See all the shots of our Competition Whole Hog HERE
The Big Pig Jig was originally a whole hog contest. This follows the tradition that differentiates Whole Hog from its other BBQ peers. Other BBQ cuts like beef brisket, pork ribs etc are utilitarian in nature. Slow smoking was a way of taking a cut that had very little utility and making them an attractive menu item. The famous Rendezvous restaurant in Memphis started doing baby-back ribs solely because their meat supplier gave them cases for free, such an undesirable cut it was, and now ribs are their signature item. Whole Hog does not fall in this same genre. Whole Hog has always been a celebratory cook – the crowning centerpiece of a big party.
Whole Hog also occupies an interesting space in the competition world. On the one hand it’s less competitive by volume – There were 109 teams competing in Ribs that weekend and only 40 teams in Whole Hog reflecting the higher barrier of entry Hog presents. Almost anyone can do the ribs portion of the contest. Ribs are not hard to source and you can cook them in anything from a $20,000 trailer or a tiny $300 Weber Smokey Mountain. Whole Hog requires a cooker that at the minimum will contain the entire carcass. The cookers tend to be specially designed for this category, Lonnie Smith, Myron Mixon, Melissa Cookston all use very specific cookers for their hogs. On other hand, the competition in Hog tend to be very steep as the competitors tend to be more professionally driven. There are many weaker competitor in ribs – those who are there more for the party than the competition but only the most serious competitors who have invested tens of thousands of dollars in massive cookers tend to do the hog category.
Lonnie, who I study competition whole hog under, won the 2011 Big Pig Jig in Whole Hog. While there’s many BBQ “teams” that are largely husband and wife, you’ll need significant amount of man power for hog. If you worked out regularly, you could I’d imagine pick up and place the pig on the cooker yourself, but to flip it mid-way without it falling apart on you is impossible. There was a team fairly close to us who lose their pig this way.
Much of the challenge is the same as cooking any whole animal and is two-fold – Flavor Asymmetry and Structural Integrity. Flavor Asymmetry – On any animal, any section that doesn’t get much work is usually bland. In the pig the shoulders are packed with flavor where as the loins and the hams are bland white meat. The Structural Integrity is familiar to anyone who has ever had to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving – how does one get the legs done at the same time as the breasts which cook much faster? The upper portion of the pig is denser and will cook slower than the bottom half. Then there lies a problem with protecting the loins.
Several tricks of dealing with a whole hog.
- You want a bigger pig. There’s a reason why Myron Mixon loves doing 200lb pigs and it’s not for the reasons he gives on TV. A larger pig will have a larger camel hump like fatback which offers a great deal of protection to the loins in addition to adding flavor.
- Take all the ruffle fat that you got from trimming off the pig and place it under its back. It adds an extra level of heat shielding.
- Remove the first three bones of ribs from the top. It will open up the shoulder more so that you can get more of the rub in,. Doing this also reduces the time needed for the shoulders thus allowing closer timing with the hams.
- Before serving make slits in the loins, hams, and shoulders and spoon in all the pooled juices in the pig’s cavity. This is not only a competition trick but is also used in a commercial capacity – Rodney Scott of Scott’s BBQ in South Carolina is well known for cooking his hogs this way.
Here’s some more photos of our whole hog, be sure to click on the link up top to see all the shots of our pig.