It was a Thursday... like any other Thursday. Except today there was going to be half a hog sitting on my kitchen counter. I could imagine that years from now, people would come to me and beg to ask a question. I would indulge their curiosities and allow their inevitable question... "Why did you decide to butcher a pig on your counter?" I'd pause for dramatic effect, lean in closely, looking them in the eye and say, "Because it WAS THERE!"
I left early to head out to farm where I was to meet Josh who'd be bringing back the hog (my half of it at least) from the processor. He'd delivered it to the processor in Carrollton GA the previous Monday. My guess is that they slaughtered on Tuesday and hung it on Wednesday.
If I've not mentioned it before, Frolona Farm is a gorgeous place. The picture on their front page doesn't do it justice. Rolling hills, pastures, meadows... just really pretty. When we'd visited before to meet Josh and see his pigs, my wife and I had been talking on the way about what it is that we visualized when we imagined the place we'd like to own someday. After we left Josh's place, we both looked at each other and said, "That's what I had in my mind!"
It was cold on that day - like nearly 15 degrees (which is bitter for Georgia!). Given the temperature, I'd not worried about getting any bags of ice to toss in the back of the truck for the ride home (about 75 minutes). But had it been summer time, I'd have put a big box in the back of the mini-van, lined it with a tarp and tossed bags of ice in there to set the hog on. Fortunately this wasn't a problem.
We carried it into the kitchen (somewhat awkwardly) and plopped it unceremoniously onto the counter. I didn't want the carcass sitting at room temperature for any longer than it needed to so it was off to the races.
|The counter got awfully small.|
One of the things that caught me off guard was that that liver was intact. I'd expected to possibly get the carcass with the kidney there but I didn't expect the liver. Sadly, I wasn't prepared for it. I'd been focused on everything else for so long that I didn't have a plan... no recipes for pate, no recipes for incorporating it into another dish... I panicked. Into the trash it went. In hindsight, it should have gone into the fridge until I could figure out whether to freeze or do something with it right then. What a waste! Goes against my stewardship sensibilities.
Initially, I removed the liver and the leaf fat which is the waxy hard fat contained within the body cavity surrounding the kidney's especially. In the process the kidney came out and sadly went the way of the liver. The leaf fat was put in a covered bowl in the fridge... it was a big bowl!
Now the actual cutting could start. The plan was to first get the trotters off and remove the hocks Out comes the bone saw. I'd seen several different techniques and spots to make the cuts but in the end, I just picked a spot and took to sawing.
|Sawing the trotters (feet) and hocks off.|
Here was where I began to experience trouble (that didn't take long). The bone saw just wouldn't get going. It kept snagging and flexing and the blade kept turning under. Maybe the blades coarseness was too much. Finally I managed to get them all cut but it seemed much harder than I expected. Sadly, this would be a recurring theme as the day went on.
Next was to separate the shoulder from the mid-section. I was hoping to use the "Southern Method" shown in Danforth's book and as described in detail in Cole Wards exhaustively photographed electronic guide. The idea being to crack (cut) through the first three or four ribs, then bone them away from the belly so as to fold them back towards the rear of the carcass. At which time you can make your cut to remove the shoulder section and you don't wind up with part of your spare ribs being removed along with the shoulder. Seemed easy enough.
|The "Southern Method" to shoulder removal|
It was a little awkward with the 22 inch saw to get the geometry right so as not to cut into the belly or midsection with the far end of the saw. During this part we realized how much longer this carcass was compared to what I'd seen in the videos etc... We kept looking at the pictures and then looking back to the table and thinking, "Man, there are more ribs than there should be!" In hindsight, I wish I'd done some measurements and counted ribs and vertebrae.
I've since come to understand that Large Black Hogs (this was a mulefoot/large black cross) are known for their longer loins. I think Tamworth hogs might fall into this category too but I can't remember right this second.
You can also see my gnarly hock removal - I blame the saw!
|Making the cut to remove the shoulder.|
Now it was a matter of figuring out which rib I wanted to cut between and then running the saw through the spine and so forth. The experts saw to ONLY use the saw for bone. Once you are through the bone, always finish with the knife. I'm sure there are other reasons but one good one is that the saw shreds the meat rather than slicing it. Its pretty unsightly.
You can see in the picture that the cut has been made up into the ribs towards the spine.
|Cutting the top part of the shoulder away from the midsection.|
To the right you can see where I've cut through the spine and am finishing up through the back fat - and what majestic back fat it is!
|Shoulder primal section|
Those shoulder sections are heavier than you think. It includes the picnic ham and the boston butt... but you already know this since you've read Danforth's book and watched all those videos I linked to in the earlier post, right?
|Setting up the cut to remove the ham from the mid-section|
Now its time to remove the ham from the mid-section. At this point the tenderloin is still on. You can see it to the right and up just a bit from my knife tip just below the backbone.
