BBQ who turned out to be no less of an luminary than Charles Stamey himself. Charles Stamey is the grandson of the father of Lexington-style Carolina BBQ Warner Stamey and is the father of current Stamey empire head Charles (Chip) Stamey. I obviously didn't record the conversation but we had but had some time to think through our conversation. So I'm focusing more on my reflections for the conversation rather than the conversation itself.

To see a retired gentleman shovel embers into the pits while there were much younger men surrounding us prompted the question - what are you doing here? The answer was that he was trying something new. Now it's hard to imagine what new aspect he was working through after manning the pits for so long. Or as he puts it "took what he learned the first day and try not to screw it up for 38 years".

I'm imagining that much of the innovation he was seeking has been the same as many of his generation have been seeking for a while. That is, how does one preserve the old tradition of cooking barbecue with embers while still maintaining or increasing margins. My clue to this was his interest in a pit I was working on inspired by my teacher Ed Mitchell. How does one create a way of cooking old school barbecue and be able to reduce labor costs?

This style of thinking is pretty common amongst the old generation pitmasters. Growing up  in the shadow of World War II, the mark of true intelligence was to maximize efficiency. How can we streamline processes, reduce costs, eliminate redundancies. You see Private Equity financiers take this to it's ultimate morphology in modern leveraged buyouts of mature industries. This was necessary because barbecue has been a cheap product for a long long time. To give you an idea, it costs me $6.19 for a LARGE barbecue plate with slaw and hush puppies. My meal for lunch today at McDonald's will cost no less than $8. Think about that for moment. It will cost me MORE money to get a mass produced, frozen fried patty with fries than a plate of chopped pork shoulders slowly roasted over wood embers overnight. What is shocking is that when people will squawk  at the price of BBQ if it rose to $8 and yet see no issue with spending that much at the McDonald's drive through. 

So much of the innovation to increase margins lie largely with people's perception of BBQ. BBQ for many people is fast food, akin to Kentucky Fried Chicken. The innovations of efficiencies have lead many older pitmasters to head the way of the gas powered smoker. Ovens which roast the meats with a tiny branch of wood for flavor. Where once people BBQ'ed with logs, many have moved to chips.

The challenge for current generation is the sell the fact that barbecue is an artisanal product. Where on the artisanal product spectrum it should sit is extremely difficult to gauge. Smoked pig is woven deep in South Eastern American life, people in North Carolina eat it once or twice a week. So it isn't in some upper crust spectrum like rare cheeses or fine wines. Somewhere long the craft beer industry is where I see modern BBQ going. For the longest time, barbecue seemed to have been competing with the Burger Kings and Applebees of the world and it's a losing battle. These national firms are the best at what they do. To play in the market with gas smokers will forever be a losing proposition. They have stronger economies of scale, massive buying power, and global brand recognition. It would be akin to someone entering the beer market by offering bland generic fizzy yellow beer and competing with Budweiser.

The last generation of pitmasters were not only master cooks. They were exemplars of operational efficiencies. This way of thinking though will not save old school barbecue. To compete in this world on price will always be race to the bottom. The people of the world are seeking value over price. People easily pay over $4 for a coffee drink which is close to 70% of my lunch at Stamey's. This generation of today's pitmasters need to innovate, not to increase margins, but to sell the public on the value of meat cooked by hand over an evening's worth of all wood embers.

Gods of Whole Hog BBQ - Chris Siler

Chris Siler is the owner of Siler Old Time BBQ. His pitmaster's name is Ronnie Hampton. Siler is another new generation pitmasters still doing whole hog. As of this writing he's 37 years old and still preserving the traditions of whole hog BBQ.

Style - West Tennessee though Siler is actually pretty honest about his cooking methods. Many Tennessee pitmasters tend to exaggerate how low. He starts off hot and once the temperatures stabilize he lowers the heat. They use 200-250 lbs hogs as is favored in the West Tennessee area.

Fuel - Only hickory smoker ever touches these hogs.

Sauce - Siler has a unique sauce that utilizes a very old ingredient - Sorghum molasses  It isn't as sweet as we normally think for molasses and it has a rich deep flavor.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=QKfoGo5pIMA]

Gods of Whole Hog BBQ - Pat Martin

Aside from the people making the oral history recordings, I'm not sure there's too many people who read up as much as I do on the history, culture and techniques of whole hog barbecue. Much of the reading is just down right depressing. You hear of these tiny remote out of the way towns doing whole hog as a dying art. It's too labor intensive, too time consuming, too hazardous, etc. People don't want their kids doing it, no one is making any money from it, the business dies with the owner etc. See what I mean? The ultimate culmination of this insult to injury narrative is that many have switched over to gas or electric cookers and more or less killed off any real tourist attraction feature it might have had.

