By, Jim Knepper
OK, so this post really doesn’t have much to do with Fridays other than it’s Friday as I type! In fact, if you’re looking for a primer on how to cook a Whole Hog in BBQ Competitions…it’s probably not for you either, although we do know lots of folks who do that well and can hook you up with them if you’d like. This post is of course rooted in the fact that we’ve got a Whole Hog cooking class coming up on April 5th (www.greatq4u.com/BBQ_Classes.html) and I’ve been thinking a LOT about it lately and the significance of it all. It’s also a reflection on WHY we love to cook whole hogs and especially the significance of the ‘Pig Pickin’ in my mind as well.
First of all, to get the ‘That’s GROSS’ part out of the way…you don’t have to read this if the idea of the whole animal on the table grosses you out, but I’d suggest reading on to understand why WE think it’s an honor to the life and sacrifice of the food and not ‘disgusting’…which I hear every now and again! I am a firm believer in knowing where your food comes from, how it was raised, what it ate and then, when the time comes, using as much of the animal as possible after its sacrifice in order to feed folks. There are few better ways to do this, than to present the entire animal in a way that every part (sans the bones…but marrow is awesome) can be consumed…and those bones make great stock or soups!
As we cook ‘Low and Slow’ over wood smoke, we typically refer folks looking for a ‘cheap hog roast’ out to any one of the many folks in our area that cook ‘hot and fast’ over charcoal and do it often enough to be good at it, not to mention cheaper than us due to the method. However, when WE do whole hogs we do them with the same attention to detail and timing that we put into all the other meats that hit our smoker. Additionally, we take great care to make sure that the finished product looks great and presents with respect worthy of it’s life! We choose local hogs and have our butcher prep them for us by scalding and cleaning them and then opening up the body cavity to clean it. We leave the cleaned internal organs in the cavity during the cook and incorporate them into the finished product and its service.
While we do very few actual ‘Pig Pickins’ as they are done in North Carolina, a state that has vast influence on how we cook ALL our pork, we believe that the essence of the Pickin’ is evident in everything we do. For the un-initiated, the Pig Pickin’ is a celebration of family, friends, food and the hog itself. Typically it begins at sunrise when the chosen swine is sacrificed and all of it’s blood drained and saved. These events typically host groups of folks who all have a task in using every part of the hog and they get right to work. As the day goes on and the side dishes are prepared, sausages (including blood sausage) are made, organs are used in a variety of preparations and the hog is slowly roasted.
Once all the cooking is done and the crowd has gathered, the service begins! There is music and friendship and most of all the ‘guest of honor’ served whole and with all of it’s edible components presented in a variety of ways for people to experience and appreciate. It is the ultimate reverence for the life of the hog who has, since the beginning of recorded history, provided sustenance so that man (and woman) could live! It is, I believe, the reason to cook and serve a whole hog…to connect the ‘end user’ with the ‘code’ that makes the whole human computer function correctly.
So, if you’re thinking about cooking a whole hog, don’t be intimidated! There are many methods of doing it; from the wood fire to charcoal below or above it to the Luau method of cooking on heated rocks in the ground wrapped in banana leaves and covered with dirt and moist burlap…it’s a big part of human history and evolution! It’s also easier than you might think to get it right and while you’re serving it, gives you a chance to get to know the different meat qualities from different sections of the animal, which makes you a better cook!
I am always happy to talk ‘BBQ’ with folks, so if you’ve got any questions, want to register for the class or just need to know how to do it where you live and with your gear…don’t hesitate to give me a call: 717-254-1937! Always happy to help! Hope that y’all have a GREAT weekend! – jak