Whole Hog BBQ – Tools of the Trade I

I guess if there was one definite difference between North Carolina BBQ and our cousins in Texas and Kansas city, it’s our tools.

When I used to cook fancier cuisine, your tools would come from pricey culinary outfitters or restaurant supply shops. My straight carbon steel knives were forged in France and German. We used a mess of different tools from Japan to make plants look like little footballs, chocolate look like snowmen, etc. I even have a pair of scissors whose sole job is to snip the top off a quail egg – to garnish a jewel-like plate of tuna tartar of course.

The funniest part of the Carolina tool kit is that most of it comes from hardware stores! So I’ll be writing a series of various different tools you can pick up for whole hog cooking.

THIS is no good

The most intimidating thing about cooking a whole hog is getting it prepped for cooking. Even the smallest pig I have ever cooked is larger than most people’s ovens. Even highly  trained French chefs have difficulty handling the entire animal as my highly talented friends will attest

To prep a whole hog for smoking you need to get the back split, the collar bone removed, and the breast bone cut off. Now this will be a completely separate post where I’ll explain how to do that. You essentially want your pig looking like this

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As you can see the top half is cleanly split, the collar covering the shoulders are removed and there’s no breastbone. After this we split the lower half a little just flatten the hog out.

Now the tool of choice here is the reciprocating saw. I use a Sawzall which is made by Milwaukee Tools. If you never seen a bunch of grown men try and split the hog’s backbone without the saw, you’re in for all manner of funny. The use of the tool was taught to me by some good ole southern folks down in Georgia and it has made my life INFINITY better.

A pig is a powerful animal. It has lots of predators out there looking to eat it and it’s hell bent on not becoming chow. Hence the tusks and tightly compact body. So if you’re looking to butcher a hog for BBQ, it would be worth your while to stop by the local Lowes or Home Depot. Trust me, nothing will get your more frustrated than trying to split bone.

It’s also great in removing the forearms and feet as well. Again if you’re really into seeing a hilariously macabre show, give a 240lb strong dude a cleaver and ask him to chop off the feet. You’d be surprise how little strength will help you here. Those tendons and sinew do their job really well. There is indeed a trick to cutting all 4 of them off in less than 3 mins but it requires a lot of practice. Unless you’re looking to cook as many pigs as I do, it’s not likely you’ll get too much practice – stick with the saw.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about shovels.

aPORKalypse NOW 2013 – Whole Hog BBQ!!

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See ALL the Photos and food porn of aPORKalyspe HERE.

I live in Queens. Now this for a long time marks the complete opposite of hip. Queens doesn’t have the same sex appeal as Williamsburg and definitely doesn’t have gentrified air of Park Slope in Brooklyn. What I have found lately is the massive booming food communities of Astoria and Long Island City (LIC). People are extremely passionate about their neighborhood  With Village Voice awarding #1 BBQ status to John Brown Smokehouse and the charcuterie savant Ian Kapitan cooking at Alobar, Queens might just give Brooklyn some competition for coolness.

This year’s aPORKalypse Now was featured at Alewife NYC – voted #1 craft beer bar in NYC by ratebeer.com. I’m no expert on cool but I gotta say, this had to have been one of the coolest bars I have ever been to. The place was MASSIVE! High ceilings would be an understatement. It was like a renaissance chapel built for the devotion to sacred suds. Two floors, thick sofas, AND a patio. Breath taking.

The mission was simple – three 100lb pigs were at my disposal to smoke and produce North Carolina BBQ. John Brown Smokehouse was given the call to provide BBQ and as the joint’s resident whole hog expert, my pit pulled up the night before the event ready go. In order to get 300lbs of meat into my smoker we sectioned 2 of the pigs into 6’s – loins, shoulders, hams. This allowed me to jigsaw puzzle them into my pit. The last one I left whole and simply cut in half for show.