It's important to record some of the passing stories, to preserve their stories long after they and their art have passed on. Just importantly though, or I would argue even more importantly, are the profiles of those who ARE successful, who ARE preserving traditional whole hog barbecue without gas, who ARE looking to pass their craft down to their children. People like Pat Martin are the new generation of hog cookers. They have new standards of economics i.e. the fact that a pig cooked for 16 hours should NOT cost the same as a McDonald's hamburger. Despite what old timers might think, the younger generation does value artisanal foods, ancient cooking, and preserving traditions.

Style - Modern West Tennessee. Martin uses a rub on his pork unlike the minimalist seasonings he learned. As traditional West Tennessee goes, wood is burned down to embers and shoveled underneath the hog in an open pit with a metal lid. His signature dish is the famous "Red-Neck Taco" in which barbecue is placed on a hoe cake and seasoned with hot sauce.

Fuel - Garden & Gun claims he's burning hickory but I don't have a confirming source. Would make sense, West Tennessee cooks love their hickory.

Sauce - Western Tennessee Red tomato vinegar sauce with spices.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ufruwns0mNI]

Gods of Whole Hog BBQ - Rodney Scott

SOURCE: Time.com Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina a voice cries in the wilderness proclaiming to all the faithful to make straight the highways to Scott's BBQ. That voice of course is that of Rodney Scott. It's a fairly reasonable demand, there's only 600 or so people in Hemingway, South Carolina and most tourists are definitely not in the area to go stare at the old railroad. If you talk to a lot of whole hog cooker or many people cooking any barbecue the old fashion way, it's a pretty depressing conversation. On the one hand they'll talk about how awfully hard and terrible the work is, on the other they'll lament the dying of the art. Scott's answer? - sure beats farming.

In addition to being the town's BBQ guy, he's also the town's tree removal service. You have a tree down? He'll come by with axes and chainsaws ready to take it off your hands free of charge. AND he'll invite you to the annual easter BBQ for your kindness. Think about that for a second, he'll take care of YOUR problems and still invite you over for a thank you meal. We all thank God does BBQ but for heaven's sake let's get the man into Congress!

Style - This is old school BBQ right here. Wood is burned down to embers and shoveled under the pig in open pits. The hog is cooked facing down and flipped at the final few minutes of cooking. Scott cooks the "Pee Dee" style of South Carolina BBQ which means a vinegar pepper sauce. Not a drop of mustard in sight! This makes him fairly similar to his eastern cousins in North Carolina. The major difference here is that he seasons the hog on the pit. So after flipping, the hogs are basted while he takes a large spoon and breaks up the meat. Extra coals are placed under the pig to cause the sauce, now pooling in the pig's cavity to boil. This final act of boiling binds the flesh with the sauce.

Fuel - Rodney uses a mix of hickory, pecan and oak. I'm fairly confident that the mix is whatever he has on hand at the moment. He does seem to prefer the flavor of oak though. Like most stick burners, the question is less about wood flavor and more about output of BTUs. He notes that pecan is the fastest and hottest burning wood, hickory makes the longest lasting coals, and oak coals makes the best flavor.

Sauce - As we're in the Pee Dee region - vinegar & pepper rules the day. It seems that there's a nice mix of powdered and crushed peppers in there. He also likes placing lemons into his sauce. The big element in this part of the south is the seasoning of the pig with Accent, an MSG product. Many text have been written about MSG, long of it is - get over it. MSG has no harmful effects, you can not develop an allergy or sensitivity towards it, otherwise the entire nation of China would have one chronic headache. Who knows? Toss a little Accent into your food, you might like it.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/12588376]

The BIG PIG JIG!!! - RESULTS 2012

See all my photos from the Big Pig Jig HERE Team Bubba Grills got 1st place in Ribs, 5th Place in Shoulder, and 10th in Whole Hog. Not too shabby. I was hoping we'd do better in hog as that beast was beautifully cooked.

We were also awarded the Jimmy Maxey Ultimate Cook Team award. This goes to the highest scores in the preliminary round. 

