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Southern Traditions: The Pig Pickin', with Videos

Updated on January 29, 2013

Do you love Southern food? One of our favorite pastimes here in the Deep South is to get together and have a pig pickin’. You’ve heard of cooking a pig in the ground, right? Well, this is a similar but better way to cook a hog. In the traditional manner, the pig is wrapped in aluminum foil and placed in the ground over hot coals. Then dirt or rocks are scattered on the pig, and more coals are added. A luau pig is cooked much the same way, but instead of foil, the pig is wrapped in banana leaves.

For a South Georgia pig pickin’, a shallow hole is dug in the ground, and cinder blocks are place in the hole. Heavy wire mesh is then placed over the blocks. The pig is placed on the mesh. Around the edge of the hole, more blocks are placed, and sections of tin are placed on the blocks, over the pig.

Most folks use a 150-160-pound hog for this type of cooking. After the head, the hair, and the entrails are removed, you’ll end up with a dressed carcass of about 75-80 pounds. Before the pig is placed on the grill, it has to be opened up or butterflied so that it lies flat. The hide side should be up, away from the grill.

Meanwhile, the men have built a big fire of oak, often with some pecan wood thrown in for extra flavor. Using a shovel, the guys place hot coals all around the edges of the pig. Then they grab a beer or a glass of iced tea and “visit” while the pig cooks. They check the meat every so often to see if more coals are needed. When the hide begins to pull away from the meat, they turn the pig over to allow the other side to cook. In all, a pig this size generally takes around eighteen hours to fully cook.

Why is this method superior to the other methods mentioned above? Because the exposed meat gets more of the smoke, so you end up with a much smokier flavor. Also, the skin gets crunchy, and any meat exposed to the high heat will form what’s known as “bark.” This is my favorite part of the pork!

When the meat is done, it’s usually placed on a table, and it’s subsequently attacked by all humans within the range of smell. According to my Uncle Jack, at his hunting camp, the hunters often refer to the pig pickin’ as a buzzard pickin’. Since no women folk are around to observe their lack of manners, the men usually just grab a handful of meat off the carcass. No forks required.

At a mixed-company, the ladies have all made side dishes to go with the barbecue. Usual dishes include potato salad, slaw, garlic bread, biscuits, and all kinds of casseroles and desserts. If we’re lucky, my Aunt Mildred makes her famous fifteen-layer chocolate cake, which will definitely make you slap your grandma! If the season is right, there’ll be two or three watermelons cooling in a huge tub of ice, too. All this is washed down with gallons of sweet iced tea.

Oops! I almost forgot the sauce. Everyone has his own favorite barbecue sauce, and a lot of the men bring their own concoctions, with each swearing his is best. These range from thin hot sauces to mustard-based sauces to tomato sauce and molasses-based sauces.

The eating is normally done outside, on picnic tables. If it’s in the summer, ancient pecan trees provide welcomed shade. Before the meal, someone says grace. After everyone is stuffed, there’s usually a guitar player or two in the crowd, and maybe a banjo picker. They play a few tunes, and folks join in the singing. If it’s still daylight, the kids choose teams and play a game of baseball. If night has fallen, they’ll catch fireflies or engage in a few rounds of “ain’t no boogers out tonight.”

After their dinner settles, folks will start moseying back to the food table for another taste or two. They want to make sure they didn’t miss anything on their first round.

After a few hours, everyone’s tired and sleepy and ready to sleep off their “barbecue drunk.” This doesn’t involve alcohol – it’s being so full of vittles that all the blood rushes to your belly. The food is put away, and all the guests return to their own homes to dream happily about the best things in life: faith, family, friends, and simple pleasures.

To learn how to cook a luau pig or to cook a pig on a rotisserie, watch the videos below.

How to cook a whole pig.

How to cook a pig in the ground.


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