Our first attempt at whole hog resulted in some fairly bland pulled pork. We didn’t skin the pig which makes it hard for any smoke to penetrate the meat under that thick, leathery skin. The pig above is not our first pig. That was our 10th or 11th pig.
In our second attempt, we skinned the pig as we were told by Memphis in May, 2 Time Whole Hog Champion, Skip Steele, former owner of Bogart’s in St. Louis and current owner of Que 49 in Jonesboro Arkansas. Skip showed me how to skin a pig. He skinned a 300 LB pig in about 10 minutes. His skinless pig was smooth as a baby’s bottom. I’ve skinned probably 10 pigs now and each and every time it looks like I used a chain saw and have Tourettes syndrome. Dad skinned the last couple and he does a way better job than I do, but still it doesn’t look nearly as good as Skip’s. So when we tried the butterfly method a couple years go, I was ecstatic that it worked so well. After doing a pig roast every year for nearly a decade, I think we finally found the method that works best for us.
Previously, I had done the pig in what is called, “Runner Style.” The hog is on all fours and looks like it’s running. The butterfly method doesn’t require any skinning at all. Wait, what? Not skinning it means no smoke gets into the meat, right? It’s not that no smoke penetrates. Some does. But with the smoke only penetrating inside the narrow cavity, it just doesn’t seem to work all that well. But when we butterfly it out, the pig is splayed out, the ribs are cut away from the spine and the whole thing lays flat. Now we have all that open surface area for the rub to be applied, the smoke to penetrate, and the meat to brown.
Before we get after our third whole hog post instructions, I just want to note that my hog photography in those posts was not the greatest. As I write this, those two posts are 9 and 10 years old. My photography has improved since then:
That being said, this shoot was done entirely on a cell phone. We hadn’t planned on making a post out of this, but I decided that the content was strong enough to merit a post. And considering I’m typing this on Memorial Day 2021, it seemed timely.
Whole Hog Part III Ingredients:
1 whole hog, prepped for butterflying
A big ass grill that has a removable grill grate
Two wooden sawhorses
A boatload of Reynold’s Wrap
Injection liquid (we used Tony Chachere’s – yep that stuff you get for turkeys on Thanksgiving)
BBQ Rub (for the beginning and the end)
I generally go with about a 100 lb hog when we do our annual pig roast. We are very generously gifted with a pig from Circle B Ranch. These heritage pigs are released into an oak forest as soon as they are too big for the vultures to get them. In that forest they forage on acorns pretty much their entire life. It makes for some amazing pork. Pretty much every state in the union has a heritage hog farm. Find one near you. You will not regret it.
When Circle B Ranch prepares my hog, they ask if I will be butterflying it. When I tell them yes, they open the pig up more than if I were to cook it runner style. They open the rib cage at the sternum. When cooking a butterflied pig, one can do it on its belly or on its back. We went with the latter.
Let’s begin with the big ass grill. I get mine from a local place called Kenrick’s. They are a phenomenal butcher and catering company that rents grills for just such events like this. They will cook you a whole hog if you want, or rent you a grill to do it yourself. Here’s that big ass grill:
That monster is 8 feet long and plenty of room for my hog and all sorts of extra fixin’s for the 100+ I had in attendance that day. Keep in mind, this was 2018, so no Covid Shaming allowed here.
Here is the grill loaded to the gills with a pig, four pans of beans, sausages, and a couple individual pork shoulders:
Smoked sausage makes for a tasty appetizer and they easily fit in the gaps on the grill between the bigger items
That grill has a removable grill grate that runs the length of the unit. This is vital. Set the grill grate onto a couple sawhorses (make sure they are wood), lay down about 5 layers of Reynold’s Wrap and set the pig down on the grill on its back. Remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs, just like you would do if you bought a slab of ribs from the grocery store or butcher:
Then take a knife and run it down each side of the spine where the ribs connect to the backbone and separate the ribs so the pig lays flat:
We put a couple pieces of firewood to act as wedges to hold the sides of the pig in place:
The reasoning for the wood was that we were worried that once all the connective tissues broke down, the sides of the pig might collapse and lay flat and we would lose all the juice that accumulates in the ribs. We wanted them to keep that bowl like shape for the entire cook because those indentions on each side of the spine will fill up with liquid which constantly bastes the meat. The wedge shape of the firewood is perfect for this. The wood is there for support, not to add smoke flavor. We will add the smoke wood to the coal bed. All that being said, in 2019 we forgot the wood and the sides did not collapse, so this is not necessary. I only mentioned it because the wood can be seen in some of the other pics. All that being said, forget the wood. We don’t need it.
The foil, on the other hand, is vital. The foil acts as a heat shield, deflecting the heat away and around the pig so it doesn’t get charred by the direct heat. For those familiar with kamado grills, it’s like the plate setter that goes between the fire and the meat. The thick, leathery skin will also act as a heat shield.
If you poke a hole in the foil, which is really easy to do with a heavy pig and their pointy feet, make sure to take a few pieces of foil and cover the hole, otherwise that hole will act as a blow torch. The heat will come through so hot, you could practically melt metal with it.
Next up, we need to remove some skin from the hams which are the meat around the back thighs:
Just skin the tops of those hams:
Once the hams are skinned, season the entire cavity of the pig with salt and your favorite BBQ rub:
Next up, inject!
Our rib cage is already filling with a little juice as the meat pushes some of the injection out:
While they are injecting, time to spark up the grill:
If you notices in the previous iterations of the whole hog cook, we used lighter fluid (EEEWWWWWW). But it’s not like we can buy a charcoal chimney for 100 lbs of charcoal. Then someone suggested getting a weed torch which is essentially a short range flame thrower. Well, you don’t have to tell me twice to buy a flame thrower!!!! I connected it to a 20 lb propane tank and in about 10 minutes, had a nice hot fire.
