January 25th, 2012
01:00 PM ET
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It takes a few people to flip a smoking hot hog. That's just plain old physics, but nobody seems to mind. Mostly because if there is indeed fire, a whole pig and at least couple of like-minded individuals tending to such things, there's generally a certain quantity of beer or brown spirits in the vicinity. Just to be social, of course.

Cooking a whole pig down into hunks and strands of sopping, succulent barbecue doesn't just take an hour or two. Sure, you could stick a hunk of pig meat into a microwave for a few minutes, and have some hot meat, but that is as close to whole hog barbecue as a Little Debbie is to Lady Di's wedding cake.

It takes skill, brawn, expertise and experience. It also takes plenty of time, building up a burn barrel of coal and wood, cutting the carcass so it sits just so over the heat, then injecting or rubbing it for added flavor (that's their business, and good luck trying to get a pitmaster to give up the secret of their signature blend).

After that, it's got to be hauled on out to the smoker or pit, flopped into place and left alone. It's often said that if you're looking, you ain't cooking – and it's an awful lot of work not looking. Luckily, there never seems to be a shortage of people who are willing to stand around helping with that.

A pitmaster can't stray too far from their fire, which at some point will need to be replenished. So, their selfless compatriots, god bless 'em, will agree to stand around throughout the night to drink and jaw and get a little bit dumb, and offer counsel and muscle when their friend does have to lift open the rig to baste, turn, foil-wrap spots that are beginning to burn and get temperature readings from all over the animal.

And yes, sometimes, that hog has got to be flipped. It's wet, hot dead weight and there's no way it won't get a little messy. But again - no one seems to mind, because they know what's in store twelve to twenty hours later. Heft...grunt...THUNK. Glad that's over; who needs a beer?

When the inside readings are just right, the skin is crisped, and the whole thing just feels right to the pitmaster's all-knowing eyes and hands, that bleary-eyed, scratchy-throated crew will haul it off the heat, throw it down on a table and begin to pull off choice bits while the hordes come up and start to pick at the carcass. A crowd has surely built by now. If they haven't been lured in by the heady perfume of woodsmoke and pig fat, word has just somehow spread: come over, we're having a pig picking.

A whole hog is a beast for being social. That much meat is cause for a celebration in and of itself, or it might be the centerpiece of a fete – a graduation, a birthday, a wedding. No matter the genesis, it's a good freaking time, and people grin like crazy as they jam thick ropes of meat into one another's mouths in feral communion.

There are generally buns and slaw and baked beans about and people eat them to be civilized, but really, they just want to sneak back and back and back for another bite. Ideally, they can assemble one that's the perfect alchemy of floppy, sloppy meat and crisp, smoke-snapped skin, with just a light kiss of tangy vinegar sauce, but they might need a little counsel from the pitmaster.

Good luck with that. If they're not mobbed by a throng, they're slumped over in a stupor of pig fat, brown liquor and a night spent tending to your lunch. Let them nod off in peace; they deserved it. Just save them enough for a sandwich later - if it hasn't been all hogged down.

Amy Mills
Organizer Amy Mills and Famous Dave

Images and videos above were taken at the BBQ MBA seminar at 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro, Illinois. Our managing editor spoke about social media for barbecue pitmasters, then got to sample five different styles of whole hog from pitmasters around the country. She's still in a pork coma.

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Filed under: Barbecue • Cuisines • Cultural Identity • Culture • Favorites • Rituals • Southern • Video

soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Tanya

    With my pregnancy in full swing, nothing sounds better than some BBQ pork right now. I would even take a pickle with that, although I'm not sure my husband would agree! Tanya Monique Glascoe

    January 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  2. Brian S

    We used to have a pig roast every summer at our family reunion... some of the best memories of my life. My brother and I plan to re-start the tradition this summer!

    January 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  3. hardhead

    In Tennessee we flip them. But only when the boss cook says it's time.

    We put hickory slabs in a 55 gal burn barrel and shovel the coals under the hog. The novices are allowed to shovel coals but nothing else.

    January 26, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
  4. Chuck , Kansas

    I,ve done three dozen whole hogs since i started catering and i never turn them once they are on the heat. All we do is stuff them, sew them closed , and start the cooker and its moist and tender when its done.

    January 26, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  5. rayben

    Bum's BBQ, Ayden, NC. Skylight Inn, Ayden, NC. Bunn's BBQ, Windsor, NC (really great), B's BBQ, Greenville, NC. Wow, I really need some BBQ right now! There is NOTHING like North Carolina BBQ.

    January 26, 2012 at 9:06 am |
  6. Grumpster

    Oh, the PETA people are just going to have a field day with this story. MMMM.......tasty pig!