So the gist of this cut is to remove the ham while leaving as much of the sirloin section still on the loin. I'm making a cut from what would essentially be the "arm-pit" of the hog's rear leg (if he had an arm-pit on his rear leg... would that be the groin? Anyway...) straight up to about where the tenderloin ends and then angling out towards the tail (which got cut off just before this shot was taken).
Finding the "armpit" requires a little touch and feel. There is a point where the belly stops being the belly and the ham starts becoming the ham. If you start by pinching the thickness of the belly and moving towards the ham you'll feel it. Its pretty obvious once you know what to look for. You'll need your bone saw for part of this job as well.
This is from the top looking down. What you wind up with after this cut is the full rear leg (ham) with the aitch bone intact.
|Which one is the ham? The one on the left of the one on the right?|
|Midsection - loin and belly|
Somewhere in here, the midsection - which consists of the loin and the belly, wound up on the porch (our "walk-out" cooler as it was so cold outside). I think this must have been while I was trimming out the ham but I can't remember. Either way its a good picture of the midsection. You can see where that two angled cut was made to remove the ham on the left and also the spare ribs folded back on the right side from where the shoulder section was removed.
I don't have a picture of when the belly got separated from the loin. Suffice it to say, a saw was involved to cut through the remaining ribs, continuing along the same basic line that was made when I cracked the ribs to remove the shoulder - you can see them folded back onto the the rest of the ribs.
|Boning out the belly|
|Slicing the belly into sections for bacon.|
I trimmed off a section of the belly that was closest to the ham (or I guess, where the ham would have been had it not been removed). Cole Ward's instructions were that this would used for salt pork.
I've since learned that there is a difference in the composition of the fat in that area that is less suitable for bacon. As such, I did as advised and packed it to make salt pork later.
Then I took what was left and cut it into three somewhat equal slabs. One bound for a cure rub while the other two were bound for a brine.
|Trimming some of the back fat off the loin.|
Now I had the entire loin section to work with. The sirloin end (I think this is also called the saddle end, maybe), the center cut section (or the middle part) and the rib end (which would be closer to the head.
I started removing the back fat from the whole part. I'd seen many videos where the chops were just cut off from this point with the fat left on. But it seemed like an OBSCENE amount of fat to leave on a bone-in chop. Especially since I'd planned to render out lard and/or use for sausage.
|Making big chunks of fat into smaller chunks of fat.|
I didn't think about it at the time but some of these slabs would have been good to use for lardo which is a cured back fat with spices and such. I'd read about it in my trips through charcuterie books in the past when having surplus fat in large chunks like that wasn't really an option. And now that I had lots of it around, I failed to connect the dots and set it aside for that purpose. A missed opportunity but I guess, but I'll remember to reserve some for next time.
|Breaking the loin down|
I struggled a bit with the loin. I'd hoped to separate the chine (spine) bone from the loin and then bone out the baby back ribs. But my saw just wouldn't get it done without a bunch of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Might have been easier had I left the fat on for more leverage when trying to saw through it.
I would up making some boneless chops, a couple smallish loin roasts. I'd planned to make a couple larger sirloin ham steaks but when I looked into the trim bowl to see how much I had in there for sausage, I changed my mind (besides, I was about done with that darn saw!) and into the sausage bowl it went.
|Cutting down the shoulder.|
|Boning out the picnic ham|
Now it was back to the shoulder primal. As I mentioned before, I wanted the Boston Butt for pulled pork BBQ (even though just about every sausage recipe seems to start with a 5 lb Boston Butt). And I was going to brine the picnic shoulder into another ham.
I still seemed a bit short in the sausage bowl so I boned out the picnic ham for sausage.
I boned out the Butt roast (leaving the scapula intact) and then cut it in half to make two smaller butts. Sadly, I forgot the scapula was still in there when I went to cut it in half and wound up with a couple not so pretty looking roasts. But, (or Butt?), once they are covered in rub and smoked until perfection, nobody will notice.
While I'd had high hopes for the picnic ham, I was kind of target fixated on my sausage plans and didn't want to not have enough and have to overly rely on more beef roasts from the freezer or worse yet, have to go buy some pork from the store (which avoiding the store being one of the reasons I was doing this in the first place).
In hindsight, I might have been able to save the picnic and still have enough. I'll watch a little closer next time and not make any impulsive decisions. Honestly, by this point, I was getting pretty tuckered. The anticipation had kept me up later than I'd wanted (like a kid on Christmas eve) and it had been a long day. So I'm trying not to beat myself up for some for some of the detours I had to take and missed opportunities.
|Trimming the skin off the ham.|
Last task of the butchering process was to remove the skin from the ham and some of the excess fat. I've seen lots of hams left with a little skin left on to roast for cracklin during the cooking process but honestly, I forgot (see previous paragraph on missed opportunities).
I think my though was that since it was going into the brine, the skin would restrict penetration of the cure into the meat. And while I think that does apply, I was also going to inject brine into it which would probably mitigate that some. Either way, too late now!
I'm going to close this article out. In the next article, I'll talk about some of the second day processing that happened.