All-in in Chehalis!

Since we haven’t been able to compete as much as we were hoping this season (bathroom remodel and work getting in the way…), we’re going all)in this weekend.

Christene’s cooking Tolbert (Texas red) and home style chili on Saturday, while I’m doing a full Dutch Oven cook. We’re then doing a full competition BBQ cook.

A long weekend this will be. But I’m really happy with the dishes I have planned for the DO cook.

Hog Wild About Whole Hog!

Well…less a whole hog and more a small pig.  All the awesome in a smaller package!

(Before I get down to business, I’d just like to take a moment to apologize for my absence – I promise to make it up to you!)

So, onward with the pig!

As part of some cooking demos at a BBQ festival this last weekend, I cooked two whole hogs: one for “show” for the public to look at and aim their camera phones at all day, and the other to demo cook and serve.  Through the magic of photography I documented all the steps, the better to improve this little corner of the internet.

Many websites recommend ordering your pig from a butcher, and having the butcher do most of this work for you.  Honestly, with a small animal (at least up to 75 pounds) it seems best to do the cutting and breaking yourself.  It isn’t that difficult, and will give you a bit more money for beer and bourbon.

For reference, the pig splayed below for your enjoyment weighed in at about 35 pounds.

Tool List

  • Good (I used Fiskars) pruning sheers.  Needless to say, if you take these out of the gardening equipment, clean them well and don’t tell your wife!
  • A sharp knife.
  • A sharp cleaver.  Some people recommend a sharp hatchet or ax, but with a longer working area I think you get better control with the cleaver.
  • A rubber mallet (mine’s a five pounder).
  • A sturdy table.
  • Trash can


  • 1/2 inch plywood covered with aluminum foil.
  • Disposable cutting boards.  (Yes, they’re a little pricey, but they’re awesome for food safety!)
  • Clamps

Before You Begin

The first thing to do is to take a large piece of plywood (about 3′ x 5′) and cover it in aluminum foil.  Next, clamp the plywood and a couple of the disposable cutting boards to your work table; you’ll be able to see this in a number of the photos.  This gives you three things in one swoop: extra strength for the table; a clean and easy-to-clean work space; and an easy way to move the pig to the smoker once s/he is tuned up.

Also, remember to get your smoker up to temperature:  (225 to 250) °F.

Snip and Slice

Splitting the Breast Bone

Splitting the Breast Bone

First thing to do is to use those shears to cut through the breast bone; on a bigger pig this may be something you’ll need to do with a small power saw.  With the breast bone split, push the breast apart to snap the shoulder joints, further opening up the pig.

Now that the cavity is open use a knife to trim away the extra fat and skin and any little bits of innards that the butcher left behind.

Trimming Excess Skin

Trimming Excess Skin

And it’s time for some fun!

Splitting the Spine

In order for the pig to lie flat, the spine needs to be split.

The first step is to cut through the cartilage – but not the back of the neck! – at the top of the spine.

Cutting Through the Cartilage at the Top of the Spine

Cutting Through the Cartilage at the Top of the Spine

With your cleaver and mallet, split the spine down the middle, taking care to not cut through the back of the pig.

Splitting the Spine

Splitting the Spine

Continuing to Split the Spine

Continuing to Split the Spine

After the First Pass Split

After the First Pass Split

Working “gently”, it may take two passes to get the spine split as much as you want.

Last Cut to Split the Spine

Last Cut to Split the Spine

Some Final Trimming

By now your pig should be in a very inappropriate-looking position.

All Split Up

All Split Up

This is the time to do any final bits of trimming to make sure it’s all cleaned up inside.

Final Trimming of the Insides

Final Trimming of the Insides

When you barbecue ribs, you pull off the membrane.  This is just a wee bit more difficult with a whole hog, so scoring the rib membrane in a diamond pattern will work just as well.  (When I’m making a big mess of ribs and don’t have the time to pull all those membranes, I’ll score them and can’t tell the difference.)

Once you’re done with the insides, use your hammer and cleaver to chop off the feet at the ankle joints.

Separating The Ribs

One last step with the sharp tools, and it will be time to inject.  To make it easier to pull everything apart – especially the ribs – once the pig is cooked, separate the top of the ribs from the spine.  This is definitely something that will take a sharp knife and patience.  At the end of the process, it will totally be worth it.

With your knife, simply cut through the rib-spine joints down each side of the pig.

Starting to Separate the Ribs from the Spine

Starting to Separate the Ribs from the Spine

Ribs Separated from the Spine

Ribs Separated from the Spine

All Prepped and Ready to Inject

All Prepped and Ready to Inject

Inject Your Pig

You can inject your pig with just about any type of flavor you like.  The simplest is apple juice, or apple juice flavored with your preferred BBQ rub.

