The first whole hog I ever barbecued came out amazing–but then again, I had a lot of help. Starting with Morgan Weber, my pig farmer/butcher. The meat had a melt-in-your-mouth texture, thanks to the marbling on the Red Wattle/Mangdalista heritage hybrid Morgan bred for his Houston store, Revival Market. Morgan’s processor cut the 120 pound whole hog in half, which wasn’t the way we asked for it. But with the head removed and the carcass cut into two halves, it sure is a lot easier to carry.
The pit was designed by me and Richard Flores from photos I had taken all over the South while researching my new book “Barbecue Deja Vu.” This whole hog experience was part of the process of creating a recipe for the book. The recipe begins with building a pit. We went with 4 cinder blocks wide by 7 cinder blocks long by 4 cinder blocks high with a hole at either in for ventilation and iron plates to regulate the airflow. The pit floor is black iron. Inside the structure, we built up columns of three half cinder blocks to keep the grates for the pig 24 inches above the pit floor. Another grate was suspended on two cinder blocks to a height of 16 inches for the head. The grates were welded with a gap on either side to allow refueling. The pit was built by Richard Flores and friends in his carport in Houston’s East End. I would have been happy to use cardboard or corrugated tin as a cover, but a friend of Richard’s fabricates stainless steel for a living, so he got a fancy cover.
We borrowed some from Myron Mixon’s method, which calls for the pig to cook skin side down the entire time. You put some aluminum foil around it loosely to protect the skin. If you never turn the pig, you don’t loose any fat or juices. And you don’t have to worry about constructing a grate that sandwiches the pig so you can turn it. We didn’t use Mixon’s MSG-spiked injections, however. We simply seasoned the inside with salt and pepper and starting basting it with a vinegar and pepper mop sauce after we removed the foil after 16 hours.
Richard was the one who got up all night to stoke the fire. I did the pulling, chopping and seasoning. I used a method I learned from Stephan Grady in North Carolina. Grady also cut his whole hog into two halves for easier handling. After cooking the pig, he pulled the meat right on the barbecue pit instead of transporting the whole hog to the kitchen. This makes the process much easier.
I mixed up four barbecue sauces and a mop sauce. For sandwiches, we toasted Slow Dough challah buns and Revival Market supplied the white slaw. I liked the Spicy Vinegar Sauce the best, it was made with chile pequins soaked in sherry vinegar. The Mustard Sauce was the most complex. Richard made pinto beans and his famous Spanish rice. After I pulled the meat, Richard set up a 3 quart Lodge chicken fryer filled with manteca over a propane burner and proceeded to turn the skin into chicharonnes. The crowd went wild over the fried skin.
Thanks to Jay Francis for the video: