I've always wanted to make some videos. What I've never dreamed up was making videos with me on camera. So this was a fun way for me to tip my toes in the water. The black & white photos are from the North Carolina State Archives of an old school pig picking. Midway thru the video I added some of the work that we've been doing to bring North Carolina whole hog to New York. So the video is an attempt tie the past of our great tradition with our current work. Hope you enjoy! [youtube=http://youtu.be/jlpltoGi_vQ]
Filtering by Category: Whole Hog
All over world there's people trying bring traditional Italian country fare to the public. Much of it is romanticized farce. Are you imagining duck egg yolk pastas handmade with a shower of graden vegetables? Long simmered meats heartily piled on a family platters? Nope didn't exist. They might have existed for Counts and Papal vassals but for the most part life for country folk sucked. In fact, what's very striking is that a core staple of country life - the chestnut polenta - has completely disappeared from menus. Now you might have an oddball here or there that will roid the dish up with rich ragus, perhaps some aged cheeses or even truffles. The fundamental fact is the dish sucks. It's dry, chalky, and looks like explosive diarrhea. Hence why no one really serves it anymore.
Like the much discarded chestnut polenta, cornpone really isn't found anywhere anymore. It's caveman primitive in its construction. Grind a grain, add water and lube it up with grease so that we don't break our teeth on it. There's no leavening agent to make it nice and fluffy, no yeasty aromas to trigger our brain's ancient lust for bread.
Cornpone is not the same as hot water cornbread. A dish universally reviled by Northerners and used by Southerners as a credo of culinary orthodoxy.
As you can see above from my photo at the Skylight Inn, it really isn't that attractive either.
So why a post on the dull antiquated cornpone? Well for one, there's a possibility at the joint I'm opening featuring North Carolina BBQ, there won't be any access to a kitchen hood - hence no frying. No frying = no hushpuppies/cornsticks. To not have a corn bread element would be to eliminate 1/3 of the glorious Carolina triad - Hog + Slaw + Puppies.
So my mind back to the humble cornpone. How can we make this utilitarian dish into something worth serving at the finest of breadbaskets?
The cornpone does have something going for it - LARD. Yes indeed, when you're cooking that much hog you're bound to be left with a lot of extra lard. Because modern pigs are a bit leaner, pitmasters have had to supplement commercial lard. This helps contribute to it's blandness. There's a difference between lard which have been boiled out of meats to one that's been roasted out of hogs. It's the same as why clarified butter is fairly bland but brown butter offers that deep toasty butter goodness we all love.
So step one is to use long cooked rendered pigs fat and perhaps even chop some of resulting cracklin' into the mix. This will enhance the meaty flavor that this bread is supposed to have.
Step two is figure out a way to throw in a few more contrast flavor notes to offset the uniform blandness. I have two items in mind which I'm still working on. More to come later.
Step 3 is to hold fast to tradition i.e. no sugar. It's strong temptation to appease a Northern's palate by offering a cake-like corn bread. Now for most other styles of BBQ I don't see a contradiction. If we're going to be faithful to the Carolina profile, a sweet baked corn bread just doesn't seem right with hog.
It's too bad we might not be able to offer hush puppies. But with some tweaks, going back to roasted fats, rendered crackings, and textural contrasts, this long discarded old maid of hog cooking can become the hot sexy slut we all crave. Stay tuned.
Banana pudding is North Carolina's most iconic dessert. Unfortunately of us Carolina stylists it's also one of the world's dullest looking dessert. It also happens to be the very best way you can end a hog picking meal. When she's at her best it's warm vanilla pudding, flecked with vanilla seeds, coating slices of banana and vanilla wafers topped with a fluffy meringue.
'Nana puddin' suffers due to it's simplicity. Desserts which are simple are often victims to indifference. Take for example strudels, flaky rolled pastries found in Germany & Austria. There's nothing fancy about them. They're basically thin dough wrapping a fruit filling served with side of whipped cream. But when done right, strudels possess a dignity unrivaled by any confection in the world. Too bad cuz most of them suck. Even when I was traveling in Vienna, the strudels weren't just bad, they were awful. Most looked like soggy rags and had a texture that came pretty close to their aesthetics.
The same goes for the humble banana pudding down in tarheel country. Now I haven't had any that tasted bad in my travels. But many of them came with shock that someone who have the audacity to charge me money for what was basically instant pudding mix.
