Smoking A Pig - A Carolina Tradition
Folks have been killing and eating pigs in South Carolina for a long time; probably since the Spanish introduced them in the 1500s. Wild hogs have increasingly been a problem for farmers, hunters, and game wardens in recent years but pig farming remains a big industry in the Carolinas and the traditions associated with killing, preparing, and cooking a pig remain strong.
The first time I hung around my friend John Walker while he was cooking a pig, we were both in high school. I had been around a pig cooking on numerous occasions but at some point John made the decision that he wanted to learn how to do it himself. In the nearly two decades since then I have been involved in the killing, preparation, cooking, and eating of a number of pigs with John and others. John even dabbled for a while in the BBQ business before moving on to product design and manufacturing (the name of his business, Cooks Flips, is a play on the word ‘cooking’). Now, once a year or so, we get together and cook a pig with friends and family.
The tradition of cooking a pig is common and widespread throughout the world. It is rarer that the pig is slaughtered, cleaned, and cooked all at the same time and in the same place because it is much easier to buy a cleaned and ready pig from a butcher and go straight to the cooking part. For this pig, John drove up near Hendersonville, North Carolina (not far from where we live in South Carolina) and bought a roughly 60 lb sow and brought it back to his farm alive.
On a rainy Saturday morning just before Christmas I drove up to John’s farm in North Greenville County with my friend, photographer Paul King, to document the process of killing and cooking a pig. This is a borderline sacred process and one not to be taken lightly. I think it is important to share this type of thing because it speaks to the rich traditions that underpin everything we do at H. Goose.
John shot the pig in it’s pen with a .22 caliber rifle right between the eyes. It dropped dead immediately and we dragged it out of the pen and loaded it into my truck. We drove it over to John’s shop and strung it up over a bucket to be cleaned. After it was gutted and skinned we rubbed it with salt, pepper, and olive oil (the rest is a secret, of course) to get it ready for the fire. John’s smoker is built on a trailer and we filled it with wood and got a hot bed of coals smoldering. Once the smoker was hot enough we put the pig inside and let it cook for most of the day. It poured rain all day but we kept the fire going and let the pig cook slowly until we could start pulling thick strands of steaming pork off with our hands. Unfortunately, by the time we started eating, it was not only pouring rain but also dark so our last photos are of the pig still cooking on the smoker.
Any time you kill an animal there is a level of respect you need to embrace. This is even more true when the animal is in captivity and has been so all of its life. The tradition of killing and preparing an animal to be eaten is important the world over. In South Carolina, the process of smoking a pig is part of our heritage and something that makes our state a special place to live and visit. Even on a rainy and cold day, smoking a pig with friends is something worth doing. I would like to think that future generations of South Carolinians will continue this tradition and others that teach us to respect and engage with the natural world in deep and meaningful ways.
We hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and got to enjoy traditions like this with friends and family. Cheers and happy New Year!