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                                                                                          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?

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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?

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120 Wonderful responses to “Pig Day”

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.”

  • 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.)

    T.

  • Anna

    Wow!

    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.

  • 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!!!
    FM

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Allison

    As for access within three hours, anyone can find and buy a pig raised by a kid in 4-H. Like Ross though, I just don’t see how it’s logistically feasible for a single person in a small space. I’d attempt it anyway if you came out with a DVD showing how to do it, step by step. 🙂

    In your photo it looks like the counter is simply too low for your height. I think that’s why your back hurts. As a temporary measure, maybe you could stack some more thick cutting boards to raise your work surface. If you have to keep bending over to work, your back will continue to hurt. Look into permanently raising the height of one work surface.

  • 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.

  • dd

    How reasonable? I don’t know. I live in a condo, and have limited space in which to work. I have only a cleaver, 6″ chef’s knife, and scissors. I could use my jigsaw or circular saw, I guess…I don’t know how to break down a whole animal, and I would love to learn, but I’m on a budget so I’d have to make one pig count, you know? No second chances. So I’d have to do it quickly to keep it at the right temp. Finally, I have limited freezer space, and no tools to make sausage. All that said–I’m going to float the idea of sharing with someone who knows what they’re doing, has a big kitchen, and owns a big freezer, bc this looks awesome!

  • Dineindiva

    Glad you scored the pig – he does look like he’s smiling. Will you do some posts updating what you made with the pork?
    Keep me in mind next time if you need someone to share – that’s way too much pig for one, even for pig loving me in Akron.

  • JBL

    “How reasonable is it to ask more people to eat this way?”

    Are you serious? Often? Daily? Regularly? Without paying extra for a butcher?

    Some of us have real jobs Mr. Ruhlman. 😉

  • Sean Kelly

    Seattle readers, listen now and believe me later: Bob’s Quality Meats in Columbia City sells pork from a single farm in Yakima (I think it is the same one that provides the beef).

    If you don’t have a Cleveland sized house, and few in Seattle do, consider Bob’s Quality Meats or other local options.

  • Sean Kelly

    Seattle readers, listen now and believe me later: Bob’s Quality Meats in Columbia City sells pork from a single farm in Yakima (I think it is the same one that provides the beef).

    If you don’t have a Cleveland sized house, and few in Seattle do, consider Bob’s Quality Meats or other local options.

  • Alinea at Home

    >> 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.<< Sara: We do have a local pork purveyor from whom you can get a whole pig -- Smith Meadows Farms. Phone: 877.955.4389. They're about 90 minutes away, but come to several local DC farmers markets, including the one at Dupont. Get to know them, and they'll help you figure out how to do a whole hog.

  • Adam

    Hi Michael,

    Great post. Like other readers have requested, I’d also like to see more photos if available.

    Two questions: Can you recommend a book that details how to break down a pig (and other animals)?

    What would you recommend to do with the skin off the belly when making pancetta? I cured a 3# piece of belly the other week and don’t know what I should do with the skin …

    Any suggestions appreciated.
    Thanks,

  • S. Woody

    Desirable? Perhaps. Reasonable? Not really.

    I fall in with the group that has limited financial resources, limited storage capability, limited transportation, and limited time (typical of the non-self-employed, a factor that the self-employed rarely take into account). Plus I’ve got a busted-up shoulder, so add limited physical ability to that list. And I’ve never had any training as a butcher – I can’t even carve a turkey decently.

    That having been said, I can remember my mother regularly buying half a cow, which was carved into appropriate pieces by the butcher who also rented freezer space. On a regular basis we would trek down to the freezer and get the meat we desired, and it was great stuff. But I grew up in a metropolitan area (Los Angeles), and now live where things are basically rural (lower slower Delaware), and there isn’t a butcher that I know of in the entire Delmarva peninsula that rents freezer space like that.

    (On the other hand, my partner has a son-in-law who loves to hunt but cannot stand the taste of venison. Our freezer gets stocked every winter, quite tastily.)

  • Greg Turner

    Gainesville, Fl used to be known as Hogtown, back when we raised animals in these parts. Now I think we’d be hard pressed to find a pig raised in such a fine manner.

    For me, it’s finding porkbelly first, then the whole hog.

  • Andrew Martin

    Love it-I’m getting a Old Spot hog (about the same size as yours) from a farmer about 15 miles away from Columbus, OH. I wish I could break down the hog myself, but I don’t think I have the skill, so a butcher is going to break it down into the primal cuts (and scald it to leave the skin on).