You’ll want to inject in several locations both the hams and the shoulders, and as much of the belly and back meat as possible.  You’ll know it is working when you see the meat puff up.

Injecting a Ham

Injecting a Ham

Injecting the Shoulder

Injecting the Shoulder

Injecting the Belly

Injecting the Belly

Rubbing It Up

Last step before putting the pig in the smoker, is to season it up.  Using your favorite pork rub (the one I used here is a combination of Johnny’s Seasoning Salt, Sugar, Cumin, and Allspice). There’s no need to be shy with the seasoning – put on a good coating and press it into the meat.

Seasoning the Pig

Seasoning the Pig

Pressing in the Rub

Pressing in the Rub

Along with rubbing all the meat in the cavity, you should also get some rub under the skin of the hams and shoulders.  You’ll need to use your knife to separate the skin of the legs from the meat.

Pulling the Skin Away from the Ham

Pulling the Skin Away from the Ham

Seasoning Under the Ham Skin

Seasoning Under the Ham Skin

Time to Cook

Get your pig into the smoker (by now it should be at the smoking temperature of (225 to 250) °F; remember to get some help with a bigger pig.

The Pig in the Smoker

The Pig in the Smoker

If you want to rub the outside of the pig, this is a great time to do it.  Rubbing the pig skin with vegetable oil will also help crisp up the skin.

Like all barbecue, cooking times will vary based on the size of the pig, control of the smoker temperature, and the environmental conditions.  The cooked hog will stay hot resting in a hot box (ice chest) covered in some towels for two to three hours.  Use this time as a buffer to make sure your pig is cooked in time for your feasting.

Approximate Cooking Times:

(30 to 40) pounds:  (5 to 6) hours
75 pounds:  (6 to 7) hours
100 pounds:  (7 to 8) hours
125 pounds:  (8 to 9) hours

Target Temperature:

160 °F in the legs

As you approach the end of your cooking time, watch your meat temperature.  Take your cooked pig off the smoker for it’s post-cook nap once the hams and shoulders hit 160 °F.

Taking the pig off the smoker is definitely a time for caution.  Everything is hot, and there is a lot of grease.  A couple of people with heat-proof gloves will make it safe and easy.

Cooked and Beautiful

Cooked and Beautiful

Time To Eat!

Keep in mind that pulling apart a cooked pig is a messy proposition:  there’s going to be a lot of grease and fat and skin.  You’ll want to make sure you’re protected from hot splatters; if you care about the ground around you, protect that as well.

You can serve the parts of the pig however you like, but best is to pull all the meat, toss it with some of the juice.  If they’re large enough, lift out and slice the ribs.   In the case of a small pig like the one here, it works better to strip the meat off the bones and add it to the all the shredded goodness.

Give everyone a beverage and a plate, and have at it!

Let’s Talk About Ham, Baby!

Not just any ham, but home-cured and smoked ham.

So, in November, 2011 (yes, that was 1.5 years ago, but bear with me…) I popped into my local grocery store to find they had a few pork legs sitting in the meat department, for a really good price.  This isn’t a normal occurrence; in fact, it hasn’t happened since.  Not one to pass up an opportunity to try something new with the smoker, I picked up a couple of them and threw them into the freezer for future use.

I pulled the first one out for Christmas 2011, and headed off to the internet for some ideas.  I found and used this recipe from The Dizzy Pig Barbecue Company as a guide.  I brined the leg for about 4 days, smoked it up, and finished it in the oven.  It wasn’t bad.  In fact, it was pretty good.  But there were errors made – not injecting and not brining long enough.  After cutting into the ham, what I found was that I had a pork leg that was ham half through, and roast pork the rest of the way to the bone.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo, because it was pretty cool looking (but obviously not what I was after).

Fast Forward to Christmas 2012.  I decided to give it another go, and to get it right.

I poked some more around the nets, and again settled on the folks at The Dizzy Pig for my guide.  And this time I took notes and photos, to pass on to you.

Remember: Wisdom is learning from others’ experience!

A major divergence I took from the Dizzy Pig folks is that I left on the rind and fat.  I love their suggestion of removing and rendering the fat to make your own lard.  And, of course, the rind can be turned into chicharones.  But I and my family love the skin after it has been brine and baked, so there you go.  One of the joys of cooking is to do what makes you and those around you happy.

Note:  I used a 10.7 pound ham for this recipe.

Step 1:  Defrost the Pork Leg
Well, that’s pretty self-explanatory.  I moved it from the freezer to the fridge about a week before brine time.

