Ugh! Sometimes you work, and work, and work and things still don’t go right. We are hosting a large family gathering here and Jeremie wanted to smoke a hog for them all to enjoy. Poor guy had been working hard all day in the hot sun on projects that needed to be done around the farm. It was close to midnight when he got around to slaughtering the hog. Then is needed to be scraped and gutted and smoked. Something happened during the night becuase he woke me up at 4am to say, “there isn’t any hog.” What a disaster! Grease from the hog had dripped onto the fire, causing the carcass to burn instead of smoke. This is result. Charred. What a waste.
The boys got busy over a hot fire while mama was away out of state. They knew this was a treat I would voluntarily forgo. But, oh, how delicious they were! Or so I’m told. Remember all that back fat that we cut into cubes? Well, the boys popped them into a cast iron kettle and heated them up over an outdoor fire so the skins could fry in the fat. Cracklin’s. Piping hot, crunchy fried skins. Eeew!
Preserving meat. This is something I’ve been reading voraciously about lately. I love this book called The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook. It makes the mysterious process of turning a hog leg into something delicious like prosciutto seem easy. I can relate to the way the author likes to use what’s at hand. Keeping it simple. Bacon is first on the list. Oh my, I don’t think my family could ever have too much bacon. We’d eat it on eggs, on potatoes, in soup, with chicken, on salad. Is there anything in this world that in not made better by adding a sizzling, dripping piece of preserved pork belly? I think not. So the process is relatively simple. I followed a recipe for a salt/sugar rub and I rub a dub dubbed that stuff all over both pork bellies, making extra sure to get it in all the nook and crannies. Then, into the fridge it goes. Right now the meat is soft and wiggly. At the end of this process it will be quite firm and rigid. Some recipes call for simply leaving the belly in the fridge for 5 days and then draining and rinsing it. Other recipes instruct to drain the liquid off daily and re-applying the salt mixture. This is the method that I went with. After 4 days, though, I didn’t have any more curing mix left. So, I just drained off the little liquid from the bottom of the container and put the container back in the fridge. The majority of the liquid will be expelled from the meat during the first day or two, anyway. After 5-7 days, rinse all the salt off the belly really well. Pat dry. Now, if it is fall or winter, you can hang that beautiful belly on hooks out of doors to finish curing for 5-7 more days. However, it is quite warm here, so I had to just put it back in the fridge for the remainder of the curing time. After 5-7 days, now is the time to smoke it. I do not have a cold smoker, so I sliced up the belly and cooked some up right away and froze the rest for future use. It’s good. But I’m after Jeremie to build me a cold smoker because I think that will make it great!
Trotters, Hocks, Hams and Shoulders. I was greatly remiss snapping pictures of this process. But I pretty much just followed Brandon’s instructions. Cut off the feet. Trotters. I didn’t save them. Cut off the hocks. I saved them for ham and beans. The shoulder is cut into Boston Butts and Picnic roasts. The leg is done similarly. Cut off the feet. Trotters. Cut off the hock. The large ham portion of the leg can be cut into a boneless ham and a bone in ham. These can be cured in a salt water brine or dry cured in salt. This meat will be tough and chewy, so make sure to cook it long and low. I’m sorry for my lack of pictures. I’ve got some more carcasses to piece out, so perhaps I’ll update with more pictures later. Any questions? I’d love to hear them. For local peeps, I’m happy to walk you through the process in person if interested.
Now this is the fun part! I cannot recommend watching the Farmstead Meatsmith enough if you are serious about wanting to learn how to transform these animals you raise into a delicious meal for your family. Instead of hacking away at the carcass, learn to gracefully slice and pull. Use your fingers, instead of a chop saw. Never, ever cut meat with a saw. Only use a saw to cut the bone. I broke down this hog with a meat saw, a cleaver (which, honestly, I didn’t use that much) and a 6 inch flexible knife. Jeremie had halved the carcass before chilling, so I tackled this project one half at a time. This was late at night, after the kids were in bed, and it took 3 hours. I hope to get much much faster at this. It was the chops that took me so long. My saw is too big and unwieldy for such a job. I’d like to get a much smaller one for next time. So, first I took out the leaf lard. This is the white stuff right on the belly of the pig. it tears away using just fingers. Then I took out the tenderloin. This runs up along the back end of the spine. Start working your fingers around it from the head side towards the back end. It will come out using just fingers, as well. Now it’s time to cut apart the leg portion. This is what you could cure into ham slices, or preserve as a country ham, or spiral baked ham. The backbone comes down from the tail and makes a sharp angle, going down the back, towards the head. Make your cut right after the angled vertebrae. Then it’s time to separate the shoulder piece. This will be your Boston Butt and the Picnic roast. On the belly side of the carcass, you will feel the sternum. Make your cut right next to that bone and cut straight up to the backbone. You will need to use a saw to get through the backbone. Next, I separated the chops from the bacon. Looking at the middle piece of the carcass, decide how big you want your chops to be. I wanted as much bacon as possible, so I cut the chops just after the loin. See that circle shape that is a lighter color? That is the loin. You will have to cut this meat side down, so you’re cutting through the skin. You will feel the rib bones. Cut in between each rib and then go back with the saw and cut through the bone. Thinly and carefully slice the ribs away from the pork belly. This pork belly will be cured with sugar and salt for bacon. It’s gorgeous. The ribs that you cut away from the belly are the “spare ribs”.Now, see the top quarter of the hog? That is going to be chops, loin roast, and back fat for rendering lard and cracklin’s. The back fat peels away from the loin with quite of bit of effort with your fingers. If the skin is still on, cube that back fat and cook it up in a big cast iron kettle outside for delicious cracklin’s. Not to my liking, but everyone else here loves ’em. Regarding the chops, the only thing to remember is to keep each cut parallel to the last one. The chops will cook unevenly if one side is much thicker than the other. All the chops don’t need to be the same size, but they all need to be uniform. Make sense? Let the size of the animal determine the size of the chops.
