|BBQ Whole Hog|
This is our process for cooking a pig for a Saturday afternoon party. We usually have our pig parties in late September or early October. We start on Friday morning by buying the pig and finish on Sunday spending most of the day cleaning! In between we have a hell of a good time, but it can be very exhausting.
Cooking a pig is like running a marathon. Not that any of us three has ever run a marathon. But were told that you need to pace yourself during the race. You also need to pace yourself when youre cooking a pig. If you dont have enough help and get some sleep along the way, you wont be able to enjoy the party or the food! Its best to have at least three people on the cooking crew. The first time Scott and Kevin cooked a pig, they were so tired by the time they served the thing that they couldnt eat even one pork sandwich! Last year was much easier on us with the addition of Grant to the cooking team. Well, here we go!
On Friday morning we take the pickup truck to Magoffin Stock Farm in Dulzura, California, in San Diego County. Don, who has been raising and butchering pigs there for something like 25 or 30 years, takes us out to the pens to pick out our pig. Were looking for about a 200-pounder "on the hoof." Anything bigger is just too hard to handle. Don always tells us to figure on about two pounds, on the hoof, per person. We usually have about 100 people at our parties and we always have plenty of leftover pork. Of course we also cook brisket, chicken, chicken wings and other goodies to go with the pig. You need to consider your crowd when determining the size pig you need. One hundred lumberjacks certainly will eat more that 100 guests that include women and children.
Don scurries the pig into the butchering area and the butchering is done. We wont go into the details of the butchering, but actually it is fascinating to watch. When Don and his crew finish butchering the pig, they put it on a cart and wheel it to the truck. We had earlier laid out an old blanket and then plastic on top of the blanket onto which Don drops the pig. We cover up the pig and make the 45-minute drive back to Alpine.
When we get to the house, we lay the pig out in a shady spot on a banquet table that has been disinfected with a solution of one-tablespoon bleach to one gallon of water. Although Don and his crew do a pretty good job of cleaning up the pig, we go over it thoroughly again with the hose. We clean the stomach cavity, ears and snout real well. We give the rear end a good washing too, and then dry the pig off with paper towels. It is probably about 11:00 AM about now.
We wont be putting the pig on the fire until about 11:00 PM, so we need to put it on ice until about 9:00 PM. This is where you can get into trouble if youre not careful. This is because rigor mortis is beginning to set into the pig. Dont do as we did the first time we cooked a pig. We had the bright idea of putting the pig in a newly purchased trashcan and then stuffing ice all around it. When we pulled it out of the ice-filled trashcan all the feet pointed in different directions and its head was cocked back looking over its shoulder. It was stiff as a board and we worked for an hour just trying to straighten out its head!
What we do now is put a block of wood in its mouth so that it maintains an opening wide enough for an apple that is placed in the mouth when its done cooking. We then use heavy butchers twine to tie the legs where we want them. We set the pig up so that all of its feet are pointing straight forward and slightly splayed. We are trying to arrange it so that it sits upright and straight when it sits on the cooking grate.
We then place the pig in very large plastic bags (one over the head and one over the other end) and tie them around the pig. For the last couple of years we then placed the wrapped up pig in one of our bathtubs and covered it with ice. This works OK, but it is very difficult to lift the pig in and out of the bathtub in a small bathroom. An old bathtub outside would be ideal. In 1999 we are going to find something else to put the pig in perhaps a small plastic swimming pool like you buy for kids.
Now that the pig is on ice, we spend the rest of the day preparing for the party. We put up canopies. We put out tables and chairs. We set up grills and other outdoor cookers. We set up the bar and the Margarita machine. Were working all day getting ready for the party tomorrow. Its a lot of work! We also clean up three or four whole chickens. Youll see why in a minute.
At about 9:00 PM we take the pig out of the bathtub and out of the plastic bags and set it on top of the banquet table. Youll want to have about three people doing this. We then turn it on its back and sprinkle the inside of the pig with a good amount of barbecue rub. Then, we place up to four chickens (also covered with the rub) in the cavity of the pig. This serves two purposes. First, it helps to keep the stomach cavity of the pig from sinking in from the cooking. Secondly, it provides some fantastic chicken that falls off the bone!