Even in the authoritative North Carolina BBQ book Holy Smoke, out of like 5 generations old recipes for banana pudding only one didn't require an instant mix. Even the legendary Mama Dip uses a packaged mix!
Now I'm not one of those folk who believe that you need to make everything from scratch. I think people making their own in-house ketchup just got too much time on their hands. But for something that's so stupidly simple it seems absurdly lazy to just use a prepacked mix. What's even dumber is that this crap is actually quoted as part of people's "secret family recipe". That's equivalent to me holding with pride that my grandma's legendary lasagna was made with Prego pasta sauce.
The second problem we encounter is the meringue itself. Many people don't even bother with the meringue - appalling. Some folk actually substitute the meringue for whipping cream/whipped "topping". The latter being just as sacrilegious as substituting Coors Light for the wine at a Catholic Mass.
Along with serving the dish warm, the meringue is what makes banana pudding a distinctly Southern dessert. To either omit or substitute it we might as well call it Yankee Pudding. In the war of custards the 1865 white flag is waved every time this humble dessert is served either naked or with whipped cream.
I wouldn't go as far as Alton Brown and make the vanilla wafers (recipe below). His rationale being that manufacturers have started cutting corners with the cookies themselves and have started making artificial "nilla wafers" which contain no vanilla. I think they're just fine. And rather than put in that extra effort just spend a bit more money and use REAL VANILLA PODS in the custard itself. It will add both explosive flavor as well beautifully contrast the yellow.
The custard is essentially a traditional Creme Patissierie. Making your own custard is slower than the box mix BUT you get jazz her up a lot more. By boiling the milk with the scrapped vanilla pods you get a deeper layer of flavor that you simply can't do with the mix. You can cheeky with the custard and add either a rum-based banana liqueur like BOLS or just your favorite rum. Rum trading being very historically significant in Southern BBQ history as well.
For the meringue I substituted the traditional baked meringue for an Italian meringue. This gives you the added benefit of not having to pop the pudding into a stove to brown it. Italian meringues are made by beating hot syrups into egg whites which a pinch of constarch. They are silkier, more stable, freeze nicely, just all around more awesome. All it took was a few seconds with my trusty blow torch and we got the effect you see at the shot above.
In tray you see above I also added layers of peanut butter crumble over half the pudding. So half traditional half peanut butter. Peanut butter and banana being such perfect partners.
Banana pudding - Nilla wafers, Custard, Bananas, Meringue. Simple. Better to adorn a beautiful woman with the finest of lipsticks than to mar her face with the entire cheap makeup kit from Walgreens.
Alton Brown's Vanilla Wafers
Ingredients 7 ounces all-purpose flour 3/4 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature 3 1/2 ounces vanilla sugar 1 large egg 4 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 tablespoon whole milk
Directions Position 1 oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and vanilla sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after 1 minute. Add the egg and incorporate on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl. Add the vanilla extract and milk and blend on low speed for 15 seconds. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just to incorporate. Chill the batter in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before scooping.
Scoop the batter in teaspoon-sized balls and arrange them on 2 parchment paper-lined half sheet pans, approximately 35 cookies per pan. Use the heel of your hand to slightly flatten each ball. Bake, 2 pans at a time, rotating the pans halfway through the baking, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans to a cooling rack to cool completely before removing the cookies from the pan.
So ARBY's, the awesome roast beef sandwich shop, came up with a new BBQ sandwich - The SMOKEHOUSE BRISKET sandwich.
To promote their new offering they partnered up the national food site Serious Eats to create an interactive BBQ "Map" where they got the expert pitmasters of every stylistic region to talk about how they smoke their meat.
I got tapped to do South Carolina whole hog. Now too bad I didn't get to rep North Carolina but the cooking for North & South Carolina whole hog is the same. In the eastern part of South Carolina they use vinegar pepper just the same as the rest of us. For the shoot however, they wanted to highlight the distinctive mustard sauce of the Central Carolina region. Good thing I had plenty of mustard sauce on hand! Check the video out!
btw- couldn't resist any chance to add a fat man GIF
More photos below!!
Complimenting a barbecue joint's chicken is akin to trying to pair a smoking hot girl with your ugly friend by telling her "he got a great personality".