Step 2:  Make the Brine

In a large, non-reactive (stainless steel or glass, not aluminum) pot combine:

1/8 Cup White Pepper
1/4 Cup Whole Cloves
1/2 Cup Granulated Onion1/2 Cup Granulated Garlic
3 Cups Tender Quick
3 Cups Brown Sugar
16 oz Maple Syrup
240 oz (30 Cups) Cold Water

Heat and stir until the ingredients are dissolved.
Cool the brine to 40 degrees F.  This is critical – you don’t want to put your cold pork into a hot brine!


Brine Temperature

Step 3:  Brine the Ham

One the brine is cooled, inject 1.5 to 2 cups deep in the meat and around the bone.  (The Dizzy Pig folks recommend a cup per every 4 to 5 pounds.)

Use the remainder of the brine to cure your ham.

Place the ham in a container that fits in an ice chest or your refrigerator.  I’m lucky enough that my barbecue fridge can hold a 5 gallon bucket.


Ham in the Bucket

I also was fortunate enough that the pork leg wedged perfectly in the bottom of the bucket.  Once the brine was added, the leg didn’t float.  If yours does, make sure to use a large plate with a weight or something similar to weigh it down under the brine.

Non-Required Step:  Make Sure You Have a Good Assistant


Montana Trying (Hoping?) To Help

Step 4: Brine the Pork

With an 11 pound ham, I left it in the brine for about 4 1/2 days.  Between the injection and the brine time, that was plenty to turn this pork leg into a ham.

It isn’t completely obvious in the next photo, but after the brining, the meat had definitely taken on a pinkish hue.

Brined Ham

Brined Ham

Step 5: Rinse the Ham

At this point if you were to cook and eat the ham, you would need to chase it with a lot of water (or beer…) – it would be extremely salty!

Side Note:  If you order a cured Tennessee ham, they also need to be soaked – usually for several days – before cooking.

I emptied the brine out of the bucket, replaced the ham, filled it with water, and let it have a nice soak (in the refrigerator!) for about two hours.  A quick switch of the water and a second bath, and the ham was ready for the smoker.

Step 6: Smoke the Ham

Since Christmas dinner was at my in-laws’ house, the entire cook wouldn’t happen on the smoker.  In this case, the plan was to smoke the ham and then fully cook it in the oven.

The ham was smoked with hickory (you can’t beat a classic!) at about 200°F for three hours.  It’s important to remember that much more than that will be too much smoke for most any meat.

Here you can see the difference in color from the smoke – starting to look like the real thing!

Smoked Ham

Smoked Ham

With the smoking completed, I bundled up the ham in a small ice chest, and headed off for Christmas Eve dinner.

Step 6: Cook the Ham

About some things, I can be a bit of a traditionalist.  Prior to cooking, I used a sharp knife to score the skin in the classic diamond pattern.  Next time through, I’ll likely do this step before smoking; the smoking process did make the skin a bit tougher than when strictly “raw”.

After scoring, I cooked them ham at 350°F until it reached 160°F inside – about 2.5 hours cooking time.  Here she is cooked…and with a few skin tester pieces missing…sometimes temptation can be impossible to resist.

Cooked Ham

Cooked Ham

Step 7: Carve and Eat and Enjoy!

I’m hoping you can figure this part out for yourself.  And don’t forget to save that lovely bone for next week’s soup!

SLC Part 3 – The Mark Miller Subaru BBQ Competition

Well, after failing to move on in the Dutch Oven Championships, Saffron and I moved on to cook some competition barbecue.

Originally, Saffron and I were going to cook together, dividing up the meats.  After arriving, and seeing the lay of the land, Saffron and I decided to cook independently – her in the “pro” four-meat event, and me (who had only one smoker, and very little other equipment) in the “backyard” two-meat event.

Sure, I’d have to get up in the morning to run out for some chicken and ribs.  And I’d have to cobble together some rubs for the meats.  But I had packed basic seasonings and sauces, so I felt good to go.

It is amazing what you can do with some seasoning salt, sugar, and paprika…

I got my sleeping bag, and sacked out for a decent night’s sleep in the back of Saffron’s truck.

Saturday morning, after a few miscues trying to find a grocery store, I got myself stocked up on the essentials for the day:  baby back ribs, a whole chicken, charcoal, and hot coffee.  The good news is that with a 2:30 and a 3:00 turn-in, I had plenty of time to get ready.  The bad news is that with a 2:30 and a 3:00 turn-in, I had a lot of time sitting around waiting to fire up the smoker.