    January 26, 2012 at 7:57 am |
  7. Lexi

    Hog Barbecue is it?
    In our country, we call it lechon. :D

    January 26, 2012 at 5:02 am |
    • Jorge

      Amen, I've had whole hog BBQ in Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee, but none like the hogs that turn on a rod all night in Guavate, Puerto Rico or Little Cuba, Miami. Those guys know the swine is ready when they slap a knife across the pig's back and the reddish-brown skin cracks like old bread, smell of garlic, oregano and roast pig wafting down the road for a mile, outstanding.

      January 26, 2012 at 8:12 am |
      • Thread Nazi

        @Jorge, you seem to have perfected the art of being positive and negative at the same time. That's quite a disgusting picture you painted.

        January 26, 2012 at 8:31 am |
    • Matt

      I've enjoyed Lechon in the Philippines. Amazing. The crispy skin, the fat, the meat. Oh, My God. THE best I've ever tasted.

      May 15, 2014 at 9:16 am |
  8. grumpygus

    BBQ is awesome. But I dig pig Hawaiian style too, cooked underground. It's a lot of work digging the pit and moving rocks and all, but you just cram everything in there, kalua pig, maybe a turkey, even dessert, and seal it up tight and it falls off the bone when it comes out. Not saying one is better – I'm happy there's both.

    January 26, 2012 at 3:28 am |
  9. Famous Dave

    I got a kick reading these posts and the critiques of self righteous know it alls about how to smoke whole hogs... I am a believer that any hog bathed all night in billows of holy smoke are divine whether they are flipped or not. What amazes me is that you have criticisms coming from folks who rarely smoke hogs versus the pitmasters gathered here who most of them have done this for a living all their lives! Sam Jones is a 3rd generation pitmaster from Skylight Inn Barbecue whose family smokes up 50 to 60 hogs a week. Pat Martin from Martin's Barbecue in Nashville smokes up these babies weekly. Mike Mills from the legendary 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro has more championship trophies that he needs a warehouse for them all is one of the most knowledgable pitmasters in the country! The hogs were amazingly tasty. Each one was different. So whether they were somersaulting in the pit or just laid out flat the whole time–the most important thing is that these hogs were tasty! From a obsessive passionate BBQ lover myself... the only thing that matters is that they tasted good! The whole experience was humbling for me to be with some of the best pitmasters in the country. To see the barrels of hardwoods burning down for the coals and the constant stoking of the coals into the pits. Watching the dragons' breath of flying sparks flying out of the barrels in the early morning hours provided an erie glow against the glistening pig skin being swabbed by these pitmasters almost seemed liked some ancient rite of passage. As many times as I have smoked hog all night...for me the thrill was being bathed in all the billowing smoke and listening to these guys share a lifetime of "Hog's Gone Wild" stories all night and then devouring the smokey meat off the bone the next day always brings out the inner caveman in me! I am seriously appreciative of the fact that our Good Lord started all of this when he started this whole "burnt offering" thing back in the Old Testament. But when he created woman from a rib bone thats when all this squabbling started! "Famous Dave"

    January 26, 2012 at 3:02 am |
    • Dan Kaiser

      You have a way with words, Dave. Poetic!

      January 26, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  10. mmi16

    No wonder Jews & Muslims are at each others throats. There is nothing like a Pig Roast to bring people togeather in peace, harmony and pig fat. Low & Slow – Good Eats!

    January 26, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  11. lsj401

    I don't think any of these guys are redneck republicans

    January 25, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  12. Vito The Cleaner

    Why go to all the trouble of having to flip your Pig? Just purchase one of these, THE La Caja Chinese Pig Roaster. Me and The Boys did one of these in the end zone of The Meadow Lands years ago. Jimmy Hoffa wasn't so " tuff " after being in this Box.

    January 25, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      La Caja China is wonderful, no doubt, but this is a different flavor at a much lower heat. Flipping and time might sound like a pain, but that's really a big part of the fun.

      January 25, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Glenda

      Wynik może sgureować, że było to łatwe zwycięstwo, jednak goście postawili poprzeczkę najwyżej spośród drużyn grających w Kielcach w tym sezonie.(za portalem Handball)Myślę, że więcej komentować nie trzeba.Brawo Chrobry, brawo trenerzy!

      January 31, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • bhvficdt

      fwVZ41 asouoduhuceb

      February 6, 2012 at 3:41 am |
  13. meruncc13

    Now they are talking BBQ – this is how they do it in Eastern NC (and my personal perference!)

    January 25, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  14. Raisincat

    This Saturday I will be attending the Beer Bourbon BBQ in NYC. The evening session is whole hog BBQ and I can't wait!

    January 25, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  15. OrtegaM

    I just watched them flip that pig. OMG! Why? Those that know how to roast a pig also know that if they do it right there is no need to flip it! The video shows that they are burning it up! Gringos don't know how to cook whole pig. Do it right and you never ever flip it!

    January 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Tr1Xen

      You're absolutely right. I live in Texas and have had whole hog bbq many times and can definitely vouch for that!

