Friday, February 4, 2011

Pigs: Preparing the Super Bowl Pig



Yesterday was a very cold February day, and the Super Bowl is this weekend. Slaughtering pigs in the winter is business as usual for us, since we often avoid keeping them in the summertime for reasons of offensive odor. The process is slightly complicated by the extreme cold, but Mr. Farmer and his current partner are hardy men. Three days is the minimum acceptable lead time between slaughter and cooking, so yesterday was the day- whether the weather cooperated or not.

The selected beast was a barrow (neutered male) of about 16 weeks of age. More than sufficient to feed the 20-30 guests we are expecting (with leftovers!), it was among the youngest and smallest we have at the moment. Its diet was one primarily of corn and alfalfa pellets, supplemented with vegetable table scraps and eggs. It was wormed a few weeks ago and had a clean bill of health.

We find the so-called Kosher-kill somewhat distasteful. Instead we use a variation of what is commonly called the "pithing" method. A small caliber firearm is placed to the animal's head and fired. The pig is immediately lobotomized and drops to the ground. Then the large artery in the neck is cut (or "stuck"- as it is often called) and all motion stops in less than a minute. Unlike the Kosher-kill, only the artery is cut, and not the windpipe. To do so would be noisy, messy, and unpleasant. Even small piglets, whose thin skulls make pithing ineffective (the bullet travels straight through without severing the brain stem), are only stuck through the main artery, never the windpipe.

The state of the animal at the time of its slaughter has significant effect on the meat, so a quick kill is not only humane, but also advantageous. If the beast is stressed,  like any mammal, the intense activity causes a build up of lactic acid in the large muscles of the body. Lactic acid is not delicious, and- in an animal destined for butcher- is even inconvenient to clean up. I have first hand experience in both butchering and eating a pig that had to be wrangled for a significant amount of time in order to put it down, and the difference in quality was obvious. The commercial practice of hanging pigs live for several minutes or longer, then Kosher-killing them, is unacceptable. A peaceful passing is best for everyone.

Some animals are for companionship, others are for consuming.

After the pig is dispatched, the real work begins. A pig destined to be roasted whole is a little more work than one to be butchered. First, it gets a good bath with soap and lots of good, clean, cold water. Then the hair is removed though a labor-intensive and repetitive process of dipping in boiling water (it takes longer to boil that water than it does to process the pig),  or laying sand bags dipped in boiling water on the skin, then scraping with a sharp knife. It is much like shaving a man's whole body- if all of his body hair was bristly like an old man's beard. If the pig was to be displayed, such as at a picnic or outdoor party, Mr. Farmer would even take a razor to the harder to reach places, like around the snout.

Once sufficiently cleaned, the entrails are removed. The process could be an entire essay of its own. In short, the pig is hung by the rear legs, and is cut around the anus. The anus is then tied off with twine. Another incision is made from tail to chin, and the digestive tract is removed in its entirety, then tied off at the esophagus and discarded. Heart, lungs, liver, etc. are then removed, and the chest cavity is washed again with cool water. Organ meat is sometimes discarded, but more often it is put aside for use in scrapple or dog food. The prepared pig is then wrapped in a clean trash bag to help prevent drying out and hung in the walk-in refrigerator to rest.

With practice, the process is a half-day's work, not counting the time it takes the water to boil. Since any meat is most delicious roasted whole instead of in parts, this will be a very special treat. I wish I had time to make homemade apple sauce....


  1. I thought you did a very nice job of describing the process -- not grisly at all. I appreciate the attention to the peaceful and humane killing of the animal. So many people get upset about how animals are slaughtered for our consumption -- I recently saw an Oprah special where they visited a slaughterhouse and showed how the cattle were processed. The audience was horrified, but the killing was actually quite humane. The animals were kept calm and rendered brain-dead before their arteries were cut. They never panicked or knew what was happening. I don't personally like to think about all the details of how the meat is processed, but truly, the animal has to be killed SOMEHOW, so why do we get angry when we hear about it, even when it is done in the most humane manner possible?

    It sounds like you truly enjoy the cooking of the pig and being able to provide a delicious meal for so many people, and that you really have respect for the animals. Bravo for having the courage to post something that some might find offensive, and enjoy your delicious roast!

    P.S. The pig in the picture is really quite adorable, though... I imagine as a farmer you learn to stop seeing them as cute, and to start seeing them as Y-U-M-M-Y! lol

  2. Yes, the piggy looking up over the fence broke my heart. I think you should train him to act in movies, instead of butchering him. Well, maybe not.

  3. It is a little late for training him. However, it is not too late to change the photo, which I am seriously considering.