    In response to your query regarding locally raised pigs, I suspect there are indeed people that might have a hard time with that, but it seems like more places are making their pigs available through the internet, which is great.

  • Cd

    I would love to do this and eat this way. Since I have no training, I would be reluctant to risk butchering, in the negative sense of mutilating, some of the better cuts of meat. Also, while I live in a small apartment in NYC, i could easily do this at a friends place and split up the meat.

    The big question for me, is how do you learn how to do this without spending hundreds of dollars on a class at ICE or some other teaching school, which is typically a viewing rather than hands on. Mike Pardus and Bob Delgrosso have fantastic demonstrations for breaking down smaller poultry and rabbit on A Hunger Artist, which I’ve had success replicating.

  • JBL

    @Greg Turner
    Here’s a local farm that is currently raising heritage breed hogs. From what I was told they should be ready for market sometime next year. In the interest of eating only organic, farm fresh, local, yadda, yadda,yadda…I just won’t eat until then. 😉

    http://heirloomcountryfarms.bravehost.com/

  • Elmer

    – for Michael Obertone –
    Make it over to the Morningside Farmers Market on Saturday mornings (across the street from Alon’s). Riverview Farms (www.grassfedcow.com) are there just about every week with beef and pork, as well as produce. If you go, tell them Elmer sent you.

    As for goat and whatnot, you need to hit the Mexican markets on Buford Highway.

  • JH

    My sister works for a “traditional” hog farmer. He gave all of his employees a butchered hog. Sis gave me some chops last week that melted in our mouths with no special brining/marinating or other technique. Just a quick brown & bake.

    I know a lot of fuss is made over cage-free/organic/heirloom breeds, but a confinement-raised “modern” hog processed by an experienced local butcher can taste completely different than the same animal run through a meat packing factory.

  • brandon_w

    In Madison, WI it is easy to locate a farmer who sells whole pigs, humanely raised too. I am not sure if any of the slaughter houses around her would count as humane slaughtering though. I have not looked into it that closely.

    You can buy hand raised, “beyond” organic pork products from more than a few vendors at the farmers market. Many order 1/4, or 1/2 hogs pre-cut up. I’m sure you could get a whole hog and butcher it yourself if you wanted.

    However living in an apartment provides a lot of obstacles to purchasing a whole pig, a general lack of knowledge of butchering doesn’t help things either.

  • Ryan


    But what about Marlies in OK, Carri in AK, Elise in CA? How reasonable is it to ask more people to eat this way?

    I think it is reasonable to ask.

    I would love to do something like this, but feel it is too far above my skill level to attempt.

  • Thomas H. Ptacek

    People here are getting hung up on the butchery. I didn’t read Ruhlman’s appeal that way: I read it instead as, “readers, why aren’t you sourcing pork from local farms instead of the Smithfield garbage at the store?”. Add $0.30-$0.40/lb in processing fees and and you can get your pig broken down for you; you can also buy sides instead of whole hogs.

    A small apartment seems like a dealbreaker; you probably need a chest freezer to pull this off. Chest freezers are cheap, and buying one probably saves my family several hundred dollars a year in random one-off runs to the grocery store by allowing us to plan in advance.

    I’m in Chicago. I *really* want to try buying pork and poultry directly from a farm; I’m teetering on the edge of just doing it now. I’d like to find a known-good farm to order from — $2/lb is cheap, but $200 isn’t, so I want it to pay off — and I’d like to hear more stories from people who’ve tried this. People who haven’t ever scraped the membranes out of a pig’s intestinal tract.

  • Rhonda

    Hi Ruhlmans:

    Great post, Michael.

    What I find most interesting, is the increasing amount of readers who are asking for more photographs.

    Me too, I want more!

    I do not know what is on tap for Ruhlman Enterprises, Inc. I only hope that it may include a book of photographic essays on food and family by Donna.

    We love you, my friend, but Donna’s photographs make us come back for more.

    Best,

    Rhonda

  • Cameron S.

    I grew up eating small farmer food, and every year we would get beef, pork and lamb this way for the freezer(s). Then we would fill the 4th freezer full of wild caught salmon from our local rivers. Now in a box on the 30th floor I can only dream about being in a house again where I will build a professional (all stainless steel) kitchen / cheese cave / meat locker / charcuterie prep area… The day will come sooner than I think.

    In the meantime I buy beef, pork etc from local butchers / farmers and have it broken down completely. I really enjoy breaking down the animal and using every little bit though. It is satisfying work to be part of the process. Makes the food taste better for the rest of the year. Great post Michael.