      January 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Gringo

      You must know your stuff because I've seen plenty of pigs down in your neck of the woods. Most of them charge too much though. How about your sister?

      January 25, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
  16. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Always wanted in on some of that action. That and those picnic table seafood feasts with the garbage cans full seafood and shell fish piled on them.

    January 25, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      Now I will be going to the local famous Dave's this weekend.

      January 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
      • Porky Pig

        Will you pull my Pork Jdizzle?

        January 25, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Always glad to return the favor.

        January 25, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
      • suj

        Dave is a friend of mine, say hi for me. Those guys are doing good w/ a portable grill. Our gang, no matter where we go we make a pit bbq on the site, whole hog and it doesn't get turned over like that. And yes, beer and bourbon is part of the wait sauce.

        January 25, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  17. palintwit

    I saw the word hog and I immediately assumed this article was about Bristol Palin.

    January 25, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Brian

      You know your obsession is starting to get scary. I hope you are under investigation as a Palin stalker.

      January 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
      • palintwit

        I hpe you are under investigation as an imbecile.

        January 26, 2012 at 1:25 pm |
      • Brian's Mother

        Bah-ha-ha-ha! Good job, PT!

        January 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • BobD


      January 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • suj

      she's got taint. I'd hesitate to put bits of her in a fur trap.

      January 25, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  18. Vanessa

    I live just down the road from Martin's BBQ Joint, and I've never had any BBQ that's as good as Martin's. By far the best around. If you're in the Nashville area, it's definitely worth the 30-minute or so drive.

    January 25, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
  19. Fiona

    My comment on the offensive headline this story got on the home page was just pulled. You censored yourselves, CNN.

    January 25, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • MarileeBob

      Offensive headline? If you're so easily offended, perhaps you should hide yourself away in a closet somewhere?

      January 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Ron Jeremy

      Pull this,Baby cakes.

      January 25, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Hi there. It wasn't pulled - just sometimes the comments filter takes a while to let things through. As for offensive, I'm so sorry, but I don't understand what you mean. The pun might be a little tired, but it's very standard BBQ language. What upset you?

      January 25, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
    • Chris, Austin

      No, your original complaint is still there. But I don't want you to miss my reply, so I'm re-posting it:

      Fiona, SOWnds like the reason you don't know where to start is that you don't know what you're offended about, after all.

      I don't go in whole hog for political correctness, but I don't turn up my snout at anyone expressing their feelings. We-we-weeeeeee on this forum would certainly like to know what it is that's got you so upset – you should take it easy, you'll get a sty. Really, you should stop all this sWhining and hamming it up, and just let your porksonal feelings be known.

      All the way home.

      January 25, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  20. Fiona

    The title for this on the home page is so offensive on so many levels that I don't know where to start "Pigging Out on the Whole Hog"? Disgusting.

    January 25, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Judge Judy

      Git over Chickie Baby or I'll find you in contempt of being an air breather that normal people need.

      January 25, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
    • Micheal Weston

      Seriously Fi, what about it is offending you? As of my comment posting, the CNN headline reads, "Pig Out on Whole Hog BBQ" The headline in your comment doesn't seem offensive either. Pardon the pun: what's your beef?

      January 25, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • OrtegaM

      Fi Fi F-idiota That's offensive!

      But really, want to learn how to roast pig? Visit South America! In Cuenca Ecuador you will find a pig roast every other mile! I don't remember if I have ever eaten a bad pig, but maybe she remembered me.

      January 25, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • Chris, Austin

      Fiona, SOWnds like the reason you don't know where to start is that you don't know what you're offended about, after all.

      I don't go in whole hog for political correctness, but I don't turn up my snout at anyone expressing their feelings. We-we-weeeeeee on this forum would certainly like to know what it is that's got you so upset – you should take it easy, you'll get a sty. Really, you should stop all this sWhining and hamming it up, and just let your porksonal feelings be known.

      All the way home.

      January 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  21. Chris Chamberlain

    The smoker apparatus from The Shed deserves a Nobel Prize in redneck engineering. Brilliant!

    January 25, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      That was a work of science, will, whiskey and magic, to be sure!

      January 25, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
      • Steve C.

        North Americans are so silly. Pig roasts in South America and Asia are the best and they have the best of the simple equipment to do it.

        January 25, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
      • Patrickk@Steve C.

        Actually, fine sir, I beg to differ. Pig Roasts in Europe are, in fact, the best to be found anywhere on this fine earth. Why, just the other day, some friends and I were galavanting around town, drinking red wine and sniffing the cork, when we came across a pig roast. To my suprise, we were invited to join and partake in some of their wonderful porcine goodness. I said to my friend, Wentworth, "By jove, Wenty my boy! This has to be the most fantastic pig in the world!" So there you have it, my good man! Pip pip cheerio!

        January 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
      • Steve C.

        I'm only familiar with Germany's pig. It is fine for sure. All of their morning smoked critters are very good. Germans know how to smoke!

        January 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
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