As far as I know there's only only two major joints in the country whose chicken shares place of pride - Big Bob Gibson's in Decatur, AL & B's Barbecue in Greenville, NC. Big Bob's largely because of it's unique practice of dunking the entire finished bird in their trademark white sauce.
B's is a well known fixture in the whole hog world. They clear through an average of 40 hogs a week cooking all night over charcoal. They make a very tasty hog. But interesting enough many many people have high praises for their chicken!
So what is the deal with this chicken? I wasn't even planning on ordering it because, quite frankly, who cares about chicken?? My gluttonous friends on the other hand had to have it, so we got a spread of corn sticks, hog, slaw, and chicken.
Taking a bite I finally got what people were saying about the chicken. It was crispy, toasted, juicy and very very well seasoned. But there's something else there. A secret ingredient. An edge. I took another bite and didn't sense anything unusual in terms of spices. But then I sniffed the bird. AAAAAAH. That's it! The secret. The single reason why everyone loves B's chicken. That little extra something that no one could articulate. It's HOG FAT!!!!!!!
You see, the chicken goes on in the morning after the hogs come off the pits. These hog have been sitting over glowing coal all night dripping juice and grease into the ashes. So when they fire up new coal to cook the chicken, they're smoking up the residual hog grease back up into the birds giving them a porky aroma!!
Well there you go. I just gave you the secret recipe to B's chicken. Step 1 smoke a few hogs.... Anyone want to steal that?
B's cornsticks are the single best in North Carolina. I'm not normally a fan of corn sticks as they're normally dense and hard. These were fried to flaky shattering work of art. I still won't order cornsticks when I visit other BBQ joints but if you don't get them here at B's you're missing out.
Quick! Name one of the top 3 greatest Heavy-weight boxers in history. You might mention Mike Tyson, or Evander Holyfield, and you'll definitely mention Muhammad Ali. Especially the latter as he spent most of his career calling himself the greatest. Poor Joe Louis. 12 years reigning as world champion. 25 successful title defenses (Ali had a mere 19). To this day there has not been a similar dominance in any weight division.
Unfortunately for Joe he was neither as well spoken or good looking as Ali. Hence why none of us know about him. I feel the same way about Bum's Restaurant in Ayden, NC.
Ayden is a mecca for whole hog lovers. For decades the Skylight Inn has held the platonic ideal of swine cookery. Their familial cousin Lathan "Bum" Dennis cooks hogs in the exact same fashion and fails to get the same cred for no other reason than Skylight Inn exists in the same town. For God's sake they're not even on the North Carolina BBQ Society Trail!!! This last part is particularly irksome to me because Bum's barbecue is really really good and there's plenty of other joints on the Trail list that taste like ass and are coasting on their reputations.
Aside from my urge to root for the underdog, Bum's really is very good. The pork is not hacked to a tuna fish consistency, juicy, and lightly smokey with lots of little nuggets of crispy skin. Their side dishes are easily the best in the state. No exaggeration there. This is real country eating here filled with soul feeding vegetables. Eastern Carolina corn sticks and pork rinds are available to add just enough crunch.
And the fried chicken. Oh the FRIED CHICKEN! Eastern Carolina whole hog BBQ is usually paired with fried chicken. Traditional giants like Wilbur's, Parker's both serve fried chicken with their hogs. Bum's chicken beats them both. I'm all down for great whole hog, but when you got great whole hog and finger licking fried chicken - oh my....
A proper banana pudding topped with warm southern meringue finishes off the meal.
As you can see I have a particular affection for Bum's. As practitioner of the art and as a traveled eater, I find it an utter travesty that Bum's is never mentioned when talking about top BBQ joints in North Carolina. The NC BBQ Society Trail list is a wonderful tool and there's other sources which basically name the same big name spots. But do yourself a favor, many of those big names are for tourists - Bum's is for those in the know.
John Brown Smokehouse & Arrogant Swine Presents
An NYC Summer Celebration of Traditional North Carolina Whole Hog BBQ, Craft Beer Brewing & Heritage Pig Farming
- Tamarack Hollow Farm Gloucestershire Old Spot slow-smoked over hardwood embers
- All the Proper Carolina Pig Pickin’ Garnishes
- All You Can Drink Craft Beer
- Live Bluegrass Band!!!