  • Chris

    Michael, after reading Charcuterie, I have been inspired to buy and butcher a whole hog of my own. I live in southern RI, and there is a small farm that raises pigs hormone and antibiotic-free about 15 minutes away. I have been quoted $2.50/lb. hanging weight plus $50 for killing/cleaning/halving. That is a bit steeper than what you’re paying, but still worth it, I believe. I plan on using every possible part. Time to plug in the chest freezer!!

  • rockandroller

    I just can’t believe you did that kind of work with your watch on, and what looks like a fairly nice, middle-of-the-road shirt. Christ, I change my clothes if I’m just chopping vegetables.

    I do buy my pork from OH farmers but I don’t know where I would do this if I didn’t live close to the west side market/to a town at least as big as cleveland. I grew up in farm country but there was only one butcher shop in town and I don’t think their products were local, certainly those found in the big box grocery we shopped in weren’t.

    As to feasability, I think it’s pretty limited. I don’t think most people have the time, money and space to do this.

  • mirinblue

    I have no trouble in procuring both pork and beef here. I live in a a small community in Upstate New York and all of my meat comes from within 2 miles of my home.

    I see the cows and pigs twice day from conception through humane slaughter and all are owned by one man. Cows are grass fed,drug free, pastured and babies are not separated from Moms (even when they stand as high as she does, they still nurse!) Bob Del G and I have had conversations about this and he feels it is done primarily for the comfort of the cows.

    The pigs (hogs) are treated just as beautifully and both are delicious.

    http://www.localharvest.org is a terrific site where I first learned that over 30 farms/CSA’s, etc where operating within 30 miles or so of my home! And this after I moaned and groaned about never being able to “get the good stuff”.

    So it is out there..suprisingly so.

  • mirinblue

    I forgot to address the butchering part of the whole thing…

    I am a single female and have neither the knowledge or facilites to butcher a whole hog/cow. The farmer I do business with will allow purchase of the entire beast, or you may buy a half/quarter or share with someone who also wants less. Then he also has several animals that are slaughtered and expertly butchered and available in “cuts”. So how ever it works best for you and for your family, that is how you may partake!

    It works best for me to buy the meat already good-to-go. You pay more than for larger pieces, but still on par for the most part with the food giants.

  • carri

    Ryan, I think that it’s not necessary that you go whole hog…LOL! I’m not sure where you are, but,you can probably source locally raised pork that you can buy in small quantities…or get together with a few people and have it butchered and stored…it can be quite reasonable!

  • Alanna @ Kitchen Parade

    A whole hog, yes … soon, although a butcher will do the two- to three-days of work you’ve described. This follows an elk that’s in the freezer and a half steer on order and a couple of lambs ordered for spring delivery. Is it any wonder your Charcuterie book is getting quite, um, dog-eared?

  • Angela

    Michael,
    Living in NYC, I have access to locally raised pigs, but as others have cited, I think the main issue for big city dwellers with small apartments, small kitchens and small fridges is the issue of space to butcher the animal and store it.

    I could see several individuals and families coming together to pay for the cost (including the cost of butchering it) and dividing up the pig to make it more reasonable.

    I work in the sustainable food movement and the more we can get people to reconnect to where their food really comes from the better. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • luis

    I guess folks traditionally roast pigs to get the crispy skin. Why Roast pigs and not braise them? Does anyone know?

  • Matthew Pennington

    Having grown up in suburban environment with a dad who hunted, I don’t get the sense of impossibility that many posters seem to have. It’s a hog, you buy it, and either butcher it yourself or have some processor do it. Butchering in the crudest sense isn’t a difficult skill to pick up, and if you know how to cook a wide variety of cuts, it actually is fairly easy to do since you’ll recognize most of cuts on the animal.

    Personally, I think it’s a fairly sensible thing to ask people to do. A lot of posters mention that $400 for half a pig is a large initial investment, especially when combined with a freezer. But, it more than pays for itself in the long run by making food costs at the grocery miniscule. It’s a similar concept to the CSA, except that most CSAs often end up costing more than grocery produce (though it also tastes better).

    Buying meat in bulk saves money, a lot of money, and it’s only a rather understandable laziness or naivete that keeps people who frequent farmers markets and store veg from doing the same with meat.

  • ntsc

    In terms of weight I probably buy two half hogs a year. October had me bring home over 120 lbs of pork, two whole loins, two fresh hams, 20 lbs of belly, 5 lbs of fat back and other goodies including 8 lbs of lard. I don’t go with a half or whole hog as there is too much I wouldn’t use.

    http://www.dietrichsmeats.com/

    It is about a 2.5 hour drive, but also on the way to a good friends house and delGrosso is down that way too.

    Hacksaw works fine, but you get thick chops. http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/04/14/meet-the-meat.aspx

    http://blog.charcuteire.com/2008/04/23/sunday-in-the-park-with-pork.aspx

    Twice I’ve signed up for a meat fabrication course at CIA, twice it has been cancelled.

    And when I took those picture I had a full time job.

  • Amy

    If I could I would if I knew where and how much.

    As for what another noter said about the work…It’d be SOOO worth it. : P

  • Natalie Sztern

    Years ago when i first married, my friend and i would often share the cost of a cow, if memory serves me, that the butcher cut down for us, packaged and labelled it and the savings was tremendous….unfortunately butchers are a dying breed here and save for one to whom I am dedicated – he always has that pig head (sans le sel) whenever his homemade Porchetta is in stock…

  • MK Carroll

    As has already been mentioned in the comments here, not having appropriate storage space is a problem. The freezer is still full of summer fruit, stock, and other supplies. Not only can we not afford an additional freezer, with the cost of utilities continuing to rise, I doubt we could justify the additional cost of use. Looked at from that angle, the cost of the meat would have to include storage costs, plus the risks involved with power outages. Since my household does not eat much meat anyway, overall it looks like it would be more sensible for us to buy from a local butcher who could source the meat locally from farms with humane practices. That is really even more of a fantasy for me at this time but I think it could happen in 5 – 10 years; 10 years ago sourcing organic local produce was a problem for me (and I worked at a retail grocery co-op, actively seeking out local producers). These days my mother can go to a farmer’s market about a quarter of a mile away from her and buy plenty of fresh local produce (some of it organic). I should mention that we are in a relatively unusual situation for the US: we live in Hawai’i, on O’ahu, and therefore land, water, and petroleum products are priced high. Most of our food is imported, and therefore higher in cost (but because of the production costs, local produce can be just as expensive). There is an uptick in the number of multi-family homes being built here; distributing the costs over a larger number of people could make purchasing, processing, and storing meat animals more accessible.

    For big parties, though, up until fairly recently it wasn’t unusual to purchase a whole pig and have it kalua’d. Digging the imu (ground oven) is labor-intensive and involves having appropriate land available, so more and more people are buying it pre-cooked and I am pretty sure most of the producers are cooking the meat in a standard Western oven with liquid smoke. My father grouses about the taste of kalua pig prepared above ground, so he prefers to get kalua pig and lau lau made by people who do it in the more traditional way (and that includes using fatty pork). As his generation ages, though, that’s getting a little harder to find. We know a guy who built a portable above-ground smoker and the results he gets are good, but a little dry for my taste.

  • The Italian Dish

    I get our pork (and beef and chicken) from a farmer about an hour away. We live in Lansing, Michigan. There are a number of farmers around the state who humanely raise hormone and antibiotic free animals. If you go to eatwild.com you can find the farmers who are doing this in your state. That’s how I found “my” farmer! Thanks, Michael, for posting this because this is such an important thing for people to think about who want to eat meat.

  • Food Woolf

    I am a Los Angeles locavore that lives in a small apartment. Though I think it is reasonable to try my hand at butchering (for educational and nutritional reasons), I must admit that I do not have the space (counter or storage-wise) to allow for such practices on a frequent basis.

  • Kate in the NW

    No problems getting good meat here, but problems storing it. Perhaps the solution is to find 5 or 6 other families to share with.

    What’s the best way to store the meat (and to prepare it for storage)? Vacuum sealer needed? How long can you keep it frozen without damaging the flavor? Are there some cuts that are best eaten fresh and others that do better in the deep-freeze (besides the head on the stoop, of course – looks more like a Halloween decoration than a X-mas one…maybe some festive lights wrapped around it?)?

    Now if I can just convince my husband that good pork is a healthy food…

  • Ginger

    We butchered 2, 300+ pigs a couple of weeks ago, raised by our family farm’s neighbor (NW MI). Killed (or dispatched as I like to call it) and dressed out by another neighbor who raises cherries and bees, he provides the ban saw and butchering station. Lots of work. Add to that that we live 3.5 hours South of the farm, but it is well worth the time and effort to know that we had a hand in raising and butchering our pork. Ours is sort of a pig share with 9 total pigs. Everyone pitches in and brings the piggies garden and farm scraps. Having a freezer full of pork is a great feeling. Thanks to your Charcuterie book, we also have plans to make our own sausages and bacon. I too wish more people could have a hand in raising their own food as it is so very satisfying.

