How to BBQ a Whole Hog


Pork is one of the primary meats chosen for cooking on a barbecue grill. From pork chops to tenderloin to shish-kabobed cubes, pork offers succulent flavor in tender cuts that are enhanced with a variety of barbecue sauces. Some barbecue chefs, in a great economy of motion, simply cook the entire hog at once. Hawaiian luaus feature roasted whole pigs, called kalua pigs, in pits called imu ovens. North Carolinians go whole hog by putting pigs on a drum grill or other specially-constructed grill large enough to hold the entire carcass. Cooking an entire hog is a slow process, but the resulting meat is so tender it doesn't require a knife to cut it. The meat is picked off the bone and the resulting festivities are referred to as a pig picking. Cooking the whole hog requires practice and knowledge of technique.

Things You'll Need

  • Large grill with cover
  • Charcoal
  • Lighter fluid
  • Long matches
  • Cleaned and dressed hog, split in half lengthwise
  • Spice rub or plain salt
  • Grill thermometer
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Place charcoal in the grill, add the lighter fluid and light the fire with a long match. Let the charcoal burn until it is coated with a gray ash. More charcoal will be needed to maintain the grill temperature throughout the cooking process.

  • Rub the the hog carcass with salt or your favorite combination of spices and herbs.

  • Put the butterflied hog carcass on the heated grill, meat side down and skin side up. Close the cover.

  • Cook the hog slowly. Allow the temperature inside the cover to rise to 200 degrees Fahrenheit over the first 3 to 4 hours. Check the grill temperature with a grill thermometer.

  • Continue raising the temperature slowly until it reaches 250 degrees Fahrenheit, then maintain this temperature. Do this by adding more charcoal and monitoring the temperature carefully.

  • Check the hog with the instant-read thermometer every few hours toward the end of the cooking process. This will require guesswork because timing depends on the size of the hog. When the hog's internal temperature reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit, it is safely done.

  • Remove the hog from the grill and place it on the chopping table to cool slightly.

  • Take the meat from the bones and chop, adding barbecue sauce to the meat. Alternatively, let guests pick their own meat from the carcass. Pass extra barbecue sauce at the table.

Tips & Warnings

  • Special grills that are large enough for cooking whole hogs can be rented. These grills have wheels and are portable.
  • Barbecue chefs have their own preferred techniques. Some cook the whole hog on a grill while others put the hog on a rotisserie.
  • A wet barbecue solution can be mopped on the hog toward the end of the cooking. This is often a vinegar and black pepper mop that flavors the meat before chopping.
  • When planning an event where the whole hog will be featured, count on a pound and a half of dressed carcass for each guest. This amount includes fat and bone that will not be consumed.
  • Provide several kinds of barbecue sauce including one that is vinegar based, one that is tomato based and one that is sweet.
  • Suckling pigs are barbecued in roughly the same way but are not typically butterflied before roasting because they are small.
  • Cool the hog and package leftovers promptly. Place leftover meat in plastic bags and chill.
  • Have patience with the process. Don't rush the cooking. Whole hogs must be cooked slowly so that the outside does not burn or get too dry before the inside cooks.

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