Curing and smoking, whole pig butchery is all about the fat in my opinion, and using it for adding value to all the muscle cuts that are on offer. There are a few ways to do it. What I am going to talk about, is not easy, it will take time and be a lot of work!
But worth it, definitely!
Fat quality of course comes from a pig that has had a good life, good death and good food. Stress has an impact on the meat as well, this is why a clean kill is ideal, from what I’ve learned.
The fat for whole pig spit roasting is key since you are rendering the fat slowly over the fire versus breaking down a pig and using all the wonderful components it has to offer.
Since my focus on this site eat cured meat is meat curing and smoking, I will provide some ideas around how I’ve been using whole muscle and subprime cuts of meat from butchering a quality fat pig (over 12-14 month sow ideally).
I’ve butchered quite a few animals over the years, however, many of these are from wild animals I’ve harvested. (Similar in some ways, different in others)
When I have been butchering pork, it’s often been bought whole front shoulders, hind legs, and many of the common cuts from supermarkets and my butcher. I haven’t butchered a lot of farmed pigs.
Bone-in cuts often are more cost-effective, I enjoy taking the bones out of the ribeye, or shoulder. I often use a simple spice rub, then throw the bones into the air fryer for a quick component for dinner!
More recently, a friend (Pete) invested time and effort to grow a sow pig for 14-16 months, and enlisted his sons to rake acorns at the local park as a finishing feed for the pigs! (In small-town New Zealand, nobody minds this type of unique behavior)
Here is the pig!
My goal in writing this is not to give you the definitive guide, I want to just share my experiences and provide some ideas so you get a feel about what you could potentially try and plan out.
This type of butchery has been done for thousands of years, I am not doing anything new, all I want to achieve is conveying some ideas of whether it’s something you would want to take on.
Like my friends, we get pleasure out of butchery, no idea why, maybe we are hardwired for it. Don’t analyze, just enjoy it!
It was 3 to 4 days of work with 2 or 3 guys, when taking any life (animals, fish etc), killing comes with honoring it in my eyes, by spending time and effort producing something worthy.
Guide to Whole Pig Butchery – Smoking & Curing
I will do an overview of:
- Whole Pig Butchery
- Options for Curing and Smoking the Cuts of Meat
I am going to focus on smoking and curing different cuts of meat, and some ideas that just come to mind with different muscle groups. Which of course, can be made into many different delights!
Like dry cured salami (though this is an advanced aspect of dry curing in my opinion).
Also, I am very lucky my closest friend has a charcuterie den with all the facilities you could dream of for smoking and curing at home (or commercial for that matter).
Cooking or Smoking a whole pig is a feast! But personally, with some hard work, you can create an array of fantastic preserved products to be savored in many different ways.
As I have been based in tropical locations recently, I realized certain folks across the world will not have climates conducive to curing and then drying certain dry cured goods (unless it is done in a DIY curing chamber or the like – I wrote about that here).
Key Steps to Whole Pig Butchery
The assumption is that the pig is dead, and now the work begins:
- Hair Removal
- Remove Head with Saw and Knife
- Half Pig Lengthwise Down Spine
- Hang and Set Meat in Chiller or Overnight (ideally)
- Remove Feet /Trotters
- Start Dividing into 3 (and Quartering)
- Sort Meat By Whole Muscle or Diced/Minced
Now the recent pig, of maybe 180lb or 90kg. We had 2 or 3 guys doing the butchering (Pete, Dave & Myself). And 2 of us doing the curing, cold smoking, and salami making.
Although, we drank a little too much of the salami wine (Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Rioja etc…) during the process.
These were some long days, I would say 3-4 days of work (and drinking) in total. Including a bit of cold smoking in the evenings.
I just wanted to make sure you are aware of the investment, but the rewards are worth it! (anything worth achieving or doing shouldn’t and isn’t easy!)
1) Hair Removal
We had an old bath, and a 40-gallon drum with a fire under it. The water was heated to a scolding temperature, and very carefully tipped with long planks of wood, so we could bath the pig.
We tried the ‘chain’ method to start scrapping the hair off, this worked ok. For this pig, we didn’t quite hit the right scolding temperature.
