Butchering Day – Turn a mostly whole hog into many suppers

This is the day most of the meat turns into tidy wrapped packages of future supper.   There are lots of ways to cut up a hog depending on what cuts you prefer, so exactly how you do it isn’t really that big a deal.  

We’re going to start by using a torch to burn off any hair or skin left on from scraping earlier.  Now find the catfish.  I know, what’s the catfish? The catfish, also called the hanging tenderloin is not a cut of meat you can buy.  It lays on the inside of body cavity up against the spine and is the most tender cut of meat on the pig.  We fillet it off and save it to fry in the kettle with the cracklins. 

After that it’s all about what cuts of meat you want to cook.  The back legs/hip are the hams.  We’re going to save one ham to brine and smoke (more on that later), and the other ham we’re going to portion out.  The ham can be cut into roasts, steaks, stew meat, and sausage.  The texture and flavor of what you think of as “ham” comes from the brining and smoking, it’s not intrinsic to the cut of meat, so without any additional processing the hip/leg part of the pig has the same grain and flavor as any other cut of meat.  The skin and fat gets cut into one inch squares and goes in the lard/cracklin pot.  If you want roasts cut large chunks, if you want steaks cut thin slices (careful to always cut across the grain of the meat), if you want stew cut in small chunks.  Everything weird looking is sausage.  It’ll look less weird ground up.

Quartering the hog. This is what will become the ham.
A section of skin and fat laid back to show the meat below.

Bacon comes from the belly and sides of the hog.  In order to make it into bacon you have the cure and smoke it.  If you don’t then you have fresh side, which is also great but in no real way resembles bacon. 

Fatback is literally the fat off the back.  There is a thick layer of fat there and we cut it into 2-4 inch squares.  These will be brined, smoked for flavor, and then frozen and used to flavor beans or greens.

The shoulders can be small hams, or cut into roasts, stew, small steaks, or sausage. 

How you handle the tenderloin and ribs depends a lot on what sort of tools you have.  We don’t have a meat saw, but we do have a saws-all.  It can make kind of a mess, so we fillet the tenderloins off and cut them into boneless, butterfly tenderloins.  To butterfly them take a one inch thick tenderloin cut and cut it again in half (across the grain) nearly all the way through.  This will allow it to unfold into approximately a circle.  I prefer this to pork chops because I don’t like how much room the bones take up in the skillet, but that’s just me.  Many people think the bones add flavor.  

Butterfly cut tenderloin

The ribs I will save and cook the next day as part of our meal for grits, lard, cracklins, and brining day.

Then there’s the weird bits.  The head, the tongue, and jowl bacon.  Jowl bacon is basically pig cheeks, they are a lot like bacon in composition although typically fattier.  Often jowl bacon isn’t smoked, it’s fried uncured, and unsmoked (fresh side style).  It’s really good, just not as good if you were expecting hickory smoked maple bacon.  I usually salt and pepper it pretty heavily in the skillet.

Cutting the jowl from the head.
Jowl bacon separated from head. It’s sizable cut of meat, these weighed 3lbs together

Next we have the tongue.  I made a terrible mess of the tongue this year, and so I slipped in with the sausage when no one was looking.  Sausage is very forgiving.  Ideally, to get the tongue out you crack the head open at the jaw, pry it it apart then cut out the tongue.  Once you peel (or skin) the tongue it’s a lot less weird looking.  I tried to do it like skinning a catfish fillet.  This was not at all successful. 

There are many interesting things you can do with pig head.  I wanted to roast it whole, but that’s a lot of scraping!  There are other things like head cheese, or easy things like just cutting off what you can and putting it in the sausage bowl.  My husband’s family makes grits and that’s where this head is going.  It not grits like you’re probably thinking.  Grits are all the wiggly bits and bones cooked down in the kettle until it all falls apart.  Once all that jiggles is removed from the bones you cook it with salt, pepper and pin oats, then pour it into pans, let cool, and cut into blocks.  

There’s lots of fat in with the meat so it fries well without added grease which has made it a favorite in our house for men going camping.  Some people eat it with maple syrup, some don’t eat it at all.  We had an accident and made some really bad grits this time, so you’ll have to come back next month when we try again.

Come see us tomorrow when we make excellent cracklins and some really questionable lard.

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