This Christmas my mom's side of the family decided to do something a little bit different than previous years. They wanted to have a hog roast using a pig that they had been raising for the past few months. This is, in part, because show animals have been bred to maximize the amount of meat on the animal through selective breeding and nutrient-rich feeds.
My mom's side of the family has been involved in raising livestock for several generations. My grandpa, who is in his late seventies, still owns and sells cattle as a matter of fact. But beyond cattle, my mother and her siblings raised pigs for the county livestock show, in which a judge would place the pigs and then they would go to auction to be sold.
The first step in the three-day process was to get a tub of water to a boil. This water is what is going to be used to scald the pig's skin after it is slaughtered. Scalding is necessary, so that it will be easier to scrape the pig and get rid of the hair.
There are several ways to slaughter a pig. One way is to use a knife and cut the throat. This is the method that is used in many slaughterhouses, but in those instances, the pig is, typically, first rendered unconscious by a bolt stunner. Another is to shoot the pig between the eyes. This results in a quick death, and it also preserves the integrity of the meat.
My uncle, Trey Cannon, and my step-dad, Eusebio Lopez, use a front-end loader to lift the dead pig out of the pen.
Trey begins to scald the pig in preparation for scraping off its hair.
Eusebio, and my grandpa, Harvey Cannon, try to scrape as much hair as possible.
The boiling barrel of water used to scald the pig.
The scraped pig right after it was weighed. According to the scale, it weighed about 210lbs. As you can see, the bullet did not cleanly hit the pig between the eyes like intended. The pig turned its head at the last minute, causing the bullet to enter through the back of the brain.
Eusebio begins to clean the pig. This consists of removing the internal organs without puncturing the gut - it can spoil the meat and is generally unpleasant to deal with - and breaking the sternum in order to drain the chest cavity of blood.
The tail bone must also be removed, so that the legs can be spread and the hams can be reached. All of the internal organs must be removed as well, and depending on the culture, they can be cooked or disposed of.
Eusebio breaks the sternum of the pig.
The pig wasn't going to be cooked until the day after we cleaned it since it was getting dark, and it was going to take too long to get the pit built and the pig seasoned properly. To keep the pig safe from wildlife, we wrapped it in plastic and placed it in a cattle trailer.
The next afternoon Eusebio used the front loader to bring the pig up to house where it will be injected and rubbed with a concoction of spices.
Trey is placing the cinder blocks for the above-ground roasting pit.
My mother, Tracy Vaughn-Lopez, and my aunt, Haydée Cannon, begin to cut and remove some of the ribs, so they apply the rub more easily.
Then they begin to inject the pig with seasonings.
The pig after it has been injected and rubbed with mustard and a blend of several different types of barbecue rubs and the roasting pit after it is readied for the pig.
The general rule of thumb is to cook the pig an hour for every 10 lbs. After we cut the head and feet off of the pig, it weighed about 130 lbs., which meant a 13 hour slow roast. If too much heat is added too quickly in the wrong areas, it will cause the meat to cook unevenly. This is why coals are used at each end, because if you placed them in the middle the loin and ribs would be cooked before the rest of the pig.
Everybody stands outside in the 40-degree weather next to the fire that is being kept alive in order to have fresh coals for the pit. At this point, the temperature inside the pit is about 120 degrees. Eusebio his daughter, Jackie Rodriquez, and his son-in-law, J.R. Rodriguez, stayed at the pit until 7 a.m. to watch for grease fires and to make sure the temperature inside the pit was consistent.
Saturday afternoon Tracy and Trey begin to remove the meat from the pit.
Tracy begins serving the roasted pork to guests.
Eusebio, who conceptualized the whole thing, jokingly said he would have to forget the experience before attempting it again, referring to the amount of effort required to roast the pig.
The remaining pigs lie together in their pen.