  • Shelley

    Never seen a pig’s head dusted with sugar like that. Maybe it’s a dessert course for an Iron Chef competition… ?

  • Gabrielle

    I think it would be reasonable to expect people to eat this way if there were more of a community feel in cities. CSAs are a great start, and if more people could share their hauls, it would work.

    I’m still not sure how slaughter of any kind can ever be humane, but I appreciate the efforts of the small and conscientious animal farmers, those who really care about the animals, and the final “product”.

  • Michelle

    First thing came to mind before reading this post, that sure looks like one happy pig. Makes me think of that line in Pulp Fiction. I can find Berkshire pork chops here in OKC but they’re very expensive. That’s why I prefer buying hand-raised pork, beef, and chickens, straight from the farmer. My brother (also in Oklahoma) is rasing his own pig for the first time this year, I’m looking forward to that. But his kid has become awfully attached. It’s going to be a sad, bittersweet day, the day we eat ole Wilbur.

  • Txgrrl

    We used to get a 1/2 pig every year – raised by a friends of mine’s kids for 4H. Humanely raised and humanely slaughtered and the best pork I’ve ever had. Sadly, the kids went on to college, my friend bought and alfalfa farm and we moved into a teeny apartment with little freezer space. I’m always keeping an eye out, though, to find another pig.

  • Amanda

    Sean – Thanks for the tip about Bob’s in Columbia City. I’ll check it out.

    Another option for Seattleites is Sea Breeze Farm on Vashon Island, which raises grass-finished meats. They are at the Ballard Farmer’s Market year round, and also at Madison Co-op grocery. Definitely expensive, but if you are trying to eat less, better quality meat, perhaps doable.

  • Jacqueline

    Michael: I wish more people would seek it out. We just took a pig butchering demo at Savenor’s here in Boston. A couple butcher’s in town would facilitate whole hog sale, I think. With all the bad news about food safety, it makes more and more sense to grow our own, or get closer to our farmers and suppliers.

    Also the small farms that are raising heritage breeds need our support. Especially Maveric which suffered a devasting fire days before Thanksgiving. One of her hogs that died was one of only eleven left in the US. They’re gone from their native UK and pretty much only exist in Australia. http://tinyurl.com/59c85k

    Cheers,
    Jacqueline

  • monte

    Being from the urban environment that is the California bay area, I must agree with most other comments that cooking the way you suggest would be near-impossible; where would I find a good farmer? And I don’t even know how to butcher a pig haha. Thanks, though, for posting up pictures and introducing a new (for me, at least) idea.

  • crystal

    Hi Michael,

    I know that I am lucky to be able to try to eat naturally raised food, and I know that most people can’t do that now. Hopefully, changes are in the wind.

    Personally, my first priority in buying meat is meat that was humanely raised and humanely slaughtered. Here’s some information for you and for your mother.

    Have you heard of the Rosas Farm in Sparr, Florida?

    Article in the Boston Globe: Rosas Farm in Boston Globe
    Their web site: Rosa Farm
    Also: PBS Interview

    I live in the Boston area. I have found that by calling or visiting a farm that is organically oriented and asking for their help in finding other (closer) places in my area, that I am building quite a network.

    If you don’t know of Rosas Farm or the owners Erin and Al Rosas, I think you would find them interesting and passionate.

  • gfweb

    Reasonable to eat this way?

    Maybe once, for the experience. Specialization of labor is one of the joys and efficiencies of modern civilization.

  • Kipp Ramsey

    That’s great that you are educating about the importance of eating local and butchering whole animals for some good nose to tail fun! I work at a grassfed and organic butcher shop, Fleishers, in Kingston, NY where we preach and teach this philosophy daily. Its exciting and rewarding to butcher whole animals and taste the quality of humanely raised animals.

  • Erin

    I wish I had a Cleveland sized house, I can’t imagine butchering an entire pig in my 600 sq.ft. apartment.
    I buy all of my meat, organs and sausage casings from a butcher shop. I absolutely refuse to buy from the grocery store. I grew up eating meat raised on my grandfather’s farm, after he gave it up, I had a rude awakening with sanitized grocery store products. I can put my trust in my butcher, he has never let me down.

  • David Norman

    Assuming that by West Palm you mean Florida, there is actually a farmer raising hogs outdoors near Avon Park. He raises a Heritage Breed called Hereford (great meat quality) that seems to do well in the heat. Website is http://www.bestpork.us.
    Used to be a lot more outdoor hog raisers in Florida — in fact Gainesville, where the University of Florida is located, had the nickname “Hogtown,” at least when I was going to school there back in the ’80’s. Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges for small producers is finding a processing plant — the small plants are disappearing all over the country.

