The traditional Whole Hog in a family version
Let’s imagine writing a list of traditional American barbecue dishes, those that identify the gastronomic culture of each state in those cute colorful maps that they sell in souvenir shops. Just as a play, let’s have a check next to those we’ve tried to cook, or even on what we think we have a good experience on. It does not take a lot of fantasy to guess that the less palatable dish will be the Whole Hog, typical of the two Carolina’s. Whole Hog cooking is not very practiced in Europe and the reasons are easily perceived: an adult whole pork needs a bunch of cooking hours, a catering smoker to hold it, and a patron’s public party that justifies the business
In fact, in some European countries there are cooking regarding the whole pig we are used to try to simulate to bring about the American Whole Hog and we Italians have an example in Sardinian Porceddu but the reality is that these are two very different concepts. The Whole Hog in Carolina’s is a cultural phenomenon: the pig is cooked on its own skin that acts both as a container of juices inside which the meat itself cooks, both from a serving tray from which in popular festivals of any nature, from the Weddings to political parties, the portions were taken. Not casually all this kind of event takes the name of Pig Picking. The trimming method is therefore very specific and tends to highlight the anatomical parts so that it becomes an easier to “pick” plate formation and so that cooking and smelling all affect the same way. The presentation is also very peculiar: the pork is itself the serving dish and is decorated all around with salad and fruit of various kinds for embellishment.
All American sites talking about the subject recommend a minimum of 150 kg but I wondered if there was a way to give this dish a more familiar measure, replicable even only in a dinner among friends without necessarily affecting half a city. I decided to try to replicate a specific recipe taken from howtobbqright.com on a 7 kg. piglet, using the 67 cm diameter and the L&S setup of the Weber Summit Charcoal. For the rest, the procedure will be the same: a trimming highlighting the various anatomical parts, a double injection in two distinct stages of cooking and a final glazing, as well as of course the presentation on wooden board as Pig Picking commands. Both for Injections and for sauces, we will apply the recipes in the most scrupulous way possible: on each I convert the annoying American volume measurements in cups and spoons to grams for each type of food, calculate the percentage incidence on the total and the weight ratio on the overall weight of the pig and then re-proportionate it all depending on the weight of the baby pig. For Rub, I use exactly the same suggested (of course) on howtobbqright, so the Killer Hogs. Also on smoking we will apply the howtobbqright.com suggestion: hickory chunks and peach chips.
1 7 Kg Piglet
Killer Hogs Rub
40 gr. Apple Juice
4 gr. Kosher Salt
4 gr. Brown Sugar
13 gr. Agave Syrup
6 gr. Red Wine Vinegar
4 gr. Killer Hogs Rub
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1 tsp Soy Sauce
90 gr. Apple Juice
10gr. Apple Vinegar
2 tsp Killer Hogs Rub
160 gr. Bone Suckin’ Sauce
60 gr. Honey
10 gr. clear Peach Jam
20 gr. Teyiaky Sauce
The principles by which to trim the whole hog are three: keep the meat flat by laying it on the rind, expose the cuts to the rub and smoke and highlight them so to make the service and presentation easy.
- With the help of a knife and lobster scissors, we split the soft rib in St. Louis and Baby Back. We then cut the first so as to leave as much meat as possible attached to the belly, then separate completely and remove them. Incise with the knife the base of the baby back, at the point of joining, so that the flesh will rest and that the latter will be raised, perfectly sighted.
- Separate the head at the base of the neck (in the pictures you do not find it because it could be considered crude, however, just hit with a knife the base of the neck), with a blade incide the spine to allow the piglet’s opening, we clean the Part of the neck and shoulder by membranes and cartilage leaving the meat as open as possible. We do the same thing on the thighs by separating the skin well and removing it where necessary.
- Let’s sprinkle some Canola oil or any seeds or peanut oil on the skin. This will make the skin gummy, but it will be useful to handle the piglet during shifts without getting split apart. Sprinkle mustard and apply the rub. Finally, we inject injection#1, focusing on belly, thighs, shoulders, but above all the loin under the baby backs.
Let’s proceed to the cooking step on the L&S set up at 120° C on the Summit Charcoal, and in which we have already inserted the hickory chunks and the peach chips.
- Let’s cook the piglet and leave it in this position until you have a beautiful colorful and inviting bark. I immediately notice that the recommended temperature, cause of the lower mass and the consequent shorter cooking times is not suitable: the bark makes it difficult to create. I respond promptly to the first alert and rise it to 140° C and from there onwards the situation has improved considerably. It was, however, a quick operation: in 90 minutes we were at 60° C at the thigh and the bark was finally as I wanted it.
- So we remove it from the smoker to proceed with another spraying of canola oil to the rind and proceed with the second injection then wrap it all in a double layer of foil and back in the smoker again.
- When we reach 98° C we cut with scissors the foil front and crumpled it to the sides of the piglet, apply the Glaze Sauce and let it caramel for about 10 minutes until it is completely cleansed but before it becomes too dry. Finally, we take it off from smoker, sprinkle it with apple juice to give a glittering, inviting look, and finally move on to a wooden cutting board on which we can proceed with the decoration with the salad and the fruit before taking it to the table.
It was a really fun cooking and despite the lower oven temperature, far faster than the classic porceddu with the upside skin that certainly act as a shelter: in total, since I began to trim to when I tasted the piglet, they passed not more than 4 and a half hours.
About the meat, what to say…. the really cool thing is to be able to extract from the centerboard different cuts, all pulling, practically a large pulled pork with various consistencies, tastes and moistures. The best part in my opinion is the neck that cooked constantly seasoned by its own juices but also the loin was very good. Great thighs and shoulders also. Despite being tiny and extremely poor in meat, baby backs were not bad either, especially those closest to the back (the more exposed ones was a bit dry on top).
Ultimately if you want to make barbecue in the company of friends and want to do something different, this is certainly a solution to be considered. Have you ever thought you could cook a Whole Hog at your home?