How to Cook a Whole Hog
**Full video instructions at the end of the post!**
When it comes to smoking meat, we’ve done a lot here at mealfit. The thing I am constantly trying to do is learn. When I was asked about cooking a whole hog, my response was to say yes, I’ll do it. That answer was immediately followed by a call to my good buddy Jim Paddack in Crum, Texas. Jim owns Texas Chow and is a friend and mentor of mine. In the BBQ world I have 2 mentors who I am constantly in contact with: Randy Keifer, the owner of Stone Steel and a well known name in the Tennessee BBQ community, and Jim Paddack.
For this one I Thought Jim was the one to call. I’ll re-play the phone call:
Jim then proceeded to tell me about Jack “Bubba” Chavis. Bubba is a multiple time Grand Champion of Whole Hog competition cooking. He owns a super cool restaurant in Stallings, North Carolina called Rock Store BBQ.
Bubba was amazing from the first time we spoke, and he held my hand through the entire process. The one thing you will learn about me is that I am super coachable. I want to learn and keep learning. The more I can learn the more I can share with others.
So lets do this.
I was cooking this hog as a test for an event that is later in the summer. It will cost a little bit of money but if I viewed it as a learning tool, I could rationalize it a little more.
Bubba suggested a 135-140 lb hog but as I did my research, that was hard to find. So I ordered the largest hog that Sysco (my food distributor) could find. They got me a 91 lb hog dressed. Dressed means the hog is totally gutted and ready to be cooked.
In order to find a whole hog, search your local grocery stores and ask there. If they cannot help, they know someone who can.
I was cooking this on my Ole Hickory ELEW. Now I know that not everyone has a machine like this, but the key is to keep the heat consistent. So whether you are cooking on an old school barrel cooker, in the ground, or in a $10K smoker, keeping the temperature consistent is key.
I had to take out all the racks of the smoker to make room for the Hog. After taking out the racks, Bubba suggested that I place a dunnage rack in the floor of the smoker to keep the hog off the floor. I did not have a dunnage rack, so I used cinder blocks - I took 4 cinder blocks and placed them in the floor of the smoker. I then wrapped an 18 x 48 wire rack with heavy duty Aluminum foil.
I then placed the hog on its back. I stood over the hog and pulled its front legs apart and pressed down on his legs until you hear the crack. This is splitting the hog open so it can lay “Racer Style” in the smoker (Racer style is laying on his belly).
You then repeat the same process with his back legs so that when he is laying on his belly he or she is flat.
When you are done splitting him open, take your best pork rub and season the heck out of the inside cavity of the hog. I use our BUTT RUB that we make in house. When done with your RUB on the inside lets flip him over and place him Racer Style on the wire rack we coated with aluminum foil. The is really no need to secure the hog on the rack, he ain’t going no where.
After you get him on the rack Racer Style, take some vegetable oil and some paper towels and rub the entire outside of the hog with the oil. Be generous with the oil. This helps with the color of the skin and makes it look better for presentation.
Now we have to get him in the smoker. You are going to need some help getting him in there. We want to have those cinder blocks placed where the 4 corners of the rack are on a separate cinder block.
The only thing Bubba told me to go buy for this project were these things called DOTS. Thermaworks makes an amazing internal probe that makes this whole process tons easier. These DOTS are probes that stick in both shoulders and both hams of the HOG. There is a long cord that runs outside the smoker that hooks in to the “DOT” and gives you an accurate reading of the internal temperature of that section of the meat.
The goal is the get all 4 sections of the meat between 200-206 degrees F.
Once he is in the smoker we are going to insert one probe into each section. One in each shoulder and one into each ham. Once we have the smoker in the pit, we are going to put the wood in the smoker box. We are only going to put 4 sticks of wood in the smoker box. Now, I use 9 inch long sticks of wood instead of the standard 18 inches. I used 4 sticks of wild cherry wood. I am not a huge fan of hickory wood, but that is for another story.
The reason we don’t want to load up the smoker box with wood is because the more smoke you create the darker the hog will be. If you are using a traditional smoker where you add wood to the box to keep the fire going then you are going to have a dark almost black hog. If you do not have a gas fueled smoker then you need to have a separate fire going and fuel the smoker with hot coals instead of wood.
The Party was at 6:00 pm so I put the hog in the smoker at 4:40 am. I set the smoker to 275 F and let it roll. I checked it about 7:30 and the internal was still climbing, but they were a little off. The right side of the hog was about 30 degrees higher than the left, so I turned the hog and let it keep going for another hour.
The great thing about the “Dots” is that you can check the internal temp of the meat without having to open the door. Remember the key to smoking any kind of meat is to keep a consistent temp and every time you open that door, your temperature drops.
I had to leave the house for a couple of hours so I adjusted the temp down to 225 F for 3 hours. When I got back at 12:15 the 4 “Dots” read between 164-170 F which is perfect for that time in the cook. Remember the goal is to get all 4 locations of the probes to between 200-206 F.
At 12:30 we adjusted the smoke up to 260 F and let it roll.
At 3:55 smoker was at 260 F and the 4 dots read between 190-200 F.
At 4:34 smoker was at 260 F and the 4 dots read 202 F, 205 F, 203 F, 206 F…
Hard to get much better than that!
We took the rack and the hog out and placed it on a 6 foot folding table. We got it in place and garnished it to look pretty. We let it rest for about 30-45 min then started digging in.
I stood on one side of the hog and took a razor blade and peeled back the skin of the hog to reveal the back ham. I pulled the meat from the ham and placed it in a large hotel pan. I then moved to the mid section of the hog and pulled the rib meat and the tenderloin from the hog and placed it in the pan. I then moved to the shoulder and pulled all of the meat and placed it into the pan.
Why did I tell you all of this?
Let me explain...
When you go to a BBQ joint, you usually get one type of meat:
- Pulled pork (Shoulder)
What makes a whole hog so unique and distinct is that when done properly, you mix all of the different types of meat together and it creates and amazing taste that is unlike anything you will get at even the best BBQ joints in America.
The ribs and tenderloin are over done simply because the rib meat cannot handle that long of a cook time. But the hams and shoulders are done to perfection. Mixing the meats from all along the hog gives it an almost sweet taste.
After working along the one side of the hog you should have enough meat to feed about 60-70 people (that is with our 91 lb hog). The average yield with any whole hog cook is about 45%. Meaning if you have a 100 lb dressed hog you should get about 45 lbs of edible meat from it. Once you have your meat in the pan, spend some time and mix the meat real good. There are going to be many different textures but take your time and mix them good.
Take your seasoning or rub and sprinkle in when you are mixing. Don’t use so much that you take away from the taste of the meat, but use enough to get some amazing flavor. Add as you go and don’t add too much. You can always add some more but you can take it out once it’s on there.
Looking back this was a much simpler process than I once thought it was gong to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was not easy, but it was not hard when you have the proper tools to get it done. It is time consuming and that is what makes this an expensive project. Whole hog is a great idea for any outdoor party or celebration. It adds a wow factor to any setting and everyone young and old are intrigued by the look of the hog.
Keys to remember when cooking whole hog:
- Keep a consistent temperature.
- Leave it alone (keep the door shut)
- Don’t use a ton of smoke (turns it too dark)
- Mix the meat. It is what makes the “Whole Hog” experience
- Decorate it for everyone to see
I posted all the pics to Instagram as I was doing it and received some messages from individuals asking if I'd do a whole hog catered for an event. The answer is YES. A major part of what mealfit does is catering. We can for sure come to your party and cater a whole hog experience for you and your family and friends!
If you have any questions at all feel free to contact us through any of our social media channels or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Thomas Cox