How We Cook Hawgs in Mississippi
Featuring Bert & Ernie
This will be the most important thing you will ever read on the Net, so pay attention.
Have the slaughter-house clean the hawg but have them leave on the head, all feet, and tail (a cap goes on the tail). Also tell them not to damage the ears
(some slaughter-houses think they have to suspend the hawg by grabbing them with some sort of hanging device around the base of the ears, but we have
found that they can do this without harming the ears). Also, if you can remember, have them prop the mouth open with a stick because an apple must go in
the mouth, and most humans are not strong enough to open the mouth for this purpose.
Hawgs in the weight range of 80-120 pounds dressed (where dressed means a hawg that has been cleaned but has the head, feet, and tail attached) usually
cook best. We've cooked hawgs as large as 396 pounds dressed, but we don't recommend it. The amount of meat per person will depend on the group.
An all-men group will consume a good bit more than a mixed group, particularly if the people in the mixed group have never attended one of these. If they have
attended one previously and found that the hawg didn't kill 'em, then they will eat more. We suggest one pound of dressed hawg per person.
We do not dig a pit in Mississippi due to the clay. Build a pit of concrete blocks two blocks high, five blocks long, and three blocks wide (for one hawg) on
flat ground or slightly sloping ground which will help drain the grease away. This takes a total of 32 blocks. If you are short a few blocks, you can get by with
28 blocks by making the pit four blocks long.
Line the bottom of the pit with freezer foil, not regular aluminum foil as it is too thin. Put freezer foil on the bottom and then brick on which a coarse screen
is placed. The coals are placed on the screen.
- Spread out a few bricks (eight to twelve) in the bottom of the pit.
Place a fine steel grate (or coarse screen) on the bricks in the bottom of the pit. This will prevent large grease fires if you pay attention and immediately
put out the small fires which start when grease drops down on the hot coals. (Doss likes to use a water (squirt) bottle for this. I think that's cheatin' and
should be done by using the small coal shovel to spread the coals away from the small fires.)
Place the rods across the top of the blocks with another piece of fine steel grate on top of the rods. The hawg will go on top of this grate. (Actually we now
use a steel grate that has long lengths of small sized angle-iron down each side that reaches across the pit and the hawgs go directly on this grate.)
Spray the top grate with Pam.
When the hawg arrives, start four or five pounds of charcoal in the charcoal cooker. (This cooker is used only to get the coals ready to place under the hawg.)
- To prepare the hawg(s), do the following:
Rip-out the kidneys and any extra tubes, etc. (like the aorta) that the hawg will no longer need.
Take the single bladed ax and hammer and start splitting the backbone so the hawg will lay flat on the grate.
(This method of cookin' is called butterfly cookin', so you want to open him up so he will lay-out (like a flyin' squirrel).)
DO NOT CUT THROUGH THE SKIN
or you will have BIG-TIME problems later on. In fact, don't cut the skin in
any way, or poke any holes in the skin.
After you get the hawg laid-out, the apple is next. Have your stoutest guy or gal pull the mouth open and stick an apple in it. I have seen this done once.
If you have no Paul Bunyan around, use item 11 in the equipment list. The apple is necessary because he will bite the apple when he is done.
After the hawg is prepared, lay him belly down on the grate. Place a new Mississippi State hat on his head between his ears, shades on his eyes, and
an Ole Miss baseball cap on his rear end. If you support another college, well fine - use those hats/caps then. If he has a bullet hole between his eyes,
he will need a bandaid here. The hawg won't cook without these items.
Figure 3: Bert and Ernie
-- You must name the hawgs. They refuse to cook without personal identities.
You are ready to start cookin` now. Use the small coal shovel to place 2 to 3 coals under each ham and each shoulder. (NO MORE COALS THAN THIS!)
You will now start getting verbal abuse about how the hawg won't cook, it will be raw, any fool would know better, etc, etc. Tell them fine, they don't have to
eat any of it tomorrow. Then replenish the charcoals you took out of the charcoal cooker and head for the beer cooler. (You only have to start the charcoal
once. After the first time, simply spread the hot charcoal out so that when the charcoal gets hot, it is about time to put more coals under the hawg. I would
guess this works out to be about every 30 to 40 minutes. More on this in instruction number 16 below.)
Say you want to eat the hawg(s) at 5 P.M. on a Saturday. (All that follows is relative time based on this assumed eating time of 5 P.M. For any other eating
time, apply a suitable forward or backward shift operator.) We usually pick the hawg up and get him to the site by at least 4 P.M. on Friday. You should be
able to get him started cookin' by 4:30 or 5:00 P.M. on Friday. The hawg is to be turned over only once. He will probably need to be turned over on his back
between 8 A.M. and 10 A.M. on Saturday at that "moment-of-perfection," and I don't know how to describe to you what that "moment-of-perfection" is, so just
turn him at 9:41 A.M. on Saturday. With regard to turning, just scoot the hawg over to one side on the grate and just turn him all at once (but watch out for
breaking a well-cooked leg). One trick is to place the hawg between two grates and then turn him while he is tied between the two grates. This works--but it's cheatin'.
After starting the hawg at 5 P.M. on Friday, continue cookin' him by adding coals now and then. You can leave him uncovered on the pit for viewing until
around 10 or 11 P.M. Friday night. Then you need to cover him. We cover the hawg (or hawgs) with one large piece of cardboard that does not touch
the hawg anywhere except the feet and ears. Over this cardboard place a small tarp that covers the pit. This is essentially your $5,000.00 cooker.
The rate at which coals are applied comes, I suppose, from experience. For the entire 24 hours of cooking, you should use slightly less than one pound of
charcoal per pound of hawg. For example, for a 100 pound dressed hawg (including head and feet, we would buy 100 pounds of charcoal, but we would
probably only use around 70 to 85 pounds of charcoal. The key to cookin' is to START SLOW and don't ever get much faster. Just be PERSISTENT.
It is a low-temperature/long-duration cooking process. Every time one of our cookers have described to someone else how to cook a hawg, they usually
cook too fast and ruin the hawg.
After the hawg is turned over, grease will drip, or even run at times, so one should not put the coals where the grease drips. (Actually it will begin dripping
long before it's turned but the greatest danger of significant grease fires occurs after turning.) We usually place the coals more around the edges after turning.
This will not hurt the cooking rate because the cardboard and tarp will be like an oven. This locating of hot coals is, of course, to prevent grease fires. We have
never had a large grease fire since we started using the raised steel grate on the bottom of the pit.
Also after the hawg is turned you should baste (or pour) barbecue sauce on the bottom side of the hawg which is now turned up. This doesn't get any
barbecue flavor into the meat, it only keeps the meat from getting dry on this side, so any kind of sauce will do. We usually serve the barbecue sauce
on the side, so that people can have hot, or mild, or whatever they want, or whatever you have to offer. Repeat this basting every couple of hours.
When the hawg is done (by definition he is done at 5 P.M., and at this time he will bite the apple in two) pick him up by using the rods or sucker rod grate
and move him to a place in the food line on the saw horses. Use two cutters, or pullers, on either side of the hawg. The best thing to do if the hawg is
cooked properly is for these pullers to put on the rubber gloves (the thicker the glove the better because the meat will be hot) and simply pull the meat off
and pull it apart. Do not use swine experts or veterinarians for this, as they don't seem to know the difference between a ham and a tenderloin. Be careful
to not break the skin, because the grease (which you will not notice dripping through) can ruin a good pair of boots in no time.