Using some other sharp knives, we scrapped more of the hair off.
Then, we had to change over to the blow torch to finish the finer hair removal, around head and other areas.
You really have to be careful not to overdo the blow torch! Cooking is not wanted at this stage.
Another method, I have seen is rolling the pig around on burning straw and then scrapping with a knife, any of the methods you use will improve with experience. Like all things in life you have to learn the ‘knack’ of it.
Ideally, it’s hung up to make this job easier, both for finishing off hair removal and gut removal. Pete, being a thinker, has a hanging contraption outside the den and inside as well.
A decent size pig has a lot of guts, and you can use many of these parts for many projects:
- Heart (best for same-day consumption)
- Liver (best for same-day consumption)
- Intestines – casings for sausages, salamis
- Tripe – Stomach Lining, Haggis
Sweetbreads, Pates, Rillettes, Terrines, and the Spanish and a plethora of ideas for traditional use offal for!
Next time, we will be maximizing this also, because offal can spoil the fastest.
TIP – This should be planned as one of the first parts of the pig to process.
3) Remove Head with Saw and Knife
You need to do a little research on this, but from memory below the ears, using a knife, saw, then knife again when you get past the bone (spine) and back to the meat.
The head has many wonderful bits of meat to use, more on this later!
4) Half Pig Lengthwise Down Spine
To work with the main cuts, since a pig has 2 limbs and 2 of most things inside, here is where the good quality meat bone saw gets good use.
A decent size pig around that 200 pounds or 100 kg plus, will be some serious logistical work. Halfing the pig is the first stage of making it a little bit more manageable.
Don’t use a regular hacksaw, unless you want chips of bone.
Unlike a regular hacksaw blade that will splinter bone and cause ragged cuts, meat saws feature teeth that are wider, deeper, and cut through meat and bone smoothlyhttps://www.webstaurantstore.com/
5) Hang and Set Meat in Chiller or Overnight (ideally)
Could hang and do the pig halfing the next day, up to you. We liked the idea of halfing, then chilling to drop the temperature faster.
If you are able to, you shouldn’t be butchering a whole pig unless the temperature is cold, or you are in a large chilly area, without fly etc..
Letting the meat ‘set’ will make butchery of main muscle groups and subprime cuts a lot easier. It’s firmer and the fat is more solid to cut and work with.
The other important factor is minimizing bacterial growth, it’s incredible how unsalted fresh meat, has an exponential growth of unwanted bacteria, at temperatures above freezing point!
6) Remove Feet /Trotters
Before or after the steps above, use a knife. Some like to saw it, for a cleaner edge(up to you). Many Spanish Jamon whole salt cured hind legs actually have the trotter/hoof still on it!
Since this is a non-vital step, I would get to the more important steps done above, before getting to the hoofs/toes/feet of the pig. (pigs trotters, is a recipe/dish too!)
7) Start Dividing into 3 (and Quartering)
The quartering involves separating the loin from the pork belly, but first make cuts/saw across the hind leg, middle pork belly/loin, and the front shoulder/upper loin (for coppa more on this later).
For the traditional cut, it’s more than the front leg, since you have the front of the loin also (coppa). From memory, we actually took the ribs off before making this cut separating the main belly from the front leg.
You can use the front leg for sausages, salami, and stew meat.
Another option would be to debone and roll it up, there is a famous classic whole muscle Italian cut called, Spalla (link to info about traditional Spalla). You can kind of think about it like prosciutto cured/dried products, which have the bone removed from them.
And is stuffed into a casing.
Loin, Back Fat & Pork Belly
Pork Belly is a rather special part of the whole butchery, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is bacon. Although, as I have discovered there are many different styles and types of bacon you can look at!
I’m currently working on a bacon-making course online, which will cover these ways and techniques for bacon, even making bacon that is ‘smoky’ flavored without using a smoker!
The front shoulder cut from memory is 5 to 6 ribs down from the front (Traditional Italian Style)
Hind Leg Cut (Ham if you like)
The back leg cut is shown here, this is the cut for hind leg prosciutto, not a traditional hind leg USA butchery cut (let called that a ham cut).
A meat hack saw is necessary to make these cuts through the bone parts, whilst a very decent sharp knife should be used for the meat parts of these cuts (these hind legs weighed 22pounds/11kg).
Tenderloin (inside steak cut running along the backbone, outside of the gut cavity. Not much flavor some would say, a soft fast frying steak cut, good for hard-working butcher’s first day too!
7) Sort Meat By Whole Muscle or Diced/Minced
There will be many trims and chunks of meat from how you ‘square’ up your cuts, for cuts like Pancetta from Pork Belly. You will want to maybe have it in a rectangular shape, this is purely for aesthetics I presume!
Different Cuts and Options for Curing and Smoking
The Key Muscle Cuts Each Major Cut and Options
- Head – Jowl, Cheek, Tongue, Brain, Bones
- Loin – Either Whole or Split
- Pork Belly
- Front Leg
- Back Leg
- Back Fat (from under the loin mainly)
How To Smoke and Cure the Whole Muscle Cuts
It would take weeks to write about all the ways and methods I’ve used for different components, instead – I shall give you preferred options for various sections of the pig.
As mentioned, I am here to give you hopefully ideas, and possibly inspiration for this epic project!
Sometimes the butcher has pig heads on specials, I’ve worked out there are quite a few options with a pig’s head.
The main cut for curing I use is the jowl, which is kind of like the meaty part of the jaw, behind the cheek. This is a traditional muscle used for making Italian-style Guanciale, which can be thought of like an alternative to pancetta.
I dry cure this cut which, depending on the pig, can be 1-3kg/ 2-6 pounds of meat and fat. Often, the fat is quite developed and this is ideal for dry-cured salumi (Salumi is the traditional name in Italian for the major muscle groups of the pig that are dry cured – for preservation and exciting flavor!)
Often, my guanciale is just a salt and pepper cure, before drying until at least 30% weight loss has been achieved. Do note, that the fat does not contain as much water, so the universal guide for dry curing of 30% weight loss loosely applies.
I like to wait until the weight loss has ‘leveled out’ and doesn’t seem to be losing as much weight.
Cheeks and Tongues, I slow cook in herby or spice broths, like Mexican or Vietnamese Spices/Herbs.
Last time I used the bones and the brain to make pork stock, but I prefer removing the brain. It adds a ‘creaminess’ which personally is not my desired flavor.
Often in traditional butchery, the loin becomes some kind of fast-fried steak option. You can of course take slices off a whole loin and cook it on the grill, it’s a tender kind of cut generally.
In Traditional Italian Salumi or Spanish style, the loin is dry cured. However, the top third or quarter of the loin, in Italian style is spiced differently (coppa/capicola).
I’ll have to say also, that there are thousands of subtle variations from region to region across Italy, Spain, and many other countries that have done this for many centuries.
To simplify, the upper loin is Italian Coppa (or capicola), and some have said to me it has the perfect ratio of meat to fat running through it.
Which is 30%!
Now, funnily enough, 30% is a general guide for a meat-to-fat ratio for sausages and salamis also!
Often the recipes I have read about, heard about, or used for the rest of the loin are based on Lonzo (or Lonzino), which is often just salt and pepper!
Spanish have Lomo Embuchado for the loin, pimentón (paprika) and garlic play an important role here, like with much of the Spanish cuisine! Paprika I have discovered, dried but fresher is a much more exciting product when it has ‘aged’ and the variation in paprika are many! Not just smoked, Picante (hot) and dulce (sweet).
One of my favorite parts of butchery pigs is the pork belly.
Of course, we have bacon and pancetta. Pancetta is a herbed and dry cured style of salumi, the classic for carbonara pasta, BUT depending on the Italian nonna you are talking to, some will say guanciale is the best for this pasta dish!
Pancetta types of flavoring:
- Black pepper
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Garlic Powder
- Fennel Powder
Spanish have the garlic and pimentón, style of Panceta as well for this cut, however, its journey is the same, with
Though you can do a bone in or out prosciutto dry cured salt and pork style with the front leg. My preference is to take the time to remove meat/fat from the bones. Trim sinew and use it for sausages and salami.
