Some of my fondest memories are those of cooking whole hog BBQ near the banks of Black River just outside of Andrews, SC. I was a student of Tal Ethridge and every Fall after the first frost, we would slaughter a hog, dress it out, and let it hang at the Andrews Ice House for about a week while we prepared the pit for duty. Unlike some of the pits I have seen that cost upwards of a $1,000 or more, ours was simple, very simple. We used four walls of tin screwed together at the corners with steel slates and fence wire for the hog to rest on. A sheet of plywood covered the top to keep the heat in. Coals from the wood burning in a nearby barrel were carefully stoked and then shoveled underneath the hog to slow roast the beast to perfection.
While most people I know that tackle a whole hog tend to start at night, we started in the morning. Our goal was to work through the day and have the hog ready for a down home pig-pik’n come nightfall. Throughout the day, we mostly kept the hog skin side up. As the meat started to cook through, we would flip the hog and mop on generous amounts of my Gullah Gravy Low Country Moppin’ Sauce letting it pool on top of the ribs and into the hams and shoulders. As mid afternoon rolled around, it was time to put on a pot of chicken perlou followed by a pot of collard greens which we cooked with smoked ham hocks.
As the food cooked, we would hang lights from a small shed over to an old Black
Jack Oak tree. Chairs and stools would be placed around in a large circle and a table would be setup for plates, napkins, and plastic ware. Of course we had pickle slices, white bread, and plenty of sauce available to dress up the meal. With an hour or so to go, we had enough time to run home, clean up, grab our guitars, and head back to the river. As partygoers arrived, the sense of anticipation and joy filled the air. It was jubilant! They couldn’t wait to dig into the hog and neither could I! Slowly, the sun departed into night fall and I would take a pause to savor one of my most favorite moments of the whole evening, the sight of Spanish Moss hanging from an old tree silhouetted by an amber sun, BBQ wafting in the air, a crackling fire, and good people having a great time, laughing, playing music, and sipping bourbon.
At just the right time, we would take the hog out of the pit along with the collards and chicken perlou. After the plywood top was placed back over the pit, we would put the hog, perlou, and collards on top. Next, we would give the good Lord thanks for the feast we were about to receive and then dig in. Most people would go for the ribs and tenderloin and while those are respectable choices, I was always keen on the jowl and I usually had it to myself. In my opinion, it is one of the best kept secrets of a whole hog BBQ. With a typical plate containing a nice helping of collards, some chicken perlou, and a mound of BBQ, it wasn’t long before everyone was full. The beer and bourbon flowed, good old music was played, and we would all have a great time well into the night. Those were simple times and I would not trade them for anything.
So, if you are ever thinking about cooking a whole hog, remember, it’s not the $1,000 pit that makes it a success, it’s keeping it simple and enjoying the experience to its fullest. To illustrate this point, not too long ago while in Montana, some friends and I decided a whole hog BBQ would be a lot of fun. With a little elbow grease and $15 worth of rebar and wire fencing, we built the perfect pit for the perfect BBQ. It was simple and like my days of whole hog BBQ on the banks of Black River, I now had another fond memory with friends like brothers, good cheer, and good BBQ etched into the vault of time.