How to smoke a whole hog. This process of cooking a whole hog is truly gratifying whether for a catering job, neighbor’s party, or in the case of this one, the end of the year party, for the Florida BBQ Association.
First let me say, I know why someone might shy away from it in this case. For me, cooking to serve a bunch of Pro BBQ competitors that you know are great cooks, well, needless to say, was nerve wrecking but I gave it my best and it turned out great!
Smoking a whole hog all starts with determining the size. For this particular party we were going with approximately 40 pound whole hog.
TIP: If you are cooking for a larger crowd you may want to consider going with a smaller pig and supplementing with pork butts, cooked and pulled, then stuffed into the cavity. Pork butts are inexpensive and really stretch a budget, and allow you to still make an amazing presentation.
Preparing To Smoke A Whole Hog
At 46 pounds, (ordered 2 weeks in advance from my meat purveyor), Piggy, as she is to be known, came to me frozen, bagged and boxed. Due to size, place the pig in a large cooler, un- bagged and boxed, and fill with ice, in the body cavity, as well as all around the pig. The thawing process is going to be at least 4 days. That is true for just about any size pig up to a 100 pounds that will be longer or best if obtained fresh. Absolutely arrange for fresh for competition.
As we began to prep Piggy, I had already asked several of the guys for their Brisket scraps and trimming. Of course after busting my chops, several brought some great pieces to me. The brisket scraps are not used to fill the cavity for flavor, but rather to prop up the underside of the pig and to protect the loins from drying out as she cooks.
After we laid her out on a table, cavity side up, I use a heavy meat knife to score the ribs on each side of the spine to lay her open. I also like to go in and remove the first three ribs towards the head. This gives the rib cage the ability to open more and gives better access for some of the injection points.
Injecting Your Meat
For the injection, we used Sweet Smoke Q, Original Pork injection in a 2 to 1 concentrate with apple juice and peach nectar for my juices. I mixed up 2 gallons total of this injection mix and began to inject heavily in the hams and the shoulders of the whole pig.
We also concentrated on the loins, and ribs. I like to inject into the pork belly too, that is where if you are serving from the pig to plate, you can really make some veteran pig picker happy with the fresh bacon, swirled to tasty perfection. I like to inject the cheeks also, since that’s a favorite spot too. Oh wait, I guess it’s all good, it’s pork!!
Tips For Peparing Your Smoker For A Whole Hog Cook:
- Spray inside of cooker with no-stick spray, helps with clean up
- Smoker should be heated to 250 degrees
- Wrapped rack with aluminum foil as well as the outer lip of the smoker, this helps with cleanup afterwards.
- Wrap ears, tail, snout with foil to protect it from getting too dark (you will remove it later), after rub has gone on Piggy
Rubbing Your Whole Hog
For the rub I suggest you mix in advance about a gallon jug worth total of your favorite pork rub.
Rub liberally all over the pig inside and out. By now some of the injection will leak out into the cavity, just leave it. You can baste with it, in an hour.
Time & Temperature
Now for timing, I like to plan for 12 hours for something under 75 pounds. Generally you can adjust the temperature up or down as you get closer to your time of service. If the pig gets done early you can always reduce the heat and actually hold it on the cooker.
If the whole hog is not getting done as fast as you like it simply kick that baby up, by stoking the fire. Using a temperature probe, I use this instant read thermometer (that particular brand goes on sale quite often so check it out to see if you can get a great deal) as they are fast and very accurate, you are looking for at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the hams and shoulders.
Having said that, is it food safe sooner? Well yes it is, BUT, it will not be as tender or pickable (Yes that’s a word). Quite frankly it really stinks to have to sliced pork off of a whole hog, I’ve seen it, and it isn’t pretty.
Basic Duties During Your Cook
Basic duties during the cooking process are mopping and adding fuel as needed to maintain temperature. For cooking fuel I used royal oak lump charcoal combined with cherry and pecan wood.
You will have to be familiar with your cooker to know how much wood you will need to maintain the temp at 250 for roughly 12 hours of cook time.
Mopping & Glazing Your Hog
For mop you can use the juice in the pigs cavity, every 45 minutes or so, or a BBQ Mop can be purchase at any BBQ outlet or online store.
After you’ve reached 180 degrees within the hams and shoulders of your hog, your pig nearly complete as it’s not time to make it really shine. Using a brush or a mop, lightly brush the entire whole hog with your favorite pork glaze and hold some back to pour over later and/or for guests to use for dip.
Dressing Your Whole Hog
Now your master piece is now complete, how do you dress it up and present Piggy?
Well I enjoy those details, even if for a few minutes. If you can use the same rack, great, but usually you need to shift the pig off the rack used for cooking. We use one of the other racks from the cooker, wrapped in foil and set on a folding table.
Once you have transferred the pig to the clear rack or fresh serving tray, remove the brisket pieces from underneath if any remain. Using fresh greens, fruits and vegetables, decorate. For greens I like to use kale as it holds up well with the heat. Make a skirting all the way around the base between the pig and the table and cut the other fruits and veggies to add some color around the pig.
If this going to be your first cook on a smoker then you’re probably not starting out with this, BUT you have to start somewhere as the whole hog is something that nearly every Pitmaster wants to do eventually. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone wants to stay up all night, probably burn yourself with hot sugar sauce at least once, maybe inject your own hand, right after you have cut yourself while snapping the bones, just after pulling a muscle in your back, lifting a piece of meat bigger than you should have, however do I want to do it again… you bet cha!
I’m sure there is a support group to help me with that, but if this is wrong than I don’t want to be right. I said this is a gratifying process, I didn’t say it would be easy, after all, if Competition BBQ and smoking meats were easy, then everyone would do it.
Happy Smoking, remember… it’s all good in the BBQ hood!!
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