A Neighborhood Backyard Barbecue Event
Last year my neighbor invited me to a neighborhood gathering and the centerpiece of this event was a full, whole hog pit barbecue.
Living in the South, I of course have been to these before. Entire catering companies here are dedicated to just this specialty. This one though was so basic and attended by some close friends and neighbors. It turned out to be the best one I have ever went to.
Our host got up at 6:00 am and with his kid’s help, they put a fully splayed, 80 pound pig on the grate.
Most people hesitate at the idea of this type of cooking because it seems intimidating and overwhelming. The truth is that BBQ is actually quite simple.
Since the food is cooked at such a low heat and for a long time, you are unlikely to over or under cook. As long as you have time during the day to maintain the pit and keep a regulated temperature, then you will end up with a meal befitting a king and his court.
I believe this one was cooked for a solid 12 hours.
Homemade whole hog BBQ pit
What impressed me so much was the was the build was so simple. He piled up blocks and left an opening to continually shovel fresh coals underneath. A small investment for the metal grate and a few pieces of lumber and plywood for a makeshift cover was all that was needed.
As for the meal itself, there is no mystery here. Whole hog is just a bigger piece of meat that goes on the smoker. If you have ever smoked a pork butt, you already know how to cook a hog.
Flipping the hog
First is that you are talking about a large body that halfway through the day needs to be flipped over so both sides have been exposed to the direct heat of the coals. This is the most challenging part as it is hot, unmanageable, and prone to ripping apart. I have seen some use a snow shovel while others will sandwich it between two grates and turn the entirety of the pig over in this manner to then remove the other grate and continue cooking. This method usually requires more than one person.
The other difference is that the whole hog comes with the skin. If you ever eat chicken with or without the skin, you can appreciate the difference.
Since the skin gets good and crispy during the cook, people like to include this North Carolina delicacy on their plate. In the barbecue world it is referred to as cracklin.
Backyard Pig Pickin’
Once the pig was done, so began the ritual from which the event gets its name. The entire carcass is removed from the pit (or turned off as in the case of propane smokers built for the purpose). At this particular party the coals were still hot so it was transported to a nearby table.
Parts of the meat are cut away in chunks and removed to be chopped up. This is great for making pulled pork sandwiches for example. But the rest was left carved but intact and the guests lined up with their plates. You picked at the pig to pull off ribs, cracklin, or whatever parts you preferred. Grab a ladle of sauce and load up your plate with a few sides and that is just the beginning of your evening.
The nice thing about such an event is that there is an abundance of food. 80 pounds goes a long way for a neighborhood party and I took full advantage of seconds and third helpings.
If you ever consider trying this, I highly recommend doing so. Ask your friends if any of them have ever done one and you might be surprised how many have and how eager they will be to help.