Whole Hog BBQ
Updated: Aug 15, 2022
Mid May 2022, a few friends from the UK BBQ community descended on Cambridgeshire to try and cook something on the BBQ Bucket List, a whole hog Carolina style!
Carolina style is typically a technique that uses a pit made from breeze blocks, rebar, sheet metal, thermometers and a burn barrel to cook an entire pig low and slow for around 12 hours over embers and typically finished with a vinegar based sauce. The cook was Artust BBQ's idea and ever since he mentioned it a while ago, I was absolutely buzzing to get involved and support the cook.
The Line Up
Artust BBQ was kindly hosting the cook and we pulled together a small group for this initial cook, a small team but a fantastic core group we could trust to last the duration and who would be passionate about the cook. It probably doesn't look like it, but the cook is also an expensive initial outlay, the building materials, the hog, the wood, sides, gloves, extra thermometers, burn barrels & materials for clean up all adds up so its a big investment you don't want to mess up.
It was a fantastic team and everyone contributed to the cook whether it was fire management and burn tactics, inventing adaptations and improvements to the pit or burn barrel, to butchery, to heavy lifting and video / photographs, it was a real team effort and the results were absolutely amazing.
Our Hog Team were:
No-one attending the cook had ever attempted this style of BBQ before but the group had a lot of different BBQ experience between us. Its always best to try and do some research to know what to expect or what to look out for to ensure a good cook.
To give us the best chance of a successful cook, we did some homework & bought a couple of books to help us with the technique. We bought the Rodney Scott's World Of BBQ & the Sam Jones Whole Hog BBQ books which turned out to be invaluable, we ended up cooking the hog more towards the Sam Jones method but did adapt the pit slightly with air vents / viewing vent as in Rodney Scotts method. One of the main differences is at the flip point (where you start to crisp the skin), Rodney Sauces the carcass and Sam Jones Sauces after the cook.
Artust BBQ also found a blog article with 10 lessons learnt from smoking our first whole hog that was a useful read and gave another insight into the cook.
The two most important points I took from the books were the first 4 hours are really critical, if the pit is under 200f you can spoil the pig and the whole cook is ruined, there wouldn't be any saving it so it was absolutely essential that you keep the temps higher in that initial cooking period which we did.
The second part is the last few hours towards the end of the cook, you flip the pig to crisp up the skin and this is a point where there can easily be a fire, when handling and butchering the pig you have to try and be careful not to break the skin as you dont want holes that fat can drip down. We did get a couple of flare ups during this phase but using the vent / view hole we made, we could easily see and manage these.
The Resources (Amazon Links included)
This video shows the whole process in chronological order, obviously its a 1 minute video of about 2 days worth of efforts but shows the process we completed.
So once the pit was built & the burn barrel was completed, it was time to cook the pig, this was an absolutely gorgeous pig from Dingley Dell Farm. You want a 'bacon pig' rather than a rare breed pig to ensure you have the right amount of fat. Rarer breeds tend to have more fat on them which could make the cook more susceptible to flare ups and fire, this one ended up at 89.9kg dressed weight so was a decent size and difficult to move. We had to pick it up from a local farm shop & it was quite a sight seeing this get loaded into the back of a car with ice packs and space blankets!
We wanted to keep the head on but the butcher wasn't able to split the pig how we needed it for the cook with the head on so this unfortunately, had to be removed. We still kept the head though and I made this into 'pig head bon bons' a few days later so nothing went to waste.
Before we got the pig on the pit, we layed out a couple of wire mesh sheets, one on top and one below and then used wire to hold the two pieces together sandwiching the pig in the middle. This would help us to flip it later on in a safe and controlled way, you don't want to be messing around with a hot pit, a hot hog and really hot dripping fat so this clamp makes it a lot easier to move around. Once it was cooked, it was incredibly tender so the mesh also helped to keep the whole hog together, if you had just tried to pick it up by the hams for example, it would have fallen apart.