2 Sessions Per Event Noon (12pm – 4pm) & Evening Sessions (5pm – 9pm)
July 21st in Long Island City, QUEENS – Purchase Tickets HERE
August 17th in Long Island City, QUEENS – Purchase Tickets HERE
August 24th in Greenpoint, BROOKLYN – Purchase Tickets HERE
September 14th in Long Island City, QUEENS – Purchase Tickets HERE
September 21st in Greenpoint, BROOKLYN – Purchase Tickets HERE
A Portion of all Proceeds donated to support Just Food NYC
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.
Now given that I already wrote why you should cook heritage breed hogs for whole hog BBQ I'm giving you the other side of the story and reasons why you wouldn't want to use rare breeds.
#1 It's Expensive.
Hell this might as well be the reason for #1-#4 with #5 being "Did I mention it's expensive?".
Cuban cigars are not the best cigars in the world. Some of the best cigars in the world are Cuban and I smoke a decent amount of them. To the average person the difference between a decent Cuban cigar and one from Honduras is indiscernible. This is because people don't smoke that many cigars. People also don't go around tasting different breeds of pigs. So one might argue that unless you had a particularly gifted palate you're not likely to tell the difference between supermarket pork and heritage pork.
#2 It's Inconsistent
There is basically no industry standards for heritage breeding. Much of it is self policing and many of the animal traders have to deal with rampant fraud. While people like to look down on "Factory Farming", there is a distinct advantage to factories - everything is uniform. Any chef working with grass fed cattle will tell you that one steak might be the most glorious piece of meat you've ever stuffed in your maws and the next one will taste like gym sneakers. All from the same farm too!
#3 Sourcing is a pain in the ARSE.
When I want a plain regular hog for a client, I place an order with the same commerical butcher I have used for the past 3 years. I tell him how big and when I need to pick it up and I pay less than what most NYC restaurants pay for pig. When sourcing from a farm on the other hand, you need to call up an entire network of farms to see who might have your size ready at that moment. Pigs are not products that can be made on the spot. Thus because there's much less of the animal on these small farms, it's a pain to fill my order on size. If I'm too late to their slaughter season only a larger animal is available. If too early I might be stuck with two 60lbers when I really wanted one 140lb animal. Oh and yes, I have to pay more for this inconvenience.
#4 It can be a fire hazard
What makes heritage breeds so tasty? Because they're largely bacon or lard hogs. All that fat keeps the meat juicy and gives your a nice succulent end product. Much of your flavor profile in Carolina BBQ is that grease dripping on the hardwood embers creating smoke.
But it also brings you the added risk of grease fire. Grease fires are no joke. Down in West Tennessee, insurance companies will not insure smokehouses because these grease fires have consumed entire buildings. They cooked a 280lb Mangalista pig, a particularly fatty breed, at last year's Southern Foodways Symposium and I felt for the 2 poor pitmasters. They basically had to get that beast cooked by a deadline without creating the greatest pyro-technic display in history. I don't care how many hogs you've cooked in your life, if you are dealing with that much grease and live fire, it makes you breathe just a bit more shallower. I did a 260lb Gloucestershire a few weeks back and that alone gave me missed heart beat moments.
#5 None of the best Hog masters use it.
Sam Jones, Dexter Sherrod, Rodney Scott, Ed Mitchell etc, all the biggest names in whole hog cooking. All who have made dramatic life altering BBQ have done so with commodity pork. Now you might argue that they might produce better BBQ with better pigs and I happen to agree with that sentiment. But at the core of the art of hog cookery is the techniques of fire management that brings about nirvanic flavors.
Now there’s a fairly zealous group calling for raising heritage breed produce. Calls for sustainable eating, old world farming etc. I wouldn’t say I’m deeply in that camp. Do heritage variety of tomatoes raised without pesticides taste better? Yes they do. But I like my generic tomatoes just fine and quite frankly the heritage stuff looks pretty ugly.
I do have a soft spot for preserving old world breed pigs though. They cost a whole lot more but I will outline 5 reasons why people doing whole hog BBQ should cook with heritage breed hogs.
#1 They taste better.
