SOURCE: FOOD REPUBLIC
“You can cook a pig over gas. You’ll certainly go to hell, but you can do it.” – Alton Brown on Whole Hog BBQ.
Over at the FOOD REPUBLIC, Chris Chamberlain does an amazing summary of what I would consider the highlights of the recent Southern Foodways Symposium – WHOLE HOG. Actually my teacher Ed Mitchell, the grand ambassador of Eastern Carolina whole hog, was there but was asked to something on his family’s Brunswick stew. Two whole hog powerhouses Sam Jones and Rodney Scott, representing Eastern North Carolina and Pee Dee South Carolina styles respectively, where on hand to cook massive 280 lb Mangalista Hogs on open concrete pits. And no less than the great TV food science guy alive was there to talk about whole hog bbq. Honestly could this card get any more stacked?
Definitely worth reading in it’s entirety. I’m simply going to post some of my thoughts on what’s said.
The first interesting thing was the stylists picked. For those in the know, Jones and Scott are big names. They’re also basically the same in style on paper. The South Carolina Pee Dee region uses a vinegar pepper sauce that’s more or less the same as Eastern Carolina. I figured it would have been interesting to bring someone like the folks from Sweatman’s cooking their mustard sauced whole hog to bring extreme contrast. Even thought they’re fundamentally the same you can really notice the difference in styles.
Scott is really big on seasoning the mean on the grill. So when the pig is flipped, the aim is just as much to blister the meat as it is to boil the sauce mopped on the meat to season the whole thing. Jones is concerned about blistering the skin because that gets chopped up and mixed into the pork as is the tradition of Eastern Carolina BBQ.
One of the very interesting challenges was the makeshift cinder block pits that was made for them. Both men probably have a nice ash pile back at home at the bottom of their pits. This helps absorb the grease as it drips to reduce the chances of sudden pig bonfires. In addition, both men are probably more used to cooking the leaner pigs which again drips less fat. It would have been fun to watch them deal with all the lard that would have been gushing out of the Mangalista.
In Alton Brown’s presentation of the science of whole hog cooking he notes these several points
- Think of a whole hog as a big cauldron of water. You could simmer it or boil it. Better to simmer.
- Samller pigs 90 – 100 lbs are better because they’re more tender and are easier to handle.
- There are 500 flavor compounds in smoldering hardwood.
- It’s critical not to let the meat get too hot other wise the moisture will just boil off
- Brown mops his pig frequently to keep the heat down
- He also flips the pig 3-4 times during the process so that it cooks evenly
The cauldron of water idea is interesting. I’ve never really thought about it that way but it makes sense. He takes it a bit far by saying you need to mop the pig to keep it at the optimal temperature of 170-180. Most cooks will know this as the famous “stall” in meats when you smoke them. Your temperature will basically hit 160 and kinda hang out there for a good while because the moisture dripping from the meats actually cools down the barbecue. In fact many of us will actually stoke the fire at this point and heat it up to break past the stall period. I still think the boil vs simmer idea is worth exploring. I actually prefer to cook pigs north of 120 as there’s a lot more fat at that point and the animal has a matured a bit more to develop a deeper flavor. Many whole hog guys I know are willing to sacrifice that little bit of tenderness for more flavorsome pig.
Again I would encourage all to read the whole thing HERE.