For the cook we used 90-95% oak wood and 5-10% charcoal during the cook, the charcoal just to help boost the temperatures when needed quickly.
The pit needed to be maintained between 200-250f through the 12 hours of cooking, with a bit of adjusting and timing, we figured we needed to add new embers to the pit around every 20 minutes or so. We shovelled the embers at either end of the pit towards the hams and shoulders rather than along the length of the pig as the belly and ribs are quite thin in comparison to the rest of the hog.
We installed 4 thermometers into the sheet metal above the hams and shoulders so we could keep an eye on temperatures across the whole pit and see what needed more embers adding where.
The process was pretty much repeated through the night and we settled into the rhythm of the cook, wood in the barrel, embers in the pit, monitor temps and repeat. We split into a couple of groups so we could get a few hours sleep in shifts.
After about 9-10 hours of cooking, the meat was reading 200f which meant it was time to flip the pig skin side down to start crisping up the skin. The flip went well and it was the first time we had seen the 'meat side' since putting it on the pit 9 hours prior. It was a fantastic moment seeing it and it looked and smelt absolutely delicious.
With the skin side down, we scattered a few embers across the pit to give even heat for the skin to crisp up, repeating the same process as before of burn the oak, add the embers & watch the temps.
This part of the cook you have to watch the pit more closely as you have a higher risk of burning the skin or a fire in the pit, there was fat boiling inside pockets of the meat so if that dripped out onto hot coals, it can be quite scary. We were looking out for any dirty smoke or for any flare up's / fires in the air gap we put in. We did have a couple of small fires but extinguished this quite quickly and easily with a spray bottle.
To check if the skin was crispy enough, we had to lift the pig in the mesh to take a look. We did this a couple of times in the final stages of the cook to see how it was getting on & each time we looked we got more and more excited as the crackling looked absolutely fantastic.
When we decided the hog was done, we moved it over onto a pine table which acted as our giant chopping board and had a bit of a cheer. We clipped off the wires holding the mesh together & released the pig, it was absolutely raging hot so we let it rest for a while while we took a few photographs.
So once the meat had rested for a while, it was time to remove the bones, this is a time-lapse of us pulling the bones out of the hog. This was a good 30-40 minutes after it had come off the pit and was still absolutely roasting hot.
We knew the hog was cooked to perfection when the bones effortlessly released from the meat, the shoulder blade just slid out of the shoulders with absolutely no resistance, the shin bones from the ham just pulled out without any resistance.
We treated ourselves to a taste from a few parts of the hog at this point and the meat was soft, juicy & completely delicious. You could feel the the crackling underneath the meat as we started pulling out the meat which was really exciting. It was almost like the skin was a bowl for us to work in.
Another element of Carolina Style BBQ is to mix up the hogs meat, this means you mix in fatty with lean, dry with wet and then when you eat the chopped pork later, you have a bit of everything in each bite.
The final steps were then to chop up the meat, this had the lean and fatty which we chopped with a couple of cleavers.
We then mixed up a Texas Pete Hot & vinegar sauce which we added the pork to along with chopped up crackling.
We then put this into a bun with a sweet slaw, an absolute flavour bomb!
It was totally worth all the effort and we were absolutely amazed by the results especially as a first attempt at the cook. I was so impressed with everyones input, the quality of the meat and the whole cook in general.
We had some help and contributions from sponsors to support this cook so a massive thank you to the following companies and people for helping us to make this cook a reality.
Massive thanks to Artust BBQ for hosting us and for allowing us to setup and use his space to do the cook in
The Pork was top quality & provided by Dingley Dell www.dingleydell.com
The burn barrel was kindly provided from 45 Gallon Drums
The Oak and Charcoal was generously provided by Big K bigkproducts.co.uk
Big thanks to the chaps at Knibbs Meat Safe for holding and helping to split the hog for us