You really can’t beat the flavor of an old-school pig. Anyone’s whose had to choke down a dry pork loin will tell you something is amiss here. The term “eating high on the hog” comes from the fact that when hogs were cooked for barbecues pre civil war, the white masters got the loins sitting on of the back of the pig whereas the slaves got to eat everything else. Well if we were to go by our supermarket pork loins you might get the impressions that the folks down south didn’t really know jack about eating. To add insult to injury, the only way one can enjoy loins is to brine them. That’s right, the prize cut of meat on the pig needs to be bombed by a sodium solution to be palpable with all the flavor complexities cheap deli meat could provide.
When you get an old school heritage pig and your pull out the loins of a hog like the Gloucestershire Old Spot, it makes your heart skip a beat. It’s dripping with moisture slowly confit in it’s own backfat. I’ve had plenty of people who have eaten both my barbecues with heritage pigs and with regular commercial pigs who have told me I did a better job with the heritage pig. It’s not my technique being any different. The pig really does taste that much better!
#2 The Carolina dressings FINALLY make sense.
Now think about this for a second. Who in their right minds drowns their food in vinegar or mustard? Hardly subtle flavors are they? We tend to like the acidity or acridity of vinegar and mustard, respectively, when things are either very fatty or very salty. We like malt vinegars with French fries. We like mustard on salty pretzels. A poached chicken breast with vinegar or mustard sounds absolutely atrocious. There’s no counter balance for the weighty flavors of vinegar or mustard.
There are many who hate the vinegar pepper sauce. The mustard sauce on BBQ seems to make as much sense as round square. Most people “fix” these sauces by introducing a high level of sweetness to the sauce. This however was not the intention of Carolina pitmasters. The reason they used these seasonings were because of the fatty pigs they used. When you do a pig picking with a heritage breed hog and you see all that golden clear running fat, the vinegar or mustard just makes a whole world of sense.
#3 You can incubate hog farmers.
Most heritage breed hog farmers can’t supply restaurants. The reason for this is that restaurants order cuts, not animals. They place orders 50lbs at a time of chops, loins, and belly. Well this leaves the other four corners of the hog to get rid up. Even farmers who do fill these orders have to then end up grinding up the hams and shoulders for sausage meat, lowering their overall profit margins per pound. By ordering the whole animal, it keeps the farmers producing hogs for orders they can fill at a good return.
#4 It helps bring the price down for everyone
Let’s be perfectly honest. People will put up with sub-par food if the price is right. Is Taco Bell great food? Absolutely not. But at 10:30pm when I’m home late from work it’s quick, cheap, and does the job just fine. Plus I look forward to their churro dessert.
I believe there’s some campaign where people are encouraging others to eat less meat but better meat like pasture pork, grass feed beef, free range chickens etc. This is a very admirable and an ethically proper way of thinking; it’s also inefficient and will not produce widespread consumption of heritage breeds. It is like the morality that prevents condom distribution in high schools in favor of abstinence to reduce teen pregnancies. We simply cannot moralize our way out of a problem.
By getting more people to like and love the flavor of heritage breeds we can drive enough demand that farmers can safely begin increasing supply. Simple economics – increasing the supply in the market makes it cheaper for us all. Starbucks is wildly more expensive than regular deli coffee, but deli coffee tastes like ass and Starbucks is not prohibitively expensive. This is why we are willing to put up with the premiums that Starbucks charges and is a fantastic model of where heritage pork needs to be.
#5 It makes for the greatest secret ingredient ever
Well not that secret given that if you’re paying that much for heritage pork you might as well like everyone know about it. But everyone looks for a signature edge. From a professional cooking background the secrets in BBQ are both silly and useless. Professional kitchens hold what are known as “Stages”.
In these, the stagire cook works for free doing the most menial tasks for the opportunity to learn another chef’s recipes. I’ve done several myself at big name places like Le Bernardin, Payard, and La Caravelle in New York City years ago. In them I peeled carrots, mixed pastries, prepped raviolis, basically any and everything that the other cook on the station didn’t want to do. In exchange recipes were freely offered. Nothing was ever held back. People would take out their own notepads and let me copy down their notes and then show me live how that restaurant did things.
So rather than hunt around for some special ingredient by walking down the supermarket isle and getting inspired. It makes more sense to have a very poignant ingredient up front and person. You can mix in obscure Indonesian spices all you like, nothing will beat just having a better hog.
