Photos by Donna
Pig weekend, actually, my effort to ensure I never have to buy that crap in the grocery store when I want pork.  This pig is a Berkshire that was hand-raised a couple hours south of us, humanely raised, humanely slaughtered.  I may be reading too much into this, but I like to think that the faint trace of a smile on this pig’s head attests to this fact.  Pig_blog0076_2
But the actual work of breaking it all down, storing it properly, labeling it, using everything—roasting the bones for stock, curing the bellies and one of the two hams, all the shoulder and trim for sausage and pate, let me tell you, it’s exhausting work and no good on the back.  My young cousin Ryan, 6’5” and an athletic 225 pounds easy, put his back out and was forced to suffer through another Browns loss horizontally and sans sausage the day after wrestling with the hog.  I considered this a starter pig, 180 pounds hanging weight, which at a guess would be in the neighborhood of 250 pound live weight, which we split between three families.  I really wanted some chops but without a band saw to cut through the chine bone, bone-in chops take some effort (and can frighten onlookers).  But there’s really no match for fresh pork belly, even from younger pigs (thinner and leaner).  That’s what I’m removing here, below right.  Made about 20 pounds of sausage yesterday, including this 2.5 pound soppresatta, bottom pix.  Pig_blog0177
We bought this for $1.65/pound ($297 plus $40 for dressing and transport fees).  All in all, we’ll be paying a good deal less than we would were we to buy everything from the grocery store, but it’s very labor intensive (a good two- to three-day affair).  We could have had a butcher break it all down but that would have added more to the cost and detracted from the satisfying work and also the lessons breaking down a whole animal provides.  I wish everyone did this, though I know it’s simply not practical.  But I can hope that more people who care about good food, good farmers, humane animal husbandry, eating locally, eating less meat of better quality, will consider finding farmers in their state who raise pigs and support them.
    Question for readers: Who does not have access to hand-raised pigs, or rather, how many people live more than three hours from a farm that raises hogs?  I’m betting my mom in West Palm would have a hard time locating a hog she could buy anywhere in her state.  But what about Marlies in OK, Carri in AK, Elise in CA?  How reasonable is it to ask more people to eat this way?



Update 12/10:  Thanks for all these excellent comments. (Adam, take the skin off to make pancetta.  I would confit or braise the skin till tender, then scrape the fat, slice it and fry till crispy.  Or add to stock for its amazing gelatin.)  Can't respond to every comment but I truly understand the three main road blocks most people have here.  Space, time and knowledge.  It does require space, which is why you need to share or have a big freezer.  It requires a helluva lot of time.  I'm still working.  Made a couple gallons of stock yesterday, overhauled the bacon, renedered the fat (I got some extra ears to confit!  they're curing too).  Need to get to that head today.  Froze meat and liver for pate over the holidays.  Thank you, former butcher, for your good comments on the difficulty of good butchering even by those who do it for a living.  Butchering is a craft and some practice it well, others less so.  You only learn that by doing.  But to save time and money, try to source people who will break down the hog into manageable cuts, as ntsc does.  Storage is critical.  You don't want to wind up with freezer burn.
This stuff will keep for months (with not too much compromise) if
properly stored.  I recommend a Food Saver — air is the main enemy in the freezer,
followed by other odors and light.  Otherwise double wrap in plastic, then in foil if
you wish to keep light out. Please label and date it—don't think for a minute you'll remember what's inside.

Again, all your comments make this a great discussion and help a lot of people, I hope, to consider how to eat not for as little money and time spent as possible but instead how to eat well.  How and what we eat shapes our lives and our world.  When did this stop being obvious?


120 Wonderful responses to “Pig Day”

  • Allison

    Tyler – looks like we were posting at the same time. Thanks for the DVD tip.

  • Aaron

    It is not unfair to ASK people to eat like this, but what is unfair is the financial end of it. While $1.65 / lbs is a great value, paying $337 at one time is tough for a lot of people (for me that’s almost 2 week’s pay).

    The local food people like to talk about how this is how it used to be, and that’s true. Back in the day, however, people raised or hunted the animal themselves. So the investment was just not there in terms of dollars (sweat, hard work, long hours, of course).

    I think people would raise animals themselves today. I know that I have considered raising chickens for meat and eggs in my backyard in suburban Georgia, but anything larger is out of the question.

    I have two (food) loves in my life: pastry and charcuterie, and I would absolutely love to be able to purchase a whole hog like this (heritage breed or not), but like I said it’s almost 2 week’s pay, and my creditors just wouldn’t understand when I tell them I bought a pig instead of paying my bills.

  • Kate F.

    For me it’s not access, it’s storage. I live in an apartment and our only freezer space is the drawer-freezer in our counter-depth fridge. We’re lucky to freeze a bit of produce and a couple containers of ice cream! One of my goals next year is to save up to join a meat CSA, but even that poses some pretty big space problems, since the two of us don’t eat enough meat each week to use it all, and I’m not sure I could freeze much.

  • Sara

    I’m not sure if I can get a whole hog here in DC, but the Dupont Circle farmer’s market as an *excellent* pork purveyor based less than three hours away. Their pork is absolutely divine.

  • Michael Obertone

    I live in Atlanta and have a hard time finding alot of the things one would consider easy to find. For example, finding goat took me 3 months. I have not looked for a whole hog, but cannot think of a local farm and have looked thru the state’s CSA list. I could probably get one from a butcher, but the cost would be prohibitive.