4:00 AM me and my partner, Angel Mercado, loaded the hogs into my truck and arrived at Alewife to fire up my pit with charcoal and thick oak logs. This took longer than I liked but as it was really early in the morning I didn’t want to wake up the neighbors with my flamethrower. If you have never heard my flamethrower before, it sounds like a jet exhaust. A perfect recipe for cops being called on me at 5AM. By 5 the hogs were on and the first cigar of the day with a much needed cup of coffee was at hand.

Maintaining the heat was royal chore! First off it was really really cold. So cold I heard the polar bears at Central Park actually called in sick. So I was firing up the pit 3 times my usual rate. Thanks to my trusty burn pit and shovel this wasn’t a problem. The one interesting thing about cooking hog is that more of your equipment actually comes from Home Depot than restaurant supply stores.

By 2:30 we pulled our first half pig off in order to feed the people from Session I. A bit of a miscommunication as I didn’t realized we were cooking for 2 sessions. It would have also been a logistical nightmare as I literally had 2.5 hours worth of sleep just to try and finish this pig for the evening session.

In the meanwhile my massive black pit provided lots of photo foder for my fellow New Yorkers who are not used to seeing a smoker the size of a small car.

By 4 all the hogs were done and we keep the process exactly as my teacher, Ed Mitchell, taught me. Picked the meat off the bones, chopped them, dressed with my vinegar pepper sauce and topped off the with crispy skin. Unlike other BBQ styles, I can’t just slice something and serve it on a plate. Cooking hog requires that you taste a lot of it. Adjusting seasoning as I go. So often times you’ll see me not eat a plate because I’m so full from tasting all that hog. With 3 hogs smoked, that’s a lot of pig I had to taste.

Our line was nonstop! We chopped a half hog at a time to keep feeding the hungry crowd. Most of the people there had never had North Carolina BBQ before. How much the crowd loved it was voting with their wallets. As part of their tickets, guests got a few drink tasting and food tasting vouchers. More tickets to me meant less option to taste someone else’s food. People came back for 3rds and 4ths! One gentleman loved us so much he placed his entire voucher supply on our table saying he didn’t care to eat anything else for the evening but our hog!

As part of the gag I browned one of the pig heads in my firebox and placed it on the table as a center piece. I swear my pit and this pig’s head get more loving from the ladies than I could ever hope for. It was passed around, posed for photos, kissed etc. At the end of the evening a guy asked to take it home with I gladly gifted as it meant less cleanup for me. The missing pig head distressed a group of women though. Apparently they wanted to take the head home as well. I gave away the remaining two (raw) pig heads sitting at the back of truck. I never realized that women were so fond of raw pig heads. That’s some wife material right there.

aPORKalypse NOW 2013 was an amazing event. So happy to see so many people enjoy my BBQ and a great way to kick off a 2013 filled with BBQ events.

See all the Photos and food porn of aPORKalyspe HERE.

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Us, We, They, Them

In my most recent craft beer event cooking North Carolina whole hog BBQ, one of the more popular questions was where in North Carolina I came from. Many NC expats who attended the event told me my hog was exactly like how they ate back home and asked when was I returning to New York. For native New Yorkers I was part of “them” – folks living in the State of North Carolina, for NC natives I was part of the “us”.

This actually becomes more clearly funny once you realize that I’m ethnically Asian. It’s also significant to me given the implication of the question. Asian Americans do not really get associated with America. If a black man said he was from Texas or a white woman said she was from Montana, no further inquiry is needed. They quite clearly are American, we simply need to drill down and figure out what flavor of American are they. No one thinks about ancestries tracing back to Ghana or Western Bavaria. They are quite plainly American – red, white & blue no qualifiers needed. Being Black or White means you could basically be from anywhere in the US.

With Asians this basically never happens. You can’t just be from New York, or California, or Texas. The ever looming question of “where you are really from” is always the follow up. You basically aren’t just really American, you’re American-lite. Not one of us, just some folks we allowed in. The child of British immigrants to this country will receive the “American nod” immediately, while 3rd generation Koreans will still be questioned on their true heritage.

