The first thing I ever smoked was an 88-pound pig. The hog went into the smoker at 10 p.m. last Friday. Just a hair under 12 hours later, it was on the carving table.
Other than tending to the firebox on the smoker in the wee hours of the morning, I will say that going whole hog is not as daunting as it first appeared when the raw pig, wrapped in white trash bags, was placed in the back of my pickup truck in the parking lot of Steve's Meat Market.
The butcher shop in De Soto had taken care of the hardest parts, gutting and cleaning out the pig's cavity. All that we needed to do to prep the pig was separate the skin from the ribs to apply rub and then briefly wash the exterior with a wet towel.
We loaded the firebox with charcoal and apple wood. And once the temperature was close to 250 degrees, we put the pig in to smoke.
The total cost was about $400 for the smoker rental, the pig and supplies. But these four lessons gleaned from smoking a whole pig are free for you.
Skip the suckling pig. When pricing everything out, a 50-pound hog was close in price to a 30-pound suckling pig. While the suckling pig is more portable and easier on the cleanup, the meat-to-carcass ratio is much smaller, I've been told the meat may or may not be tender, but you definitely lose the spectacle that is a whole hog.
Buy chicken wire. While filling out the paperwork for a rented smoker from Backyard Bash in Parkville, owner Jay Mathiesen saved my bacon, literally. Jay mentioned that chicken wire, folded in half under the pig, would make things a lot easier. When a hoof snapped off as we were moving it to the carving table, I was glad the chicken wire was there to keep the rest of the pig intact.
A lot of grease. Jay also gave us a few foil pans to catch the drippings. I will spare you the details on how much was in the pans; but let's just say that without the pans, the driveway would have looked like the floor of a commercial garage. We also covered the carving table with a double layer of cardboard topped with foil, which kept the juice from getting everywhere during the slicing and pulling.
Use an oscillating fan. Set up a fan next to the table where you're carving. Besides the welcome breeze, the fan is an effective deterrent to flies drawn by the delicious smell of meat. You'll have to slap away people's hands yourself.