  • Don

    Charlotte, NC, has a terrific hog farmer, Grateful Growers, that has great heritage pigs. However, unless you are a restaurant it is difficult to get the meat fresh instead of frozen.

  • vtyankee

    A few thoughts on the subject from a former butcher…..
    Leave it to the professionals. I could write whole chapters about “back to the earth” types who have ruined all varieties of barnyard meat animals through inept butchering, handling, and storing of their meat. And as for slaughtering….don’t get me started.
    If you’re lucky enough to live near a “low volume” packing plant (50 to 100 head a day), you might ask the owner for a tour during operating hours. Just be sure to explain that you’re not from PETA, and that you’ll stay out of the workers’ way.
    You’ll probably have a new appreciation for meat, some good, some bad.
    You’ll also realize how much specialized (and very expensive) equipment is used in meat processing. I had to laugh about the suggestion of splitting a hog with a hacksaw. Good luck with that idea. And even if you go and buy a real meat handsaw, the odds of a novice getting a good split and not ruining the loin are pretty slim.
    And when all of this newly butchered meat is cut and wrapped (have you priced good freezer paper lately?) it should be flash frozen. Tossing it into your home freezer all together is a good way to guarantee sour meat from the inner packages.
    I guess what I’m tryin to say is, along with adopting a local farmer, you should adopt a local butcher. And trust me, the farmer may tell you he can butcher; but odds are he can’t. In twenty years I never saw one that I would hire to slaughter or butcher meat fo me. As for itinerant butchers (guys who drive to the farm and slaughter animals on premesis), some are good, some are bad….very bad. If their equipment (knives, aprons, saws, transport equipment) looks like they haven’t cleaned it in weeks, send them on their way.
    Still, all this “eat local” idea is pretty good; but it takes a lot of effort expended as time and money, which most consumers don’t have in large quantities these days.

  • Maura

    How reasonable is it to ask more people to eat this way?

    I think it’s a completely reasonable question to ask, Michael. It’s not a dictate, it’s just a question.

    North Carolina has more pigs than people, and it’s not hard to find locally raised pork in Durham. My problem is financial (no surprise there) and storage. Not only would it be a hardship to purchase a whole, or even half a pig, but I’d have to get a freezer. Before I can put a freezer in the house, I’d have to have my utility room completely rewired, or better yet, knock the whole thing down and put up a new one. The electrician said he wouldn’t even plug in a light back there. 🙂

    Still, it’s becoming increasingly important to me to get away from grocery store meat (and it’s all Bob del Grosso’s fault). I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to do that.

  • Susan

    A few months ago I participated in a sacrificio put on by a local culinary organization (Culinary Communion for those in Seattle). The event was meant to reenact a village coming together to slaughter and process meat as a community and put the participants in touch with where meat comes from. It was an amazing experience. We went out to a local farm and participated in the slaughter and processing of a rather large pig-500# live weight sow. Her hams weighed about 65# each. Everything occured humanely and with a sense of appreciation for the life given for food. It was also a lot of work, even with the assistance of a professional slaughterer/butcher. The majority of the meat was prepared for charcuterie. I learned so much about the whole process and would highly recommend such an event if you have the opportunity.

  • Zane

    I love ya Ruhlman but there is no such thing as humanely slaughtered..We made that up to make us feel better about ourselves…I love pork as much as the next guy but lets not kid ourselves…The pig is not smiling..Never lose sight of that…There is no such thing as the humane death of a sentient being…

  • darla

    How reasonable is it?

    Well, not very reasonable if it means they have to do the work. Most people, after all, have trouble even cutting their own veggies, hence the proliferation of ready-cut veg in the store. It’s easy for us cooks to forget that even easy tasks for us can be hard for others, especially if you tend to surround yourself with other cooks. (I have people tell me all the time that chopping fresh garlic takes too much time. A pig is definitely out.)

    However, there are tons of people who would love to eat this way but can’t due to ability/time/space/etc.

    The more reasonable solution: We need more real, independent butchers who can buy locally, do to the work, and simply sell us all the product.

    I live in a large city of food-conscious people (Austin, TX) who spend tons of money on food and yet I do not have access to a good, convenient butcher. Sure, there are farmer’s markets on weekends that sell meat, but no place that’s open all week that I can pop into easily after work.