Cooking went, I feel, pretty well.  The ribs were tasty, though a bit underdone.  The chicken came out nearly perfect, though I think the sauce got a bit thick – I should have thinned it out some more.  This particular competition was a no-garnish event, meaning I didn’t have to muck around decorating the boxes with lettuce and/or parsley.  It also meant I had plenty of room for my whole chicken.  Here’s the turn-in box:


It’s not quite as pretty as normal, but still I couldn’t complain too much.

Unfortunately, I forgot to snap a photo of the rib box, which was a much nicer turn-in.  You’ll just have to use your imagination to picture the box of shiny, glazed baby backs.  See?  I knew you could do it…

After having plenty of time to clean and pack up all the equipment, the judge team finished their score tabulations.  I ended up placing second in both chicken and ribs, and thereby grabbing the Reserve Grand Champion spot.  Absolutely a good time, and a nice chance to bang some of the rust and dust off of my competition skills to get ready for the Pacific Northwest season.

Raven’s Fyre will gear up for the season cooking chili one weekend, and following that up with a Saturday chili competition and a Sunday one-day barbecue competition.  Check the calendar for the dates, and if you’re local, come say “Hi!”

SLC Part 2

Sorry for the delay – things have been a wee bit busy!

So we (Saffron and I) cooked her second / my first Dutch Oven championship, and I have to say that I had an awesome time, and learned a number of things.

Lesson 1:  I really need more practice in Dutch Oven competition cooking!

For those of you unfamiliar with a Dutch Oven competition, the teams (not more than 2 people) are required to cook three courses: a bread, a main dish (primarily protein), and a dessert.  Our menu:

  • Herb Foccacia with Sundried Tomatoes and Garlic
  • Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken Breast with Stuffed Potatoes
  • Chocolate Chipotle Cabernet Cake with Cherry Reduction

Oh, another little tidbit in the rules is that you’re supposed to be cooking with something close to “on the trail” authenticity.  Translation: No electric / battery-powered equipment.  Making bread?  You’re kneading and rising like great-grandma did!  Creaming butter?  You had better make sure it is well softened first.

As a team, we chose to take a minimalist approach for our presentations, the better to highlight the food.  Saffron’s chicken did well (third place in our round), but neither the focaccia or cake did as well (OK, last place for both).  While both the bread and dessert had judges who liked them, unfortunately the majority were on the “not so much” side.

The issues?  Well…

The focaccia’s third rise, after it was formed, didn’t go so well; it ended up a bit dense and a bit crunchy.  I attribute that to two things:  The elevation (SLC, anyone?), and the Dutch Oven I was rising in may have gotten too hot, and knocked off the yeasties.

The cake had its own issues.  We didn’t let it cool sufficiently before dropping it out of the oven, so part of it stuck.

Here’s another rule for you:  What you cook, you must serve.   If you have something burnt, you must turn it in.  The cake stuck in the bottom of the oven?  You must get it out and get it to the judges.

I am happy to say that after enough cooling, we were able to remove the remaining cake, and I got it assembled into something approaching the desired shape.  In the end, it wasn’t the extraction failure that hurt so much as the chipotle powder in the recipe.  Even after my test cooking, it turned out to be too much (while I liked the heat, I will admit it was hotter than expected).

Lesson 2:  Even though technically in the Southwest, Salt Lake City residents are heat wimps.

Even though the cooking portion of the day didn’t go as well as we would have liked, the event was tons of fun, and I’m happy to say that we met a lot of awesome people.  I’m looking forward to qualifying again so that I can give it another run.

Since we didn’t move on to the final round of the Dutch Oven competition, Saffron and I packed up and hurried ourselves 8 miles up the road to the BBQ competition, to do what we’re good at.  SLC Part 3 coming up…

To round things out, here are pictures of the turn-ins for your enjoyment:


Focaccia plated for turn-in

Main Dish Plated for Turn-in

Main Dish Plated for Turn-in

Cake after reassembling parts.

Cake after reassembling parts.

Cake after fixing - ready for turn-in.

Cake after fixing – ready for turn-in.

First Cook(s) of the Year

Saffron of Bush Kitchen and I are part way through our Salt Lake City Cooking Adventure.

After powering through a 19 hr SEA-SLC drive, we got to the Sportsman’s Show in plenty of time to check in, knock out some final bits of shopping, and see the turn-ins for the first round of the IDOS Dutch Oven Championship.

The turn-in were amazingly beautiful. After sticking around for the results, we headed off for food and sleep, thus to be ready for our turn in Friday’s round.

Stay tuned…

So we’ve landed….

We have landed in Vegas, unloaded our equipment into our cooking space. Relaxing, having a drink,calm before the storm…

Don’t want to reveal anything about the signature burger yet, on the off chance that a judge is one of my followers…you’ll just have to wait until afterwards…