By Gabe

Side note in case the title isn’t clear enough for you: this blog post is not about goats. It’s about bringing our pig into the house. More specifically, into the freezer.

I don’t know how much thought you put into the food that comes onto your table. If you’re like me, maybe not all that much.

We all know apples don’t grow in Walmart and meat doesn’t grow in supermarkets. But even in the rural lifestyle I’ve enjoyed since I was knee high to a fence post, there’s always been a bit of a disconnect between the animals we raised and the meat we saw on our table. They left our farm in a trailer and came back in neat frozen packages.

My grandpa passed away a year and a few months ago at the age of 95. When we lost grandpa, we lost a lot. He was a kind man whom we could count on to call us on our birthday. He was the one who would surreptitiously slip a $100 bill into the hand of someone he knew was having trouble making ends meet. He cared unconditionally about us and loved to watch our children grow. Also, in many ways, he represented my last tangible link to an era when life moved at a much different pace than it does now. “In my day,” he would begin, and launch into brief accounts of how they did things like shuck corn (by hand), split wood (with dynamite), plow fields (with horses), or “thrash wheat” (as a neighborhood).

They raised almost all their food when grandpa was a boy in the thirties. If they couldn’t raise it, they couldn’t afford it. He knew where his meat came from and how it got to his table. And he was richer for it.

Last summer, Jenny and I decided it made sense to buy a couple feeder pigs. With five rapidly growing children, any way to economically provide good nutritious meat seemed like a good idea. We contacted a local farmer friend from our church, and he agreeably sold us a couple 50 pound porkers. We bought 700lbs of feed for them, and we were off.

This wonder of modern engineering can convert almost any waste food into bacon.

I timed the hog buying so that they would be fat hogs (around 275 lbs) in January.

One of them didn’t make it. He got some sort of affliction in his hind legs, and was soon unable to get around. We had to put him down. We had given him antibiotics, and since the recommendation was not to eat meat from a treated hog until 30 days after treatment ends, salvaging some meat wasn’t an option.

So much for saving money, I thought.

In the back of my mind I had been toying with the idea of butchering the pigs myself. So much the easier, I decided, now that there was only one. And it was the only way left to end up with meat that’s cheaper than the supermarket. I went on Amazon and ordered a meat saw and some curing salt.

By some fortuitous circumstances, the farmer from whom I purchased my porkers is a part time butcher. I asked him if he’d be willing to give me a hand with “sticking” the pig.

One cold January evening we slaughtered the hog. Jonathan, my farmer friend, helped skin her out. No messing around with scalding a whole pig for us, thank you anyway.

I’ll spare you all the gory details of evisceration by simply saying that we aren’t using any natural casings. There are some things I’m just not willing to do.

All the accounts I’ve read about home butchery make it sound as though splitting the hog with a hand meat saw is very difficult from both a technical and physical standpoint. I found it to be much easier than anticipated. I was glad I went to the expense of buying a real meat saw instead of hacking around with a sawzall or some other work around.

The slaughter and splitting accomplished, the carcass was ready to hang and chill for the night. This is why the old timers butchered in winter. Like them, I don’t have a cooler; unlike them, I do have a forklift. That made transporting and hanging the carcass a simple matter.

In the morning, my instant read thermometer said the carcass was about 29 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, perfect for processing.

Taking apart a hog is a little intimidating when you don’t know what you’re doing. If you decide to do it, I recommend finding some quality video tutorials, or better yet, someone who can just show you how it’s done.

This isn’t a meat processing blog, so I won’t go into all the details of how to cut up meat. And I’m not a butcher, so take whatever I say and salt it good. But I’ll tell you the cuts we chose to keep.

After breaking the sides into the primals, we had shoulder, loin, belly, and ham. Of course any scraps go into sausage.

Multitasking. Maybe don’t do this with a sharp knife unless you’re pretty comfortable with your task.

From the shoulders we kept Boston pork butts and picnic roasts. We’ll use those for smoking and pulled pork.

Smoking a Boston pork butt.

From the loin, we cut mostly boneless chops, and a roast or two near the back. We pulled out the tenderloins boneless as well. On the one side I cut some nice meaty baby back ribs, but on the other we kept the meat more with the chops. I love ribs, but I learned the main reason they often don’t have much meat on them. It’s because the meat that could be left with them is so desirable on the other side of the cut. Leave meat on the spare ribs and you’re losing bacon; leave meat on the baby backs and you’re stealing from the pork chops.

Some beautiful boneless pork chops.

We didn’t know if we were up to curing the hams, and so we boned them out into individual roasts. We might have a go at curing individual roasts in the future.

From the belly we got the spare ribs and, of course, the bacon. We saved the jowls to cure as bacon also.

I’ve never cured bacon before, but it’s easier than it seems it should be for such a tasty treat. The cure recipe I followed was simple: Curing salt at .025% (that’s one fourth of one percent) of meat weight, salt at 2.5% of meat weight, sugar at 1% of meat weight. Simply rub on the cure, place into Ziploc bags in the refrigerator, and turn every day for a week.

Shhhh, it’s curing

After a week of musical bacon, you take the meat out of the bag, rinse off the outside for a few minutes, and place on a rack, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Next, it’s time to fire up the smoker. I used a Weber kettle, with peach wood from orchard prunings as my smoke flavor. Apple is another great choice. I smoked the almost-bacon at about 225 degrees until we got an internal temp of 150. That took a little under 2 hours.

It’s very simple; You need one grill to do the smoking and a second one to hold the magnetic thermometer.

The last thing to do is slice and package, or just slice, fry, and enjoy! I chose a mixture of the two.

This is jowl bacon.

In total, we ended up with 143.75 lbs of meat packaged and in the freezer. Estimating the hog weight at 275, that gives a net of just over 52%. Our all-in cost per pound of meat, including the total-loss hog and all the feed he ate, was just under $1.40/lb. All things considered, we feel pretty good about that.

Bacon. It’s what makes the whole butchering process worth it.

It’s a pretty satisfying feeling to fill our freezer with meat we raised, butchered, processed, cured, smoked, and packaged ourselves.

One of the senior members of the Bacon taste-test crew.

It’s pretty satisfying to eat it, too.

This junior Bacon Taste Tester takes her job seriously.

Looks like we’d better get another pig on the place soon.