  • Tyler

    For those interested in doing projects like this I suggest reading Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and the River Cottage Books, Very Awesome, Very Informative, There is even a video called Pig in a Day which goes over uses and technique for disassembling a whole pig.

  • Ross

    I think that for a lot of people (such as myself) who rent small apartments and don’t have a lot of storage or work space, breaking down and storing a 180 pound hog would be a logistical nightmare (if not simply impossible).

  • kristin

    I live on the other side of the state, about two hours from you Michael. A friend of mine comes from Sydney, Ohio down around Dayton. Her family raises hogs and has often offered my family the chance to buy one or half of one and or half a cow. We haven’t done it yet, but I am thinking that we will.

  • JoP in Omaha

    As far as I know, I don’t have access to hand-raised pigs. Omaha is surrounded by farmland, but I don’t know if there are pig farms nearby. So I did a web search and turned up a recent article about a pig farm about 80 miles from Omaha. The story was about charges of animal abuse–documented on video, apparently, and by confessions from the workers. Disgusting. Now I know where NOT to go.

  • Utenzi

    I don’t know if they sell to the public at large, but there’s a small pig raising farm just a few miles from my house, right on the way to work. Smells pretty bad driving by when they fill the lagoon near the road.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Oh Michael

    You young cookbook authors are so soft.

    I broke down 745 pound bull this weekend with no injury to anything other than my patience.(I’ll post pictures on my blog later in the week).

    And now that I have finished breaking your chops -about those pork chops

    You don’t need a band saw (for the ribs I assume, I see the hog was split). For about 50 bucks you can get a hand meat saw (Butcher and Packer has them) or just use a hack saw in a pinch.
    Also the chine bone is easily removed with a cleaver if you stand the loin up on end.

  • kitchengeeking

    i used to go to Baltimore County 4-H livestock auctions at the Maryland State fairgrounds in the summer and purchase one of a friend’s kids’ hogs at auction (he’d buy the other kid’s hog). for somewhere between $1 and $1.25 a pound.

    the 4-H club had two local butchers they could send the animal to. the butcher you picked called you a few days after the auction to wlak down the check list of how thick for the chops, fresh or cured hams, whole or sliced, how much bacon and how much sausage (i went 1/3 sweet italian, 1/3 hot, and 1/3 salt and pepper), etc.

    about 6 weeks later, you’d pick up a cryo-packed and individually labeled box of goodness at the butcher’s store and pay their charges (anywhere from $0.65-$0.90 depending on how much processing you had the butcher doing beyond just chopping up).

    total cost was under $2 most years.

    i would bet good money (not a lot of it, but good money nonetheless) that local 4-H and county extension service agents (from every state’s land grant university) would be able to point even your urban readers in the direction of some fine swine that’s closer than they think.

  • Frank M

    Excellent project and photos! Luckily, live critters like pigs are farmed all around here in Austin, and I’ve been threatening to get a small one to smoke, but I may have to order a big one too. I’d better sharpen my knives good first! Yes-tamales!!!

  • Anna


    I’m sitting here with a large smile on my face. What a nice post! I love butchering whole animals and using different parts for different things. I’m not all that experienced though, the only animals I have butchered is whole venison, duck, chicken and other types of poultry, and of course large fish such as turbot and wild salmon.

    My next project will definately have to be pig.

  • Ted

    Another use for the head is for tamale meat..

    muy sabroso.. but you need a pot big enough to hold the head (which can be halved & quartered.)


  • Tags

    Philadelphia Eagles QB Kevin Kolb (from wikipedia)

    Kolb is an avid hunter; it has been reported that he hunts wild hogs with a couple of dogs and a 12-inch bowie knife. “It’s not just [about] killing an animal,” says Kolb. “A lot of times you’ve got to work before you reap your reward. Our dogs go and find ‘em first, and then we stab the pigs. It’s a little bit dangerous, but as long as you know what you’re doing, you’ll be all right.”

  • Elmer

    Michael, that looks tasty. And it looks like a lot of work.

    I’m in Atlanta, and have access to whole fresh hogs all year round from a farm that is about 70 miles north of the city. Wes and Charlotte (Riverview Farms) do one of the intown farmer’s markets on Saturdays, as well as CSA and restaurant deliveries one day a week. I have been buying all my bellies from them for curing (thanks for introducing me to that last year on yoru book tour) as well as just about every other pig part. They also raise beef, and will sell you quarters or halves of those as well. A few of my friends and I will probably go in on a whole hog once I have the garage finished out and can do the big work in there.

  • carri

    We are very fond of pigs here in AK! The bakery kept food scraps all summer to feed a whole bunch of pigs! Most of the people in our area are groing their own or sharing in on one that is kept at someone else’s house.(bears are a problem…they like pigs,too) We do have a local rancher that we’ve bought fresh pork from for special occasions. We also have some cattle ranchers here, so grass fed beef is easily procured. This is such a great subject to hit on…like the #1 rule in writing-SHOW don’t just TELL! You are showing alot of people just how they can have better food everyday!

  • latenac

    I don’t think it’s as hard as people might think. My mother though she’d never be able to find a csa or local meat in NW Indiana and through localharvest.org I found quite a few CSA’s as well as a couple of places that raise meat animals. Doing a quick search I see your mother could get all varieties of fowl near her. The two of you could trade.