So you want to fill your freezer with pork. And you want to do so by buying a whole pig raised sustainably by a local farmer. You want it humanely raised, killed, gutted, cleaned, cut, smoked, wrapped, and delivered it to your door. Maybe you want to smoke it (or even butcher it) yourself, or even make your own sausage.
But how much meat and what types of cuts can you expect to fill your freezer with? Why invest in a whole hog at all?
Pigs sold as whole hogs can have varying weights, but figure on a 250lb pig (live weight) which becomes 180lbs (72%) of hanging weight. That hanging weight can yield approximately 120lbs (67%) of the typical cuts you’d find at the grocery store. The whole porker is delicious snout-to-tail, so you can get a bit more than that 120lbs if you desire.
Pigs are extremely versatile animals, where every part of it can be eaten in one form or another. If you are paying for a whole pig (or half,) ask for all the parts, even the offal (weird cuts!) and try something new. ASK FOR EVERYTHING. It’s your pig!
Typically the slaughterhouse will also be the butcher/processor of your pig. Including the smoking and sausage making. Otherwise, you will need to have your pig transported to a custom-exempt butcher. Either type of butcher should have a standard “cut sheet” that tells you what cuts you’ll get. If you stray from that cut sheet, you may pay a little more, but it could be worth it to get the exact cuts you want. You can choose whether you want to keep certain parts, such as the skin, bones, head, organs, and trotters.
QUESTIONS FOR THE BUTCHER, SLAUGHTERHOUSE, OR FARMER
- If you plan to make your own sausage, ask for all the fat. They may even chop it up for you.
- If you plan to make your own bacon, ask for the bellies to be unsmoked slabs. Consider the size of your smoker for the final size of the slabs, or you could cut them at home. They will be heavy as whole slabs.
- If you want the hocks smoked, tell the slaughterhouse, butcher, farmer, or whomever is smoking your meat.
Once you’ve decided that you want to fill your freezer with a whole hog and have found a farmer who can raise one for you, consider the types of cuts you’ll get and all the possibilities that await with snout-to-tail eating.
Types of pork cuts
Each side of the pig has between 15 and 30 chops, depending on whether you want them bone-in or boneless, thick or thin. Like me, you might prefer your chops 3/4” or an inch thick, or even double cut.
You can get at least five or six smaller ham roasts or fresh hams from each back leg. Get them smoked, smoked them yourself, or if you make lots of sausage, ask to have a portion of the ham ground.
Each side of a pig has a Boston butt and a picnic, which can be transformed into roasts, stew meat, or ground meat. Cut-and-wrap operations usually will split each of these into two or three smaller roasts. Or they’ll turn the picnic roast into stew meat or ground pork for sausage or plain ground.
Belly (AKA bacon!)
There are two bellies on a whole pig, one on each side, because the pig’s belly is always split down the middle at the time of slaughter to clean it. You can ask the butcher to make bacon for you, or you can ask to receive the belly whole or cut into smaller pieces to make your own bacon.
You’ll get four of them. Ask the butcher to add these to the smoked items. Use them in soups and stock.
Ask for the bones. They make great stock and bone broth. Dogs love them, too.
There will be two racks of ribs. You can specify whether you want the butcher to take the ribs off of the belly, which you can then use as soup bones, or whether you want the ribs cut into baby back or spare ribs (among other styles of rib).
This is the kidney fat. Rendered leaf lard makes for excellent pie crusts.
If you don’t like a lot of fat on your pork chops, ask the butcher to trim off the fatback and give it to you in cubes. You can render the fatback down for lard, or you can use it to make rillettes or sausage. Sausage makers (and especially folks that make lamb sausage) would love to get their hands on your surplus fatback for their sausages.)
If the slaughterhouse is able to scald and scrape the skin to remove the pig’s hair, you can get the skin wrapped, too. It can also be used to wrap and cover lean cuts of meat or wild game during cooking, and can help prevent freezer burn to cuts like the tenderloin and roasts. Ask to have the skin left on your roasts and pork chops, especially if you plan on smoking them yourself. When cooking, the tasty bits in a pan or pot make great human snacks and dog treats.
These are the pig’s feet. You’ll get four of them, if you want them (you do!) They are chock full of nutritious and delicious gelatin.
The head has so many uses: tongue tacos (AKA lengua), porchetta di testa, posole, jowl bacon (AKA guanciale), stock. Don’t throw that pig head away!
Organs, AKA offal
The heart, liver, spleen, and kidneys all can be turned into delicious dishes. Like terrine, pâté, country pâté, chopped fine into meatloaf, etc.