After the chops are cut, you’ll be left with the rest of the loin. Trim off any excess fat and then it will be a beautiful boneless loin roast. I’ll discuss piecing out the shoulder and hams in another post.
Our hogs are a heritage breed, called guinea hogs. They are best butchered at 135-180#. It takes longer for this breed to grow than a conventional breed that can achieve slaughter weight in a few months. Ironic. It takes longer to grow this smaller pig. But, boy do they taste good! It’s a lard type pig that has been featured in the Slow Food ark of taste. And because of it’s smaller size it is easier to butcher at home than a 300# pig. This actual pig we did this time is a Guinea Hog/ Berkshire cross. Jeremie started by heating up water in a cast iron bathtub. You want the water to be hovering around 155 degrees. Once the fire was going under that, he put down the unlucky hog with a 22lr. He then quickly stuck the pig, to let him bleed out. We did not collect the blood, because I am not inspired to make blood sausage. However, now would be the time to collect the blood, if you are so inclined. Then Jeremie dragged him over to the now warm bath tub and he and Tommy lifted him up into the water. This is where it is nice to have a smaller size pig. Because we didn’t need a tractor or winch to get him up and into the tub. Would’ve been nice, but not necessary. After a few minute’s soak in the hot tub, we pulled him out a bit and scraped off the hair. The first one we did was difficult to pull out because he was hot and slippery. For the second pig, we put a couple cinder blocks in the water so we could just flip him over from side to side to scrape him. Jeremie had 3 scrapers, but it was hard for the kids to help because you had to be tall enough to reach into the tub, without getting burned by the fire underneath. Tommy, Mia and Susie were a big help. I probably was not. After scraping off the hair, we drove him into the barn on Jeremie’s lawn mower deck, and hooked him up to the gambrels. Again, being thankful he wasn’t 300 pounds. Jeremie and Tommy did the eviscerating and halving of the carcass. I don’t know the details of that, but perhaps Jeremie will do his own post about it? Then into the cooler they went. This is actually a chest freezer that Jeremie converted into a fridge. We could fit two hogs in there, 4 halves, with a shelving piece between the halves for better air circulation. We’ll cover the actuall meat processing in another post.
Let’s jump from birthdays to bloodbaths. Nothing is more exciting to me than learning how to process my own meats. Well, a few things are, I suppose. But this ranks right up there at the top. So when I heard that our local state representative was hosting a hog kiiling, well I signed right up. This was quite a large operation. He had two tractors going, a huge scalding tank that was so big I couldn’t even see into it, a 50 gallon cast iron kettle for cracklin’s, and power tools! I’m not so interested in the killing, scalding, gutting stages. I only want to work on carcasses that have no head or innards. But Jeremie and Tommy helped with that part. There were two fires going under the scalding tank to get it up to heat. The scraping process was surprisingly easy. And Jeremie says the gutting was pretty much the same as doing a deer. Then a sawzall was used to cut the carcass in half. Our host hired a processor from Yoder Bro Meats to come and cut up the halves into useable pieces. He showed us where the bacon, leaf fat, picnic, boston, spare ribs and shoulder roasts were cut from. I tried my hand at piecing out a hog and it was fairly easy and straight forward. I’ve since been watching videos from the farmstead meatsmith and hope to learn to divide a hog carcass with more care and finesse. There was a grinder there for making sausage and a sausage stuffer as well. The weather this day was in the single digits and my toes got froze. People had come from all over the state to join in this tradition. I am so looking forward to transforming some of the grunting, wallowing hogs in our pasture into succulent bacon and chops!