I have spent so much time researching North Carolina BBQ – techniques, seasonings, history, tradition – and apply it in my whole hog smoking, that I’ll tend to talk about “we” when referring to the Carolina-  style. What I do is no different than what some guy in Wilson, NC is doing in his backyard. Given the amount of practice I’ve had, I might even beat him. So the weekend was interesting. Through the world of BBQ, people asked not of where in Asia my grandfather’s from, but where in North Carolina I’m from. I’m not. But it’s nice for a moment to hear that I’m from my slice of the American pie.

aPORKalypse 2013 is coming!!!

I will be cooking North Carolina Whole Hog BBQ at this year’s aPORKalypse Now event as part of the NYC Craft Beer Week festivities. We’re celebrating local craft breweries with 10 chefs cooking 10 heritage pigs!!!! 

Me and my brothers from John Brown Smokehouse, where I proudly serve as resident Hog Expert, will be bringing the taste of Ed Mitchell BBQ to the folks in Queens. This will be done out of Alewife’s Bar.

Champions team up with champions!! You can’t beat this roster

Alewife Bar – Voted #1 Craft Beer Bar in New York City by Ratebeer.com!!

John Brown – Village Voice’s 2012 #1 BBQ Joint in NYC

Me – well I’m not gonna toot my own horn but I smoke a pretty mean pig. A faithful student of the Pitmaster Ed Mitchell.

Hope to see you there!!!

Some press from last year’s event from Serious Eats  The Finance Foodie and I Drunk That.

Whole Hog BBQ – It’s all in the MIX!!

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A good friend of mine and I met for lunch yesterday and it shocked me that while he has always heard about my work with “Whole Hog BBQ” he didn’t quite understand that every whole hog plate had every part of the pig mixed together. This was shocking to hear especially from my buddy, a well-read foodie. I figure if HE had trouble understanding this, others will have trouble as well.

In my particular branch of the American BBQ family – Eastern North Carolina – whole hog BBQ means that an entire pig is slow smoked over hardwood embers before being pulled, chopped, and mixed together. This way you have all the goodness of the pig present in every bite. Kinda like mixing up a “meat salad”.

Now for traditional pig pickings, people basically come by the hog and pick out the portion that they want – loins, hams, bacon, shoulder etc. For commercial purposes and for larger feasts, the hog is mixed together because it makes a better product. This seems counter-intuitive for most people. For example, shoulders are the predominant pork cut for BBQ in the South. For many people there doesn’t seem to be a need to add any white meat hams into the meat. If shoulder is superior cut, why dilute it with an inferior one? I’ll list 3 reasons of why it’s better to mix:

  • Mixing lean and fatty meats makes the pork tastes porkier. Take for example pork belly, it’s delicious due to its richness but it’s hard to eat an entire plate of belly because the richness overwhelms the pork flavor. Add some loin to that and you’ll discover why Italians been mixing belly and loin in their “porchetta” roasts for generations.
  • Every piece of the pig has a different flavor. The tenderloins taste different than the loins, the hams markly different than the shoulders. Adding all this goodness together makes for a more complex set of flavors. The reason we all love chocolate is that it contains over a thousand flavors, since we can’t taste 1,000 flavors we all taste what we find the most pleasant. Same with the whole hog, you’re getting hits of pleasure based on your palate and it has the profile to satisfy all.
  • It allows everyone to get a bit of everything. There’s only so much tenderloin on the pig and the precious neck muscle isn’t as large as the belly. Since the spirit of the whole hog is sharing with all, it’s best to mix.

Now the guys over in Western Tennessee actually do pull to order from the hog. So if you went up the counter at some Western Tennessee spot and asked for a “whole hog sandwich”, they’ll probably shoot you a “Which part arsehole?” look. They’re expecting you to order a shoulder sandwich, or a tenderloin (aka catfish) sandwich etc. But since this is a North Carolina BBQ blog, they can get their own blogger to justify why this is a better practice.