So now that its over (or at least the butchery and initial curing is over), what do I think? Was it all I dreamed it to be?
Well, I gotta admit that when I finally sat down that first night, I was WAY more tired than I expected. I remember thinking that perhaps next time, I'd let the processor do it. But after a day or two and lots of reflection, I came to the conclusion that there were lots of areas that could be done better now that I had some experience. And if I could incorporate lessons learned, it would make the next time that much easier.
So what are the lessons learned? In no meaningful order, I'd have to say that I learned the following and would advise anyone who was trying this for the first time to consider these:
- Work. Its way more physical than I expected. Muscles get used that don't normally get used. And its a good thing that the parts get lighter and smaller as the day goes on.
- Help is a good thing. That said, it should be purposeful help. I had lots of help but I wasn't familiar enough with the process to set anyone to working on a task. Next time, I'll have one person cubing the lard and another person vacuum sealing as we go.
- Prep. Make your brines ahead of time. Make your cure rubs ahead of time. Mix your spices for sausage the day before. Anything you can do ahead of time to avoid having to mess with it on the day of, the better.
- Work the Bugs out. Meaning, get all your crap together. Don't wait until you have a fridge full of brining hams and bacon to decide you need to defrost that fridge so it doesn't go belly up 15 days into the ham curing. Familiarize yourself with any new processes and equipment. Butcher day isn't that day for trying out your new FoodSaver. Play with ahead of time.
- Bowls. You don't have enough, Trust me. I know, you just went to Costco and got two new stainless steel bowls... big ones. But, you'll need four. If you have four, you'll need 5. Its a universal law of the universe or something.
- Space. See above. You won't have enough. Get the fridge cleaned out ahead of time. Its going to fill up fast. If your freezer is full of three year old pop-sicles and the person who is putting that pork in the freezer doesn't know it can be tossed, they're going to come back and tell you there is no room. Now you have to wash up and go see. So yeah, toss the ancient Stouffers stuff ahead of time... you shouldn't be eating that crap anyway!
- Bar towels. You'll go through them like crazy. Get a dozen more. They are cheap at Sam's.
- Saw. I need another one. Maybe a shorter one with a less finer toothed blade. Mine sucks.
- Knives. If you are going to have someone else cutting up fat for lard while you make chops, then don't make them use the dull chef's knife in your drawer. Get them something decent to use. It'll be much cheaper than a trip to the ER because they were trying to do the right thing with the wrong tool.
- Be flexible. Having watched a ton of different videos helped to give me the aforementioned analysis paralysis. But, it also gave me enough knowledge to zig when I'd planned to zag. You just have to know when to stop trying to force something to happen and punt! In the end, you still wind up with pork. And that's not a bad thing.
- Enjoy it. You've spent some time, effort, and money to get to the moment where that hog is on the counter. Take a moment to stop and smell the roses (err.. pork). This is supposed to be enjoyable.
So will I do it again? Yep - no doubt! The longer I go the more it feels like Army basic training. While you are in the middle of it, it seems a miserable experience. But after you are done you think, "That wasn't so bad." I don't mean to make this sound like it was a miserable experience at all. But I think I'd built it up to be such a complicated monster of a process that it was like child-birth or something. It was great fun and I learned SO much.
Next time, I'll take some of my own advice, streamline the process, do some different things to prepare, and have even more fun because it won't seem so foreign.
I highly recommend this journey to anyone who has a predisposition to wanting to know your meat as well as your possibly can (short of raising and slaughtering it yourself).
I hope these articles will be useful. I tried to write them to be what I'd wished I'd been able to find when I was researching the process.