Full Results :

Whole Hog

  1. Jack's Old South
  2. Dixie Que
  3. Smarr Cooking Crew
  4. Rescue Smokers
  5. Slapjo Mama
  6. Biteback
  7. Jurassic Pork
  8. Lillie's Q
  9. Vienna Volunteer Fire Department
  10. Bubba Grills 

Shoulder 

  1. Dixie Que
  2. Jack's Old South
  3. Hog Rock Cafe
  4. Georgia Stars
  5. Bubba Grills
  6. Vienna Volunteer Fire Department
  7. Doc and Dicies
  8. Mac's Smoke Shop
  9. Jack's New South BBQ
  10. Hog Heaven

Ribs

  1. Bubba Grills 
  2. Rescue Smokers
  3. Slapjo Mama
  4. Smoke Shack
  5. Darton College
  6. Dixie Que
  7. Florida Boys
  8. Hog Heaven
  9. Jack's Old South BBQ
  10. Southern Smoke BBQ Team

3 Views of Whole Hog BBQ - Alton Brown, Sam Jones & Rodney Scott

SOURCE: FOOD REPUBLIC

“You can cook a pig over gas. You'll certainly go to hell, but you can do it.” - Alton Brown on Whole Hog BBQ.

Over at the FOOD REPUBLIC, Chris Chamberlain does an amazing summary of what I would consider the highlights of the recent Southern Foodways Symposium - WHOLE HOG. Actually my teacher Ed Mitchell, the grand ambassador of Eastern Carolina whole hog, was there but was asked to something on his family's Brunswick stew. Two whole hog powerhouses Sam Jones and Rodney Scott, representing Eastern North Carolina and Pee Dee South Carolina styles respectively, where on hand to cook massive 280 lb Mangalista Hogs on open concrete pits. And no less than the great TV food science guy alive was there to talk about whole hog bbq. Honestly could this card get any more stacked?

Definitely worth reading in it's entirety. I'm simply going to post some of my thoughts on what's said.

The first interesting thing was the stylists picked. For those in the know, Jones and Scott are big names. They're also basically the same in style on paper. The South Carolina Pee Dee region uses a vinegar pepper sauce that's more or less the same as Eastern Carolina. I figured it would have been interesting to bring someone like the folks from Sweatman's cooking their mustard sauced whole hog to bring extreme contrast. Even thought they're fundamentally the same you can really notice the difference in styles.

Scott is really big on seasoning the mean on the grill. So when the pig is flipped, the aim is just as much to blister the meat as it is to boil the sauce mopped on the meat to season the whole thing. Jones is concerned about blistering the skin because that gets chopped up and mixed into the pork as is the tradition of Eastern Carolina BBQ.

One of the very interesting challenges was the makeshift cinder block pits that was made for them. Both men probably have a nice ash pile back at home at the bottom of their pits. This helps absorb the grease as it drips to reduce the chances of sudden pig bonfires. In addition, both men are probably more used to cooking the leaner pigs which again drips less fat. It would have been fun to watch them deal with all the lard that would have been gushing out of the Mangalista.

In Alton Brown's presentation of the science of whole hog cooking he notes these several points

  • Think of a whole hog as a big cauldron of water. You could simmer it or boil it. Better to simmer.
  • Samller pigs 90 - 100 lbs are better because they're more tender and are easier to handle.
  • There are 500 flavor compounds in smoldering hardwood.
  • It's critical not to let the meat get too hot other wise the moisture will just boil off
  • Brown mops his pig frequently to keep the heat down
  • He also flips the pig 3-4 times during the process so that it cooks evenly

The cauldron of water idea is interesting. I've never really thought about it that way but it makes sense. He takes it a bit far by saying you need to mop the pig to keep it at the optimal temperature of 170-180. Most cooks will know this as the famous "stall" in meats when you smoke them. Your temperature will basically hit 160 and kinda hang out there for a good while because the moisture dripping from  the meats actually cools down the barbecue. In fact many of us will actually stoke the fire at this point and heat it up to break past the stall period. I still think the boil vs simmer idea is worth exploring. I actually prefer to cook pigs north of 120 as there's a lot more fat at that point and the animal has a matured a bit more to develop a deeper flavor. Many whole hog guys I know are willing to sacrifice that little bit of tenderness for more flavorsome pig.

Again I would encourage all to read the whole thing HERE.

The BIG PIG JIG!!! - 5th Place Pork Shoulder 2012

See all the shots of our Competition Whole Hog HERE

If you were to be a Memphis Barbecue Network (MBN) Judge, you'd want to be a shoulder judge. It is the single largest act of decadence in the trifecta of competition pork offerings. In an MBN contest every judge will sample out of the same Hog, everyone will get a slab of their own ribs and that is not out of the norm of regular eating. Baby back ribs are smaller so it's easier to consume an entire slab. But each and every shoulder judge gets THEIR OWN SHOULDER!!!! That's insane! The average shoulder can feed up to 20 adults. This would be akin to us having a cake baking contest and every single sampling judge getting their own multi-tiered wedding cake.