Rammstein is a metal band based in Germany and one of my favorite forms of musical entertainment. I like them for their tongue-in-cheek lyrics, storyline rich music videos, heavy jams and their insane feats of pyrotechnics. It is further proof that adding a flamethrower to any situation makes it all that much cooler. I’m confident that if the US Federal government would mandate the use of flame throwers in our children’s math classes, we’re probably have the highest math scores in the world – we’d also need to hold math classes outdoors which wouldn’t be too bad of an idea.
The very first time I ever smoked a pig, I had a secret weapon. I found a massive bottle of Zippo lighter fluid which, due to its utility, has very little in terms of scent. People don’t like smoking anything that tastes like gasoline. I was a GENIUS! I had all the power of lighter fluid with none of the smell!! Well turns out I was an absolute MORON as we hosed down over 80lbs of charcoal with Zippo fluid, had a big poofy fire which lasted as long as a jelly donut at fat kids camp.
So we gave in and rushed to the deli for a jug of regular charcoal lighter fluid. Lighter fluid isn’t necessary a bad thing. I know it’s BBQ orthodoxy to hate on it, but plenty of the top cookers in the world use it to start their coal. I guarantee if I had you taste their food you wouldn’t taste the fluid. Plus I like the smell of burning lighter fluid on a small scale – reminds me of childhood summers (along with burnt chicken).
But burning that much coal with that much lighter fluid is not pleasant at all. Someone suggested one time I use chimney starters. Have you ever had to start 80lbs of charcoal with chimney starters? We’d probably spend the next 3 hours just lighting coal!
So in comes the solution – a baby FLAMETHROWER!!
More specifically it’s a Lincoln Electric Inferno Propane Torch.
Like everything with whole hog BBQ it’s a great crowd pleaser. The most popular photos people take are
#1 Them standing in front of my smoker
#2 Them holding a pig’s head
#3 Them shooting flames out of my baby flamethrower.
In the annuals of badassness, this tool ranks pretty high up there. When fired up it shoots out a jet stream of fire and will get your coal lit in almost no time. It’s actually kinda disappointing sometimes how effective it is as I’d love to just burn some more stuff. It even sounds like a jet! Make no mistake, it’s loud. The first time I had my buddy work it, he darn near wet himself. And my buddy’s a tough guy! Tatted up, big muscles, bald head – scary. I swear when that fire busted out he was ready run home to his mommy. You've been warned.
I guess if there was one definite difference between North Carolina BBQ and our cousins in Texas and Kansas city, it's our tools.
When I used to cook fancier cuisine, your tools would come from pricey culinary outfitters or restaurant supply shops. My straight carbon steel knives were forged in France and German. We used a mess of different tools from Japan to make plants look like little footballs, chocolate look like snowmen, etc. I even have a pair of scissors whose sole job is to snip the top off a quail egg - to garnish a jewel-like plate of tuna tartar of course.
The funniest part of the Carolina tool kit is that most of it comes from hardware stores! So I'll be writing a series of various different tools you can pick up for whole hog cooking.
THIS is no good
The most intimidating thing about cooking a whole hog is getting it prepped for cooking. Even the smallest pig I have ever cooked is larger than most people's ovens. Even highly trained French chefs have difficulty handling the entire animal as my highly talented friends will attest.
To prep a whole hog for smoking you need to get the back split, the collar bone removed, and the breast bone cut off. Now this will be a completely separate post where I'll explain how to do that. You essentially want your pig looking like this
As you can see the top half is cleanly split, the collar covering the shoulders are removed and there's no breastbone. After this we split the lower half a little just flatten the hog out.
Now the tool of choice here is the reciprocating saw. I use a Sawzall which is made by Milwaukee Tools. If you never seen a bunch of grown men try and split the hog's backbone without the saw, you're in for all manner of funny. The use of the tool was taught to me by some good ole southern folks down in Georgia and it has made my life INFINITY better.
A pig is a powerful animal. It has lots of predators out there looking to eat it and it's hell bent on not becoming chow. Hence the tusks and tightly compact body. So if you're looking to butcher a hog for BBQ, it would be worth your while to stop by the local Lowes or Home Depot. Trust me, nothing will get your more frustrated than trying to split bone.
It's also great in removing the forearms and feet as well. Again if you're really into seeing a hilariously macabre show, give a 240lb strong dude a cleaver and ask him to chop off the feet. You'd be surprise how little strength will help you here. Those tendons and sinew do their job really well. There is indeed a trick to cutting all 4 of them off in less than 3 mins but it requires a lot of practice. Unless you're looking to cook as many pigs as I do, it's not likely you'll get too much practice - stick with the saw.
