In a follow up to our previous post about preparing a whole hog for cooking, we now want to tackle the task of actually cooking the meat. By now, you should have your grill ready, the hog secured and a block of time to attend to the fire. Be sure to give the meat one last look over to ensure it is ready to go. We’ll assume that your butcher has helped you with preparing the hog to go directly on the fire (dressed, cleaned, butterflied and ready for the grill).
Most people put their hog on the grill with a “spread eagle” approach, meaning that it is on its back with all necessary joints broken so that it lays flat. This well ensure that the pig cooks evenly as all parts of the body are in contact with the grill. When inserting charcoal into the grill, you want to make sure that you are using hot coals, not direct flame. Furthermore, make sure that the coals are spread evenly beneath the hog and that they emit a hot glow.
If you are new to grilling, especially something this large, it can be very beneficial to utilize meat thermometers to help in monitoring the cooking progress. Certain minimum cooking temperatures are necessary to make the final product safe for consumption, so you don’t want to cook to a lesser temperature.
The cooking process is all about “low and slow”, referring to low temperatures and long periods of time. A good rule of thumb is to cook with a constant grill temperature of 225°F -250°F; don’t be frustrated if you aren’t able to keep it at this exact temperature for the 10-18 hours it may take to cook the hog. Also known as slow cooking, this process infuses the meat with added flavor and helps it to cook evenly, thoroughly and properly. Locking in flavor and keeping moisture in the meat will make everyone happy when the food hits the table.
When the hog is done and ready to serve, you need to let the meat rest. This helps slow down the cooking process in a natural way; if you cut right into it the juices/moisture can be lost and flavor will exit quickly. Caution in removing the hog from the grill is a necessity: hot juice may spill, grease stains can very easily occur and hot parts can easily burn.
Once you have the hog off the grill, it’s time to carve and pick. Your first order of business is to remove the skin so that you can access the meat. Don’t pull it all off as it could take precious meat with it, rather, pull it away from the meat so that it acts like a bowl to hold the meat you pull. When you have removed all the meat possible, don’t forget that the hog can be turned over to expose even more meat. This is a very tricky process and should be approach with carefulness.
Invest in a good pair of insulated cooking gloves to help in the process of pulling the meat. You will find that the meat will separate easily from the skin and bones. Shred the meat and place in a large dish for serving purposes. If the meat is not going to be served immediately, make sure you have a way of keeping it at (or above) 140°F and free from flies, bugs and the like.
The task is not intended to be daunting and is certainly something you can undertake. Try everything out and don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If you want to send us pictures from your whole hog cooking, look us up on Facebook and share your experience with us!