The Cajun Village will have two smoked hogs at its 21st Annual Fall Fest next month. It is no secret that smoking hogs and barbecuing go hand in hand with Southern history. Afro-American food historian Michael Twitty provides a great summation in his blog post on The Colonial Roots of Southern Barbecue:
“[In the past] the meat was prepared over a sapling grill over oak and hickory logs that had burned down from a roaring fire to a fine hot bed of coals, and then tossed soaked hickory and oak chunks over the coals to produce a steady flow of steam and smoke to give the meat flavor.
“Cooking over sticks and saplings was known to both early indigenous Virginians as well as the indigenes of the West Indies, where the word “barbacoa,” was encountered by the Spanish in the 16th century. The word barbecue also has roots in West Africa among the Hausa, who used the term “babbake” to describe a complex of words referring to grilling, toasting, building a large fire, singeing hair or feathers and cooking food over a long period of time over an extravagant fire.
“Even as barbecue certainly has roots among Native Americans and Europeans, it was enslaved Africans and their descendants who became heir to multiple traditions and in turn incorporated those traditions into a standard repertoire known as Southern barbecue. I recognize barbecue as a multicultural, co-evolved culture rather than the sole product of any one of the individual ethnic blocs to which we owe its existence.
“[In the South] the barbecue was always inherently political—as a “gift” to enslaved people, it bought good will, discouraged resistance and rewarded people pushed beyond their limits….an old, sick, injured or surplus animal (there may not be enough grain or fodder to feed it…) was culled and divided up…As a tool of political coercion, barbecues were used in early Southern culture to foment connections among planters and their families and later became a critical ingredient in the performance of political rallies and the selling of candidates. Again, enslaved men were in many cases the early pitmasters, and their “wok presence,” is felt both in the documentary evidence left to us as well as the recollections and memories left by Southerners of generations ago as well as those for whom this is a living memory.”
Barbecue was also present throughout South Louisiana’s history, although it arrived a hundred years late (after 1719) than it did on the East Coast. Barbecue would have followed the large influx of Europeans and Africans into the port of New Orleans and their subsequent migration up the Mississippi River, making its present felt in our area (Burnside, Louisiana) on the many plantations that dotted the banks of the river.
Below is a brief list of how to smoke a whole hog. The challenge with whole hog is that there are so many muscles of different thickness with different degrees of fat, sinew, and collagen. However, there are tricks to get everything tender and juicy. Since we normally get hogs that average 100 pounds, we can expect it to take 12-14 hours for one hog to cook.
A week or two before. Order the hog.
The day before. Build the pit by digging a large hole a foot and a half deep. Pick up the hog and keep it chilled.
4:00 a.m. Dress and clean the hog, inject and season (Twitty’s blog post above for seasoning tips), prep it for the pit. Start fire in pit. Aim for 250°F.
8 a.m. Find an assistant/pigsitter and place pig between metal wire. Hang wire rack over fire. Monitor pit temp closely. Rotate pig every half hour
9:00 a.m. through 2 p.m. Monitor pit temp closely, add wood if the temp is declining and check to make sure pig is cooking evenly
2:00 p.m. 6 hours into the cook, check the meat temp. Continue to rotate pig.
4:00 p.m. 8 hours into the cook, check the meat temp, paint the entire cavity with one coat of your favorite barbecue sauce. Have a beer.
4:30 p.m. One more coat of sauce
6:00 p.m. 12 hours in, check the meat temp, remove the hog if it is ready, and serve dinner!