Tomorrow we'll talk about shovels.
A good friend of mine and I met for lunch yesterday and it shocked me that while he has always heard about my work with “Whole Hog BBQ” he didn't quite understand that every whole hog plate had every part of the pig mixed together. This was shocking to hear especially from my buddy, a well-read foodie. I figure if HE had trouble understanding this, others will have trouble as well.
In my particular branch of the American BBQ family – Eastern North Carolina – whole hog BBQ means that an entire pig is slow smoked over hardwood embers before being pulled, chopped, and mixed together. This way you have all the goodness of the pig present in every bite. Kinda like mixing up a “meat salad”.
Now for traditional pig pickings, people basically come by the hog and pick out the portion that they want – loins, hams, bacon, shoulder etc. For commercial purposes and for larger feasts, the hog is mixed together because it makes a better product. This seems counter-intuitive for most people. For example, shoulders are the predominant pork cut for BBQ in the South. For many people there doesn't seem to be a need to add any white meat hams into the meat. If shoulder is superior cut, why dilute it with an inferior one? I’ll list 3 reasons of why it’s better to mix:
- Mixing lean and fatty meats makes the pork tastes porkier. Take for example pork belly, it’s delicious due to its richness but it’s hard to eat an entire plate of belly because the richness overwhelms the pork flavor. Add some loin to that and you’ll discover why Italians been mixing belly and loin in their “porchetta” roasts for generations.
- Every piece of the pig has a different flavor. The tenderloins taste different than the loins, the hams markly different than the shoulders. Adding all this goodness together makes for a more complex set of flavors. The reason we all love chocolate is that it contains over a thousand flavors, since we can’t taste 1,000 flavors we all taste what we find the most pleasant. Same with the whole hog, you’re getting hits of pleasure based on your palate and it has the profile to satisfy all.
- It allows everyone to get a bit of everything. There’s only so much tenderloin on the pig and the precious neck muscle isn’t as large as the belly. Since the spirit of the whole hog is sharing with all, it’s best to mix.
Now the guys over in Western Tennessee actually do pull to order from the hog. So if you went up the counter at some Western Tennessee spot and asked for a “whole hog sandwich”, they’ll probably shoot you a “Which part arsehole?” look. They’re expecting you to order a shoulder sandwich, or a tenderloin (aka catfish) sandwich etc. But since this is a North Carolina BBQ blog, they can get their own blogger to justify why this is a better practice.
Most important tip is HEAD OFF. It’s a waste of money and you’ll occasionally freak out a guest. Not worth it.
The equation breaks down into two divisions – Normal people & Gluttons.
Normal = X pounds of pig * 1.2 = # of people fed
Gluttons = X pounds of pig * 0.8 = # of people fed
For normal people a 1/3lb sandwich is pretty big. Add behind that your slaws and hush puppies, mac & cheese, beer etc. It’s a nap inducing meal.
For the mega eating gluttons you can give them a monster half pound sandwich. Now think about this for a second. The double quarter pounder at McDonald’s is a retarded amount of food. And that weight is PRE-COOKED. We are talking about already cooked ½ pound of meat here.
In any pig picking you’ll have your bird eaters and your mega eaters so if you calculate the 2 equations you’ll be somewhere in the middle.
So let’s say you had a 100lb pig. That will feed 120 normal people or 80 mega eaters. It’s not likely you’ll find 80 mega eaters.
My tips for making sure you have enough for all especially if you’re a worry wart like me that you’ll run out.
- Pre-chop and sauce and have people serve themselves. Us BBQ people are overly generous by nature, you’ll be surprised how small portions will look. They’re not really “small”, they’re “reasonable”. Whole hog guys tend to go overboard, I know I do.
- Slaw ON the sandwich. This is proper Carolina BBQ. The slaw is not a side salad; it is an intricate part of the whole hog BBQ experience. Plus it makes the sandwich look bigger.
- Have lots of sides and dessert. Not only will people enjoy the variety, you won’t have to worry if your hog is big enough. Plus what makes for a better pig picking than home-made pie?
