I Love Grilling Meat January 2019

January 2019

MEAT Insider

WHOLE HOG Challenge

Goin’ Hog-Wild in 2019 Whole Hog Smoking

A lot of people take a look at their grill or smoker and wonder if it’s big enough to take on a whole hog. The answer is yes! This is where having a reliable butcher comes in handy. A good butcher can help you determine the right size of pig or hog for your smoker. You tell them how much space you have to work with, and they’ll tell you what size of pig you need. Call this another reason why it’s good to become friends with your butcher! You can get small pigs around 15–20 pounds, which will do for a smaller cooking space. Your standard pig will be anywhere between 20–90 pounds. Anything over 90 pounds is going to be a hog and will need quite a bit of space. On top of figuring out the size of your pig, you can also ask your butcher to butterfly the animal. They’ll open it up down the center, which can make it easier to get a more even cook. Or you can go with the whole pig. It’s up to you! I tend to buy the whole pig and butterfly it myself, but it’s something I’m used to doing. I learned a lot about butchering on the farm and while working in a packing house when I was younger. The packing house would hire FFA kids with high grades to work there for the summer. I was picked a few times and got a lot of hands-on experience I’m still using today. If I’m working with a 65-pounder, I’ll need a full day for the prep work and the smoking. That’s the thing about smoking a whole pig — you’re going to want to set aside 10 hours with about seven of them just for smoking. When it comes to the prep work, unless you’re doing it outdoors in a near-freezing-cold climate or a industrial refrigerator, you’re going to want to work quickly here to avoid spoilage and minimize contamination of your meat while it’s exposed. To butterfly your hog, you’ll need to dislocate the hips so you can tuck them up underneath the pig while it’s smoking. You can also ask your butcher to do this for you. Butterflying your hog will flatten it and spread it out. This is good because it will allow your hog to cook faster, avoiding spoilage and resulting in a more even cook. However, when butterflied, your hog will

also take up more surface area in your cooker, so be sure to take this into account when purchasing your whole hog or pig. If you need help to determine if a pig or hog will fit in your cooker, again, just ask your butcher. They should be able to give you a good approximation of how much cooking space is required to fit your butterflied hog. When I’m prepping my pig, I often remove the ribs from the belly to cook them separately. You can cut them out easily after the pig’s been butterflied. This also allows me to remove the silver skin from the ribs, allowing the spice to penetrate meat inside the cavity of your hog. Once you have your pig laid out nice and flat skin-side up, you can salt it. There’s no reason to season the skin side with anything more than salt. The skin isn’t going to absorb those flavors, so it’s best to take a simple approach. Just wet the skin with a little water, and put down a heavy sprinkle of salt. The salt helps draw out moisture, allowing the skin to crisp up nicely as it cooks. After you have the salt down, let it rest for about 15 minutes to ensure the salt is caked on nicely. Then, flip it over and season the meat inside the cavity with your favorite seasonings or the rub I include in my recipe. Here’s where it can be a little tricky. You want to cage the pig. Get some chicken wire — enough to wrap around the pig. With the wire laid out, move the pig onto the wire, then wrap it around the pig and lace the two edges together. This will keep everything in place as you cook it and when you take it out of the cooker. You don’t want to reach for a leg only to pull it right off! As you cage the pig, you may need an extra hand. You will also want someone to help you move the pig to the smoker if you have a larger animal. I start my whole-hog cook skin-side up; this means the opened cavity is facing down. I do this because I want to quickly heat the bones of the hog, which will heat the meat faster than if you start it skin-side down. Plus, the skin acts as a shell to hold in the heat. This is important: If you live in a warmer climate and you’re cooking a larger hog, then be sure to get your internal, meat temperature up quickly. If it takes too long to come up, your hog could spoil before it’s cooked.

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