When setting up the grill, put 50 lbs of charcoal under the hams and 50 under the shoulders. The residual heat between the two piles will cook the stuff in the middle which we don’t want to cook as fast. Once the coals get going, toss on a bunch of smoke wood chunks and then move the grill grate and pig onto the grill:
Close the lid and let the heat and smoke work their magic. I don’t just recommend a probe thermometer for this cook, I require it. You just can’t be guessing on a cook like this. In fact, I highly recommend one of these probe thermometers with a base that can show the progress at a glance without having to open the lid. Because if you are lookin’ you ain’t cookin! I would also recommend one of these so you can spot check different spots on the pig to make sure everything is progressing as it should.
After only an hour, the hog is progressing nicely:
Notice the juice pooling in the rib cage? That’s your ticket to flavor town! Also, see those pork shoulders behind the pig. We learned a valuable lesson that day. What takes longer to cook, a 100 lb hog or the shoulder from a 200+ pound pig? The answer is the shoulders. The pig was done long before those shoulders were. It worked out though, we didn’t need the shoulders because we had quite a lot of no shows that day. Why?
Because it poured down rain. Luckily, it didn’t last long and the party was a success.
Here we are about three hours in:
We are entering the stall:
What is the stall? It’s when the temperature climbs steadily and then it plateaus for quite some time before climbing again. The stall happens because the fat in the meat liquifies from the heat which cools down the pork and flattens out the temperature climb. With heat and patience, the temp will start growing again. Our stall lasted a little longer than normal and we realized we were losing temp in the chamber so we had to remove the grill grate (pig, beans, sausages, shoulders and all) to run a metal rake through the coals. When we did, the hog shifted and we lost the juice from one side of the rib cage. Well, we go 3+ hours of basting out of it.
After we churned up the fire we left the grill open for a few minutes to let the air crank up the heat. Then we put the pig back on. A couple hours later our pig hit 203 in the shoulders she was done:
We took it off the grill and set it, grate and all, on the sawhorses and let it rest (this is why they need to be wood sawhorses so the grill grates don’t melt them):
The next year, 2019, we used a competition BBQ trick to get some better color. More on that in a minute:
I wasn’t happy with how dark it looked, despite how delicious it was
No juice in the top rib cage cavity:
In 2019, we utilized a trick we learned from our friends who compete in whole hog barbecue competitions. We foiled the pig once it got to the color we liked. Here was our our pig the following year after it hit 203 in the shoulder:
How’s that color?
Our pig always turns out amazing because we have some divine intervention. Our good friend, Father Purcell, always helps pull the pork when we are done:
Sometimes he even re-enacts a scene from Hamlet:
Looks like I got some grease on the camera lens. Sorry about that.
Here’s a trick. After pulling the pork, kick it up a notch. Add a little rub to the pan of pulled pork. If you are competing, you can do this by running the rub through a sieve to make sure nobody can tell you did this:
If you aren’t competing, sprinkle the rub in and work it through the meat. Just go light. It doesn’t need much. This would also be a good time to add any salt if necessary.
If you’ve never done a pig roast, the head will stay in tact. But if you, or someone in attendance has done a pig roast before, they will know that the cheek meat is some of the best morsels on the animal. This results in not the prettiest presentation, but you can’t deny those folks the tastiest bits:
One note about that foil we laid down on the grill grate. Not only does it deflect the heat away from the pig while cooking, it also makes for easy clean up. Pick all the meat off those bones you can. Whatever you don’t eat, bag up and offer it to your guests. THEN, roll up the remains of the carcass in the foil and throw that massive mess away in one shot.
Here’s one final shot of the 2019 pig, just because it is PRETTY!
To serve, I double stack an aluminum pan with pulled pork (making sure to work some salt and rub through the meat) and set it next to some Hawaiian buns, cole slaw and a few varieties of barbecue sauce. A Cambro also helps immensely with this process. You can keep pans of meat hot and juicy for hours. Cambro’s aren’t cheap but they are worth it. This is a not one of the more expensive plastic ones but works just as well and costs less. Not a ton less, but less.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or shoot me an email.
- 1 whole hog, prepped for butterflying
- A big ass grill that has a removable grill grate
- Two wooden sawhorses
- A boatload of Reynold's Wrap
- Injection liquid (we used Tony Chachere's)
- BBQ Rub (for the beginning and the end)
- Foil pans
- Pull the grill grate out of the grill and set on two sawhorses
- Layer 5 or 6 layers of aluminum foil down on the grill grate
- Set the pig on the foil on its back and then remove the membrane from the ribs
- Now take a heavy knife and separate the ends of the ribs from the spine on both sides of the backbone
- Remove the skin from the top of the hams on the back thighs
- Season the cavity with salt and your favorite barbecue rub
- Place 50 lbs of charcoal in the grill under where the shoulders will be and another 50 under the hams
- Light the charcoal with a weed torch
- When the charcoal is lit, toss on many chunks of smoke wood, some right on the hot part of the fire and some off to the edge
- Place the grill grate and pig onto the cooker
- Insert a probe thermometer into a shoulder and a ham then close the lid
- When the pig reaches a color that looks pretty, cover the pig with foil to keep the skin and meat getting any darker
- Once the pig reaches 203 degrees in the shoulder, remove from the heat and let rest for at least an hour.
- After an hour of resting, shred the meat and place into aluminum pans and season with salt and a little BBQ rub
- Serve the pans with Hawaiian buns and a variety of BBQ sauces