Spalla (Cruda is the dry-cured version in Italian, and Cotto is the cooked verison like a ham), is the name for the traditional dry cured salumi style.
I am talking Chorizo, Soppressata, and Hungarian Cold Smoked Salami!
Prosciutto = Salt + Quality Pork + 12 months + Care + Patience
Hard Back Fat is worth more to me than flawless sapphires or solid gold.
You can cure fat alone with spices and max different types of Lardo.
It’s crucial for sausages and salami. Although I think we noticed because the pig was so well fed, the shoulder actually carried a lot of intermuscular fat and we probably didn’t need to add the extra amount to get to a 28-30% target fat percentage.
Often if the pig is well fed, the shoulder itself should have the right ratio, much like the top of the loin or coppa ratio.
Low and Slow Ribs, and pork stock! Which gets frozen into usable amounts.
A trick with this is to really reduce and concentrate stock, then freeze it into small tubes or ice cube trays!
Rather fashionable to pompous or fine dining restaurants more recently, deep-fried or salted and dried – pigs ears have popped up.
Never used them personally, just thought I would make a blank statement about them – yes you can cook them!
I have more recently started thinking about this since it has so many vitamins, minerals, and flavor! The Spanish are hugely fond of using blood in many cured or cooked products when butchering whole pigs.
A lot of dry-cured whole muscle cuts have skin on traditionally, this can help or hinder. It will slow drying since the weight loss will be slowed down with the skin on.
Often, I prefer to leave the skin on pork belly pancetta or cold smoked dry cured bacon, the finished product will have a wonderful by-product. It’s harder to remove the incredibly tough skin after dry curing, but you have an amazing flavor to throw into stock, stew or stock pot dishes.
I scissor cut chunks of this skin and freeze them for down the track.
Also, I like to dehydrate or use the oven on super low (with the door slightly open sometimes). Once the skin is as hard as plastic, in a temperate climate you can just cut it with scissors and store it on the shelf in an air-tight jar.
I throw a handful in the air fryer for some epic scratchings!
How to Cure and Smoke the Diced & Minced Bits
Well, this is an in-depth topic I can’t get into in detail here.
Here is a summary of our approach whilst butchering a whole pig.
Front shoulders/legs as mentioned, are often deboned and chopped into cubes. This creates the options for sausages and salami!
We have 2 bowels whilst deboning muscles.
For example, the shoulder/front leg. One for the ‘eels’ in the river, which is filled with sinew, any glands (lots around the jowl/head area), and anything that looks unappealing (blood clotting, etc).
The other bowl is the ‘sub-prime’ muscle group which is cubed and stored ready for the big job of mincing, mixing, stuffing, fermenting, cold smoking, and eating (eventually)!
Cubed and bagged, for Currys.
Minced and bagged, for dishes that need mince!
Other options For Cured and Smoked Meat from Pork
Jerky or Biltong
Using salt and vinegar, maybe some other key spices like chili and toasted coriander, I’ll be honest pork isn’t often used for this around here. But you can of course make jerky (drier often sweeter) or biltong (my favorite!) out of meat wild or farmed.
(Vinegar has a denaturing aspect, like cooking it)
Hot Smoked Sausage
Essentially a cooked and smoked salami, for some recipes the key is to cook them to a safe temperature, at a low enough temperature so the fat doesn’t render or melt.
Some emulsified meat sausages are cooked and sometimes smoked like this, like Frankfurters or Mortadella.
Brined and Pickled, then often smoked and simmered to completion, traditionally of course not done with pork, but can be done! a Deboned front shoulder can be ideal for this. Basically a pickled ham!
Smoked Cooked Ham
Like Xmas ham in a way, wet brined and smoked ham you can use front or back legs for this delight!
Here is a visualisation of whole muscle Italian meat curing, from left to right – guanciale (jowl), coppa (upper loin), pancetta, lardo, lonzino, prosciutto and some speck (from top of hind leg).
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for decades.
I Hunt, Fish, Forage, Buy, Butcher (Wannabe Norcini), Make, Savor (I’m not a Saviour), and love curing and smoking meat.
Learning and consuming in a circular fashion, I am always interested in what is happening around the curing and smoking world
Seeking the passionate behind the passion.