The amazing part is that the shoulder itself has multiple tastes and textures for you to sample. Within the shoulder muscle itself there are 7 main muscles. Some are rich and dark, some are white and lean - so much so you'd think you were eating a ham. Everyone has their own favorite part of the shoulder. My personal favorite comes in the "pull test". In the pull test you twist and yank out the long straight bone of the lower part of the shoulder known as the "picnic". When you do the pull test, the bone must pull out clean. If you have to scrape the bone your meat is not done. When the bone is pulled out you'll see a little nugget of meat attached to hollow of the joint surrounded by collagen. THIS is the sign of perfectly cooked meat. The flavor is rich and that sticky melting collagen is still on the joint to be gnawed on - the most perfect bite on the shoulder. This goes with the old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin - "Closer the bone, sweeter the meat". Now I wouldn't call the meat "sweeter" but in terms of lip smacking decadence, you won't find many peers. If you over cook your meat, all the collagen will be melted away and while the overall product will be good, you won't have that nugget.

Lonnie showed off what he called "BBQ Cocaine", namely this lasagna like strands of meat suspended between two layers of soften fat. This is found on the butt end of the shoulder (the upper blade). If the meat is over cooked, the fat will completely render and the meat will simply blend in to everything else. It's presence signifies a perfectly cooked shoulder. It reminds me a lot of slow cooked pork belly, that is, the spaghetti like texture.

And if you're a Shoulder judge, it's ALL yours. You get to sample every texture, a bite of the best portions of the meat, and you don't need to share. Is there a better judging gig?

Tips for Shoulders

  • Discover your favorite portion of the shoulder. Every top shoulder competitor has a favorite part and is able to pitch it like a stock broker. I love my joint nugget. Lonnie loves his BBQ cocaine. Chris Lilly, a GOD in shoulder cookery, likes to show off the bicep nugget (at least that's what a student of his told me) and I can understand why as it contains the dark texture of the butt coupled with solid texture of the picnic with enough exposed flesh to develop a deep bark.
  • Shoulders really do seem to benefit the most from low & slow cooking. Even Myron Mixon, who is the leading proponent of cooking "hot & fast" seem to prefer doing his shoulders nice and slow throughout the night vs how he powers through his brisket. The little treasure of muscle get lost in rapid cooking. Now in a commercial setting this is not an issue because everything gets mixed together. But again, here every judge get's their own wedding cake. This doesn't necessarily mean you want to be in the arctic zone of 225 degrees like many books tell you.
  • I live close to a large Latino-American population, which means there's an abundance of picnic shoulders available. Picnics, I've found, are harder to cook than butts and I've only very recently got my process down after much anguish. It is worth your while to really master picnic cookery because from there you can truly appreciate the whole shoulder and not simply the butts.

Here are some snap shots and of course click the link above for all the food porn.

The BIG PIG JIG!!! - 10th Place Whole Hog 2012

See all the shots of our Competition Whole Hog HERE

The Big Pig Jig was originally a whole hog contest. This follows the tradition that differentiates Whole Hog from its other BBQ peers. Other BBQ cuts like beef brisket, pork ribs etc are utilitarian in nature. Slow smoking was a way of taking a cut that had very little utility and making them an  attractive menu item. The famous Rendezvous restaurant in Memphis started doing baby-back ribs solely because their meat supplier gave them cases for free, such an undesirable cut it was, and now ribs are their signature item. Whole Hog does not fall in this same genre. Whole Hog has always been a celebratory cook - the crowning centerpiece of a big party.

Whole Hog also occupies an interesting space in the competition world. On the one hand it's less competitive by volume - There were 109 teams competing in Ribs that weekend and only 40 teams in Whole Hog reflecting the higher barrier of entry Hog presents. Almost anyone can do the ribs portion of the contest. Ribs are not hard to source and you can cook them in anything from a $20,000 trailer or a tiny $300 Weber Smokey Mountain. Whole Hog requires a cooker that at the minimum will contain the entire carcass. The cookers tend to be specially designed for this category, Lonnie Smith, Myron Mixon, Melissa Cookston all use very specific cookers for their hogs. On other hand, the competition in Hog tend to be very steep as the competitors tend to be more professionally driven. There are many weaker competitor in ribs - those who are there more for the party than the competition but only the most serious competitors who have invested tens of thousands of dollars in massive cookers tend to do the hog category.