  • Richard

    As someone who’s been known to butcher 3-4 deer or wild pigs at one time, I can tell you that it is a lot of work, but truly rewarding. The best tool I have found for splitting a carcass and/or cutting through bone is a reciprocating demolition saw, available at your local hardware store. Just make sure the blades are clean, and that you remove any bone dust before packaging. That saw removed a chine bone on a pig in about 5 seconds, and split a carcass in about 10 seconds. Certainly worth the investment.

  • Tags

    I doubt the pig was smiling at being slaughtered, but most likely was smiling about his happy life.

  • Ron

    I have a friend, here in Michigan who deals with a guy who hand raises pigs (just a handful) each year and for the final month of their life, he feeds them a steady diet of molasses.

  • Kirk

    In Chapel Hill, NC (along with Durham, dubbed Best Small Town for Foodies in the U.S. by Andrew Knowlton in Bon Appetit magazine this year) fresh local pork and whole hogs are available. So far I’ve limited myself to parts and am picking up two bellies, two jowls and a pork shoulder this Saturday to make pork Christmas gifts. (Hanukkah gifts will be baked). Next year a friend and I have pledged to tackle a whole hog and make everything but BBQ. New year is promising.

  • clay

    can you hang that soppresata in the kitchen to cure? i make fresh sausage a couple times a month and bought all the curing agents i need, but realized it’s tough to hang sausage in my tiny apartment.

  • BeckyH

    Well, if several of you condo dwellers were to band together to purchase a hog……I can get a side of bison processed, and just pick up and pay for what I need from the processors. I have an account, so that when I’ve eaten it all I know to order more.
    If you ask at a local farmer’s market you may be able to get locally raised meats sold there. The organizers don’t always remember to seek out meat growers as well as plant growers.
    My brother has been having a hog raised for him, he plans to slaughter and break it down this weekend. His wine cellar is being adapted for air-curing. He lives in Chevy Chase, and his hog is a few hours away. It can be done, if you use some ingenuity.

  • Elise

    Great idea Michael. I’m sure there are some lovely hogs close enough to me, likely up by Pt. Reyes or Petaluma. So, if I buy one, will you fly out here and break it down for me? Maybe I can get Hank to go in on this. And Garrett. You boys can go wild. I’ll play with the bacon.

  • Steve O.

    I could probably get a pig here in the Garden State (driving time from one tip to the other is only 2.5 hours and bordering NY, PA, and only an hour from CT, 3 hours from the Berks in MA, I’m sure we could find something), though would never be able to devote the time, space, and refrigeration needed to break down a whole hog (my landlord frowns on blood stains). Interestingly, we have a local poultry farm on a busy road in an area that is a nice cross between urban, suburban, and industrial. Great stuff, and I’m willing to bet that the diesel exhaust adds flavor.

  • Tags


    I’m pretty sure that if Al Hirschfeld were still around and saw this picture of you wielding that cleaver, he’d drive from NYC to Cleveland just to draw your caricature, 105 years old or not 105 years old.

  • Kanani

    Wow. I’m really impressed. I haven’t seen anyone do that at home since –well, I was a kid. I have a small kitchen and not much storage, so this wouldn’t be practical. Besides, I don’t want to do my own butchering, but I don’t mind paying for meats that come from good sources.

    That photo at the top gave me a jolt. Last night I had a nightmare –induced by the upcoming deployment of a loved one, and came downstairs to shake it off. Voila! The Pig! Arghhh!!! I think I’ll just shut down the computer and garden today.

  • Kathy

    Thomas & other Chicagoans … Grass is Greener (www.grassisgreenergardens.com/CSA) does a great meat share throughout the year. Humanely raised and butchered beef, pork, lamb & chicken plus beautiful eggs, honey and yogurt. Sometimes my eggshells were lovely shades of blue and green, othertimes just brown 🙂 They have monthly pick up sites throughout the city and the meat is fantastic! Plus you’re supporting local farmers/ranchers in Wisconsin so it’s good all around. I got more meat – all kinds of great cuts – than I could work through in a month + those gorgeous eggs + honey each month for around $85 for a single share. I easily have a backstock that will last me through the winter. highly recommend it.

    Though the idea of a whole pig completly intrigues me….

  • YOD

    Can you define “humanely slaughtered”?
    Personally, I stopped eating meat earlier this year because I had been reading a lot about where my meat was coming from (grocery store meat for the most part). I decided to exempt meat that I could buy locally from farmers markets, because I assume it is “humanely” raised and slaughtered, as I define that in my mind. Recently, after watching that horrible footage of Sarah Palin standing in front of a turkey rendering station, I began to wonder if there really is such a thing as humane slaughtering. I’d love to know what others think.