The largest hog I've ever cooked weighed 220lbs. Hogs I cook at home tend to be within the 125lb ball park. I wouldn't really bother with pigs that weigh under 75lbs, believing those to be better suited for spit roasting rather than slow smoking.
Now most people are not going to determine how big of a hog they're gonna buy based off optimal results. It's more a function of how many people you're gonna feed. But it is pretty well noted that some pitmasters have a preference for what size hog they're gonna use.
In North Carolina, hog joints tend to prefer to cook in the 150lb range.They'll go south of that range if it's exceptionally busy. At this size the pitmasters get a bit more sleep and have to worry less about grease fires.
Here's 2 opinions on how big your pig should be :
Danny Hurdle the pitmaster over at Carolina Pit Barbecue in Ashburn, VA, a manwhose opinion I deeply respect, says
The pig can’t weigh an ounce over 140 pounds. Any bigger than that, and he’s not a pig, he’s a hog, and all you’re cooking is grease.
Myron Mixon who has won multiple championships in Whole hog notes in his book
I like cooking the big ones the best (North of 180-200lbs), because they've got the most amount of meat on them and can serve a huge crowd. Now some 'cue cookers may tell you that smaller is better because it's easier to handle, but I don't truck with that. The quality of the meat on a smaller hog is no different than on a bigger one, and if you're going to go to all the trouble to smoke a whole hog, then you might as well get as much as you can for your efforts.
Taste itself is subjective. Me personally I like to cook the biggest hog I can because the larger fatback protects the backloins better. Logistics-wise it's better to cook a hog that's an even 100lbs (+/- 20lbs). When you get hogs that are larger than 150lbs, there's an increase risk of grease fires as the larger beast drips more fat. A proper drainage system will help but the threat is always there.
If it's your first hog I'd recommend starting at 75 lbs. There's really no reason to smoke a hog smaller than that. There's not much flavor developed and expect your pig to shrink by 60%. And please please do not smoke a 20-30lb pig. That's just tragic. You will literally get less meat out of the animal than a turkey. Plus butchers hate you. Pigs at this size are a pain to source and they charge you accordingly. I've seen prices almost double for someone looking to order a sub-50lb pig.
' See all the Food Porn HERE
If you've been following my series on how to throw a Sausagefest you'll already know I throw this party every year. The premise is simple. Everyone brings some sausages to share. They can be any sausage just so long as it's not the generic sweet Italian. Our turnout?
- Over 60 lbs of Sausages from over a dozen different nationalities
- A Keg of Beer
- A Bonfire.
Now if that's not a party I don't know what is. Any frat boy will tell you that a Keg and Bonfire automatically spells great party. This is a feast of excess. There was absolutely no way we were going to even remotely put a dent in all the sausages. Every year you'll always get people who don't get it. Why have an entire table of sausages? Can they bring a salad? or perhaps a delicate dessert? Absolutely NOT!! It's a Sausagefest after all.
When you see the looks of people's eyes when they see the spread, and the uncontrollable smile, you'll understand. The show is a critical component of feasting. I came from the world of fine dining, where the maxim of "you eat with your eyes first" is an intransgressible creed. To this end we used squirt bottles, ring molds, tweezers and all manners of nonsense to make the plate look pretty. Ironically we will also say that we're seeking for the food to speak for itself.
When you live in this environment, it's quite easy to delude yourself to thinking about how much value you really are adding to the food. Take any 3 Michelin star and place it on a paper plate. Only a tiny tiny fraction of the dishes currently billed at $300 a person would look appetizing. Even fewer would come with the illusion of genius.
Sausagefest like all BBQ is the extension of a philosophy. The philosophy of whole hog BBQ. When people see a whole hog, it matters little if you've grew up in the South or in the big city of New York, it's simply a sight to behold. People can't help but stop and stare. This reaction is visceral and primal. This is truly allowing food to speak for itself. You can easily place whole hog on a paper plate and it will look and taste like what it is - food of the gods.
This philosophy of feasting is what sausagefest seeks to capture. It is not beholden to the tyranny of balance nor futile search for the perfect dinner. A bit of silly, a blue jeans crowd, and an evening where food truly reigns and pretension is cast aside.
[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgCw8suUR6k] I've been starting a new project at work so really hasn't been allowing enough mental space to be posting lately. Sausagefest pictures and review coming soon!
For the moment, enjoy this video the Travel Channel put together. It's delicious!