With the chickens in place, we close up the stomach cavity with skewers, like the kind you use to truss up the Thanksgiving turkey, and heavy butchers twine. We then rub vegetable oil all over the pig. We then cover the ears, snout and haunches with aluminum foil to avoid burning. Its now ready for the smoker. Well let it sit for awhile to let it start coming up to the ambient temperature.
At about 10:00 PM we fire up the largest smoker made by J.R. Enterprises. It is the Model S28-72 and its the pride of Alpine. You need a big one like this to cook a big pig. This is a wood burning smoker and were cooking with mostly oak and a little bit of mesquite. At around 11:00 PM, with the temperature in the cooking chamber up to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, we wrestle the beast, literally, into the cooking chamber of the smoker. We tend the fire and add water to the cooking chamber (a water chamber is a feature on most big smokers) to maintain the cooking temperature at 325 degrees to 350 degrees for the first four hours. Then, we reduce the heat to 225 degrees to 250 degrees for the remainder of the cooking period.
Carefully tending the fire is important to try and maintain somewhat even temperatures. Of course this is an all night process. This is why you need at least three people on the cooking team. That way, one person can watch the fire while the others sleep in shifts.
Saturday morning comes and that beautiful beast is really cooking! We starting to spend more time now preparing for the party. The official starting time is 2:00 but well get some early birds. We usually cook chicken wings in the afternoon for appetizers along with whatever others bring.
As people show up, they want you to open up the smoker to see the pig. The problem is that if you keep opening the smoker you will slow down the cooking process. To address this problem we have pig viewing every half-hour and it is loudly announced. You should see the look on peoples faces when they see a pig cooking for the first time!
It is now 3:30 PM and the pig has been cooking for about sixteen and one-half hours. Its time to wrestle the beast out of the smoker. This is tricky because the pig is still quite heavy, it wants to fall apart, and its hotter than hell! We use two of those big pizza spatulas that we bought at the restaurant supply store. We slide the pig out on the spatulas, placing it on a large board held by two other guys. Then we move the pig, on the board, over to the banquet table for decorating.
You can decorate your pig as you seen fit. We always put an apple in its mouth and cherries on toothpicks are used for the eyes. We also put greens around the pig, like lettuce or parsley. Sunglasses are nice. Decorating the pig is great fun!
After sitting for about an hour, the pig is ready to be pulled apart. The skin is hard and stiff so it basically lifts right off. Be careful because you will find that the pig is quite hot inside the skin. It is best to use heavy rubber gloves for pulling the pork apart. Keep a trashcan close for the skin and bones. Watch out for your shoes, as hot pig fat will be dripping off of the table. If the pig is cooked properly, the meat will pull off of the bones effortlessly.
We pull the pork apart and put it in large disposable foil pans. Youll need to keep your eye on things because at this point the guests are milling around the pork pulling area and theyre starting to filch pork from the pans. Youll need to work quickly. Dont forget about the chickens inside of the pig. The chicken meat will fall off of the bones. Be careful to discard all of the chicken bones.
We put the pork, chicken and brisket out on the table. We also serve baked beans and coleslaw. The coleslaw and many other items are made by our lovely ladies, 3 Women With Something Better To Do. Our friend that owns several Burger King restaurants brings the buns and its pork, beef and chicken sandwiches for everyone! We round up the guests and have them walk down both sides of end-to-end banquet tables, filling up their plates. People who have never had pork like this are amazed and shower us with compliments. We are tired but proud!
Everyone is now eating and we are proud of the job weve done. Its now time for the pig cookers to really party! We do so until we drop from exhaustion.
In the morning the backyard is an absolute disaster. So we spend all day cleaning it up swearing this will be the last pig party! Dont worry. That feeling wears off in a few months and we start planning the next pig party, one that will be bigger and better than the last one!
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