  • Bob

    Michael
    Great pics and great article, I have to say the look on your face is like you just pulled the cleaver out of your hand though…
    All of this home butchering becomes alot more reasonable, I think, if one doesn’t go it alone. We like to split the cost of the hog with a few friends and make a day of it.
    Any excuse to gather the friends for a whole day, and reward each other for a hard day.
    We typically make sausage that day, and have a wrapping station.
    It’s not an easy task, but many hands truly do lighten the load

  • bridge

    >>I’m in Chicago. I *really* want to try buying pork and poultry directly from a farm; I’m teetering on the edge of just doing it now. I’d like to find a known-good farm to order from …

    Posted by: Thomas H. Ptacek | December 08, 2008 at 04:04 PM< < Gunthorp Farm in LaGrange, IN might be one of the top producers of sustainable, organic pork. he seems to always be at the conferences speaking. "The Gunthorp's Farm offers pastured pigs and chickens. The animals receive no antibiotics, growth stimulants, waste fat, etc. Chickens are available from June until December. Whole, halves and split halves of pork are available for pick-up or delivery. Small quantities of pork chops, pork shoulder roasts, ground pork, bacon, and hams are also available. The Gunthorp's Farm, Greg Gunthorp, LaGrange IN 46761. (219) 367-2708. E-mail: hey4hogs@kuntrynet.com”

    December 10th, 2008
  • sarah

    The pig pictures are truly amazing. Being from a family who loves pork, pork, pork and bacon, bacon, bacon–all hail the pig! This would be great and something I would be willing to do. However, I am also a mom with young kids and time is well, not always available. With help, I would definitely be interested. It is possible to do with a smaller pig in several hours or am I just dreaming? Also–anyone in Chicago that knows where to get one?

  • MessyONE

    sarah and other Chicagoans: Friends that live in Milwaukee are looking into sources of good organic meat of all kinds from that area. I’ll let you know what they come up with.

    Chicago is kind of a bust when it comes to getting quality meat these days.

  • vtyankee

    Humane Slaughter…..
    USDA regulations require that an animal be “stunned” prior to bleeding, which translates into rendering the animal unconscious.
    For cattle, swine, or sheep this is accomplished with a “captive bolt” gun using either compressed air or gun powder to drive the retractable “bolt” through the skull, into the brain.
    In large swine and poultry slaughter plants, stunning is usually done with electricity.
    USDA inspectors are charged with enforcing humane slaughter and animal handling procedures. That, at least, is the government line; and I can say from experience that in most cases it is followed fairly closely. Problems arise when companies hand the stunning tasks to unskilled or mentally challenged people, because seriously…who else would want to do this?
    Here’s where I make my pitch for the smaller, local meat plant, where the owner and a small crew (usually family) do the whole job.
    Usually, they don’t mind if you stay and watch your animal be turned into hanging meat. It’s also my experience that these guys grew up around farm animals and know how to handle them; and short of putting their own safety at risk, they will not abuse animals.
    I should also mention Kosher and Halal slaughter methods, which omit the stunning part; but require that the animal be bled with one deft stroke of the knife. Some maintain that this is indeed more humane, since the loss of blood to the brain renders the animal unconscious almost immediately.
    And one final issue….Animals do not KNOW what is going to happen to them. Unlike us, they do not ponder death. They react to violence and harm; but if they are led quietly to a place where a human puts something up against their heads, they have no idea of imminent death.

  • James Rosse

    I loved this article. When I was growing up, my grandfather raised pigs for the table. Yes, it was rough slaughtering and butchering them. It took a whole day at his house, and my parents were exhausted when we were done. However, we had pig for a couple years when the job was done. Thank god for big freezers.

    I’ve slaughtered and cleaned chickens, Muscovy ducks, turkeys, and geese. A subsistence lifestyle takes up a lot of time. My day used to start at 0600 feeding the animals and getting ready for college, and during the summer didn’t end until the work was done. It’s a little odd, after living on a small farm to go to an apartment.

    But that’s the problem. I lived with my folks for a long time, and we always had two big, deep freezers in the basement. I’m living with my girlfriend in a 700 square foot apartment. I can’t store a butchered out pig in our apartment-sized freezer, which might be about 3 cubic feet.

    I can’t wait to finish off paying for grad school, and put my money into a house for myself, where I can have a freezer and stock up on the things I need.

    Do you have any suggestions for canning meats? Once you’ve canned it, you don’t have to worry about the electricity going out…

    –Jim Rosse