Now given that I already wrote why you should cook heritage breed hogs for whole hog BBQ I’m giving you the other side of the story and reasons why you wouldn’t want to use rare breeds.
#1 It’s Expensive.
Hell this might as well be the reason for #1-#4 with #5 being “Did I mention it’s expensive?”.
Cuban cigars are not the best cigars in the world. Some of the best cigars in the world are Cuban and I smoke a decent amount of them. To the average person the difference between a decent Cuban cigar and one from Honduras is indiscernible. This is because people don’t smoke that many cigars. People also don’t go around tasting different breeds of pigs. So one might argue that unless you had a particularly gifted palate you’re not likely to tell the difference between supermarket pork and heritage pork.
#2 It’s Inconsistent
There is basically no industry standards for heritage breeding. Much of it is self policing and many of the animal traders have to deal with rampant fraud. While people like to look down on “Factory Farming”, there is a distinct advantage to factories – everything is uniform. Any chef working with grass fed cattle will tell you that one steak might be the most glorious piece of meat you’ve ever stuffed in your maws and the next one will taste like gym sneakers. All from the same farm too!
#3 Sourcing is a pain in the ARSE.
When I want a plain regular hog for a client, I place an order with the same commerical butcher I have used for the past 3 years. I tell him how big and when I need to pick it up and I pay less than what most NYC restaurants pay for pig. When sourcing from a farm on the other hand, you need to call up an entire network of farms to see who might have your size ready at that moment. Pigs are not products that can be made on the spot. Thus because there’s much less of the animal on these small farms, it’s a pain to fill my order on size. If I’m too late to their slaughter season only a larger animal is available. If too early I might be stuck with two 60lbers when I really wanted one 140lb animal. Oh and yes, I have to pay more for this inconvenience.
#4 It can be a fire hazard
What makes heritage breeds so tasty? Because they’re largely bacon or lard hogs. All that fat keeps the meat juicy and gives your a nice succulent end product. Much of your flavor profile in Carolina BBQ is that grease dripping on the hardwood embers creating smoke.
But it also brings you the added risk of grease fire. Grease fires are no joke. Down in West Tennessee, insurance companies will not insure smokehouses because these grease fires have consumed entire buildings. They cooked a 280lb Mangalista pig, a particularly fatty breed, at last year’s Southern Foodways Symposium and I felt for the 2 poor pitmasters. They basically had to get that beast cooked by a deadline without creating the greatest pyro-technic display in history. I don’t care how many hogs you’ve cooked in your life, if you are dealing with that much grease and live fire, it makes you breathe just a bit more shallower. I did a 260lb Gloucestershire a few weeks back and that alone gave me missed heart beat moments.
#5 None of the best Hog masters use it.
Sam Jones, Dexter Sherrod, Rodney Scott, Ed Mitchell etc, all the biggest names in whole hog cooking. All who have made dramatic life altering BBQ have done so with commodity pork. Now you might argue that they might produce better BBQ with better pigs and I happen to agree with that sentiment. But at the core of the art of hog cookery is the techniques of fire management that brings about nirvanic flavors.