Butcher Your Own Pig!

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jul 14, 2005



Ever see the movie "School of Rock?" Jack Black writes a song for the guys who kicked him out of their band because, in his estimation, they didn't epitomize the rock 'n roll lifestyle like he did. The chorus of his opus goes something like this:

"You're not hard core,
unless you live hard core.
And you are not hard core."

Well, you may set up an entire mobile living room with couches and TVs in the back of a U-Haul; you may follow the local 11 to 32 different states in 1968 VW Beetle; and you may master every form of cooking fuel known to man. But you're not hard core until you live hard core, and by hard core we mean begin butchering pigs and making your own hams, bacons and sausages for tailgate season.

First thing to keep in mind is some terminology: there's a difference between slaughtering and butchering an animal. Slaughtering is the hard work and difficult to pull off in an urban environment without freaking out the neighbors who will call the police. Nothing will make a perfectly good hog go to waste like spending the weekend behind bars waiting for the bail bondsman.

So we prefer having our pigs slaughtered at a hog farm (there are a surprising number around, even close to many urban areas) and then bringing them home to butcher. Believe it or not, you can find pig farms in the Yellow Pages. For roughly $1 per pound, they'll slaughter your pig and give you two halves of hog to bring home for butchering. It's quite a bargain when you see all the meat you can get from a 150- to 200-pound pig. It will take a full day, maybe two, to carve up the pig into hams, ribs, shoulders, roasts, bacons, loins and sausage meat. But when you're done, and you follow our tips for all these recipes, it will taste better than any store-bought meat you've ever had. Roasts and ribs can be frozen immediately. Bacons, hams and shoulders need to be smoked and cured. You'll see these recipes on the site. Sausage meat needs to be ground, spiced and formed. We have recipes for this, too.

Butchering is too intricate a process to fully outline here. Follow the guides found in "Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game" by John J. Mettler, Jr. a veterinarian and author who served in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps (who knew?) in World War II. This is the book you'll see us using in our how-not-to-do-it pig butchering home video.

The book has guides to slaughtering and butchering an array of animals. It also shows you the tools you need. It can be a little tricky at first, but the more you butcher the better you'll become. You can even ask local butchers for some tips. We've found they're surprisingly forthcoming. There are quite a few other things you'll need or want when processing the meat that aren't really discussed in the book:

  • a big table on which to cut the meat (we use a big stainless steel table that's easy to clean)
  • tons of freezer paper to wrap meats, along with masking tape to seal the packages 
  • big ceramic crocks to cure hams, bacons and shoulders
  • a cure for these meats (you can find them at sausagemaker.com)
  • a walk-in cooler to store each pig halve (this is not practical for everyone, in which case you'll want to butcher on a cool day (below 60 degrees is ideal)
  • somewhere to do the work where the neighbors won't see you
  • plenty of good beer to drink

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