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As a child I remember seeing my first whole hog cook at a BBQ competition. To me it looked like something you would see a tribe cook on some island far away from Arkansas. Images of a whole hog turning over an open fire on some crude rotisserie came to mind. In truth, my first whole hog experience was on a custom built pig smoker. Cooking a whole hog can seem intimidating for some, but with a little effort it can make for a greatly rewarding culinary experience.
Cooking a whole hog is one of the most interesting BBQ experiences you will ever have. It is BBQ at its most fundamental, meat and fire. It’s like a big blank canvas, waiting to be turned into something delicious. Cooking whole hog is a slow process, but in that time you can really make the recipe your own. The finished product is something beautiful, for the eyes and the taste buds.
What it takes…
I have done many whole hog cooks over the years; from catering my own junior prom, graduations, competitions, to recently cooking for a fund raiser. I remember my dad saying “the most important thing about cooking a whole hog is the hog itself.”
I agree, but my favorite thing about cooking a whole hog is the fellowship that comes with each cook. If you want to do a whole hog, you need three things: a pit/smoker, time, and fellowship.
Add your own touch…
Those things are mandatory, next comes the recipe. The hog is flavorful on its own, hell, that’s what bacon comes from; but adding your own touch is recommended. The right combination of spices can take an already good thing to a whole new level.
Growing up, we never separated the skin from the hog, but to really get the spices into the meat, you either must have it separated, or inject spices. I never used injecting because when my dad was in competition, injection was illegal. We cooked many hogs with the skin attached, just spicing and basting the outer layer. It got the job done, but I really wanted all those spices to get deeper into the meat. Since then I started having my butcher separate the outer layer of hide so I can get all those spices underneath. After the skin is separated, I have it placed it back on. Not only does this help keep moisture in the meat, it also adds beauty to the final product.
Cooking for many…
If you want to try your hand at whole hog cooking, start by picking a type of wood. You can use hickory or oak, but I prefer to use a sweeter wood like apple. After you spice up that Hog (We prefer using Jim Quessenberry’s Rub Beautiful), throw it on the smoker or pit split side down. It is best to keep the temperature around 225 F to 250 F. Cooking times can vary from around 17-22 hours, depending on the smoker and the size of the hog. Baste with Wicker’s, or apple cider vinegar, every 30 minutes to an hour. You can either mop or splash it on. This will keep the hide moist and give it a pretty red color when the smoke penetrates it. For presentation we like to add slices of pineapple and cherries for some nice pops of color, as well as some greens such as kale or leaf lettuce around the hog. Also, the traditional apple in the mouth is a must. 😉
Serve it up…
Once you are ready to serve, pull back the hide and pull meat from the shoulder, ham, loin, etc. The final product will be a moist, flavorful, and tender meal that will feed everyone. (We like to serve up our hogs with our own Sauce Beautiful or Hot Sauce Beautiful)