Lonnie, who I study competition whole hog under, won the 2011 Big Pig Jig in Whole Hog. While there's many BBQ "teams" that are largely husband and wife, you'll need significant amount of man power for hog. If you worked out regularly, you could I'd imagine pick up and place the pig on the cooker yourself, but to flip it mid-way without it falling apart on you is impossible. There was a team fairly close to us who lose their pig this way.

Much of the challenge is the same as cooking any whole animal and is two-fold - Flavor Asymmetry and Structural Integrity. Flavor Asymmetry - On any animal, any section that doesn't get much work is usually bland. In the pig the shoulders are packed with flavor where as the loins and the hams are bland white meat. The Structural Integrity is familiar to anyone who has ever had to cook a  turkey for Thanksgiving - how does one get the legs done at the same time as the breasts which cook much faster? The upper portion of the pig is denser and will cook slower than the bottom half. Then there lies a problem with protecting the loins.

Several tricks of dealing with a whole hog.

  1. You want a bigger pig. There's a reason why Myron Mixon loves doing 200lb pigs and it's not for the reasons he gives on TV. A larger pig will have a larger camel hump like fatback which offers a great deal of protection to the loins in addition to adding flavor.
  2. Take all the ruffle fat that you got from trimming off the pig and place it under its back. It adds an extra level of heat shielding.
  3. Remove the first three bones of ribs from the top. It will open up the shoulder more so that you can get more of the rub in,. Doing this also reduces the time needed for the shoulders thus allowing closer timing with the hams.
  4. Before serving make slits in the loins, hams, and shoulders and spoon in all the pooled juices in the pig's cavity. This is not only a competition trick but is also used in a commercial capacity - Rodney Scott of Scott's BBQ in South Carolina is well known for cooking his hogs this way.

Here's some more photos of our whole hog, be sure to click on the link up top to see all the shots of our pig.

The BIG PIG JIG!!! - 1st Place Champion Babyback Ribs

See all the shots of Championship Winning BBQ Ribs HERE

People pay over $800 to study competition barbecue with the best. By the best we refer to those who win the most amounts of “Grand Champion” title. Different people have different core competencies – Melissa Cookston and Myron Mixon dominate in Whole Hog, Chris Lilly famously owns the Shoulder Category and in last year’s “Super Bowl of Swine” Memphis in May competition – Lonnie Smith was the Rib cooking champion. And he did it again at this year’s Big Pig Jig. And I was there to take in all the tricks of the trade – the rub, the timing, the sauce. Not a bad deal huh?

I myself don’t particularly care about BBQ secrets, in fact I’ve found a bunch of people just free give me their secrets due to my indifference towards them. I did however travel all the way from New York City to the middle of NOWHERE in Georgia, so if you want these rib secrets, it’ll cost you a nice steak dinner. Hey still cheaper than what Myron Mixon will charge you.

Were they good? Oh they were beat the pants off over 100 other competitors good!

I will offer some reflections on what I found in these World Championship winning ribs.

  • The ribs need a savory rub. Most people pack on the sugar for competition and you need to in order to win. But what made these ribs stand out was the fact that we blasted her with a solid base of sodium and put on the sweetness last. Otherwise you’re just eating candied pork, and that’s disgusting.
  • Ribs are all about timing. You need to have your plan of attack all mapped out. When the cooker gets heated, when the ribs go on, when you foil, when to glaze. Whole Hog is the most logistically challenging due to its size. Shoulder is the most forgiving.
  • Memphis Barbecue Network allows either baby backs or spares but judges seem to prefer baby backs. This is a royal pain in the posterior when procuring your raw product. You want a rack as EVEN as possible. If you look at most baby backs, they’re very tapered which leads to an ugly turn in box. You need to make good buddies with your butcher to secure very parallel ribs. I think as a whole, serious competitors are more guarded about their pork supplier than they are their recipes.
  • We cooked with hickory wood and I think that makes a difference. There are lots of competitors using milder woods. In competition everything is intensified so you need a brawny flavored smoke. Remember you’re going to jam pack this rib with flavor before the smoke and then glaze it with enough sugar to give a fruit fly cavities, that smoke needs to cut through it all.

Here are some more shots of our Memphis May 2011 and Big Pig Jig 2012 winning ribs. Be sure to click on the top link to see more food porn!