Whole Hog

Written by Nathan Beane

Summertime at Beane Farm is full of excitement. Honeybees are flying, garden vegetables are ripening and — on the best days — pillars of smoke are bellowing from the meat smoker.

I’ve smoked an assortment of wild meats over the years, from alligator sausage to black bear roasts. I’ve also experimented with an assortment of woods used for smoking. In this issue, I’ll share my favorite pulled pork recipe and the wood I use in my meat smoker that makes wild game, particularly pork, mouth-watering and delicious.

Although I’m afforded the luxury of hunting and harvesting wild hogs, my smoking method can be applied to commercially available pork, too. I realize everyone doesn’t have a “from a hunter near you” source for wild meats. Hunting is my passion, and I love providing sustenance throughout the year. Coupling that with using wood chips I style from trees growing in my backyard truly brings me closer to nature, which I love.

I raise heritage hogs in my own backyard, but I still count the days each year until archery season opens and the stalk for wild hogs through the sloughs and backwaters of the Mississippi Delta can recommence. I search for hogs in dense cover, like palmetto thickets, which allow me to sneak more effectively but also demand the hunt be a close encounter, as you can’t see more than 25 feet in any direction. With bow and arrow, this is ideal. I test my mastery as a hunter when I’m able to pause the rush of excitement to steady myself to draw my bow and wait for the shot.

When I successfully sneak up on a dozen hogs or more and wait patiently for a perfect shot, it’s a sensory overload. I feel a rush just hearing hogs feeding all around me and not being able to see a single pig because of the dense vegetation. Stalking from the ground as a hunting method is primal — complete with a looming uncertainty whether or not I will become a target to a large boar protecting his harem or getting between a sow and her piglets. What, perhaps, is even worse is the possibility of making a bad shot and having a hog go into defensive mode. Although I’ve never had such a close encounter, I’ve heard scary tales of such excitement when a hog goes “wild.”

Although pigs have eyesight no better than humans, their ears and noses are sharply attuned. Hunters must use the wind as a tool and be light on their feet. One wrong step or shift in wind and the deal’s off. This is why stalking wild pigs is such a thrill.  It’s a test of wits, patience and faculties as a hunter.

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For me, getting into the woods is the best part, but pursuing and harvesting a wild hog isn’t even half the work. The aim is for a product that doesn’t taste gamey or dry, but, rather, is an enjoyable feast. It is where the skill set of a hunter is really tested. I’ve been hunting hogs in Mississippi for five years and enjoy smoking pork, with pulled pork being my favorite. Knowing how to make a tasty meal to truly be savored makes the experience of the hunt all the more valuable. And since wild pigs are an invasive species, hunting allows me to do my part in controlling their population.

When preparing pulled pork from a hog, the shoulder or hindquarter of a hog is what’s used.

Collectively, these are termed quarter sections, and I age each quarter in salt and ice for a few days and then wrap them in freezer paper and freeze. These sections are easy to handle, require minimal work to prepare and allow for a ton of meat to be cooked. An average size hog I strive to harvest weighs about 125 pounds. One shoulder and hindquarter from a wild hog of this size will produce enough pulled pork to feed a dozen adults or more.

Two days before smoking I take the meat out of the freezer. The day before smoking, I unwrap the meat, wash and pat it dry. Each quarter section is then rubbed with mustard and stored in the refrigerator overnight. On the day of smoking, the meat is set out and a rub seasoning is coated on the mustard base of each quarter section.

Since wild pigs don’t possess the fat-to-meat ratio of domestic swine, the following step is important. Using an injection needle, I prepare a marinade that includes a dark beer, apple cider vinegar, olive oil and a few household seasonings. This mixture aids in keeping the meat moist during cooking and is a step I would never leave out. I mix the marinade thoroughly with a small whisk and inject the marinade into all portions of the hog quarters immediately before heading to the smoker.

The wood used to produce the smoke plays a major role in the flavor and aroma of the end product. Light woods, such as apple and maple, are often a simple choice and produce a mild smoke flavor. As you sample with spicier marinade and sauces, smoking meats with heavier woods, such as mesquite and hickory, produce a stronger smoke flavor. I’ve found black walnut, a close relative to hickory, to be ideal for wild meats, particularly pork. I procure walnut wood, season and chop into small pieces and soak overnight before adding to my smoker. I take handfuls of soaked wood chips and wrap up in foil to create a “smoke packet” with small slits at the top. This allows the wood to slowly combust and create copious amounts of smoke. Using this heavy smoke method, I add one foil packet every 45 minutes to an hour and after four hours of smoking, each quarter section is wrapped up in foil, with any leftover marinade poured atop each section and wrapped tightly. The meat is set back in the smoker and cooked at 230 degrees until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 210 degrees. I have found this temperature to produce meat of excellent pulled-pork consistency.

When removing each foil-wrapped quarter section, I am careful not to tear the foil so the broth created during cooking can be collected in a small glass dish. Once the meat has rested for about an hour, the meat is pulled, with bone, sinew and excess fat removed. Once the meat has been picked and is ready to eat, some of the leftover broth can be added to the meat and mixed well to keep the meat moist and flavorful. Eaten by itself or accompanying a spicy BBQ sauce, this pulled pork method is sure to please. I love it and have convinced many people who thought wild pork to be not ideal to eat to change their views.

Summer just isn’t summer without getting outdoors for some home smoking. The process itself is gratifying, but to taste the food is exhilarating. It’s fun to experiment with different species of wood, too. I’ve heard tales of walnut wood considered too spicy or bitter for smoking meats and would have never experimented with it had I not owned a few trees. I steer clear of softwood species, such as cedars and pines. The best ribs I’ve ever tasted came off my smoker and were from a home-raised pig. So the closer to home the food and the wood for smoking, the better I believe it will taste. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email to [email protected] If not, get that smoker warming up — there’s good eating up ahead.

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Nathan Beane

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