The Lost Art of Down South Hog Butchering

It’s always feral hog season in the Southeast, but what do you do with all that pork?

The Lost Art of Down South Hog Butchering

Cast-iron pots more than 100 years old have handled chores from serving as a bathtub to boiling pigs for the annual autumn hog killin' and prep. These pots are part of America, a part disappearing every day. (Photo: Michael Dewitt)

Author’s Note: With many Americans out of work and store shelves strangely empty, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has served as a reminder to all of us that life can be uncertain and the means to survival isn’t always a grocery store away. The old ways were good ways, and perhaps we shouldn’t let them die.   

Pigs on the ground. In the old days, the killing would begin well before dawn. A prayer to thank the Good Lord for the lives offered to feed our families, and then every man was responsible for dropping his own pigs painlessly and cleanly. That was our way.

Men and soon-to-be men gathered around a fiery wood stove, steam rising from coffee and breath in the frigid Southern morning air. Breakfast was grits, fried pork or last year’s sausage, eggs from a chicken that slept just a few feet away, finished off with hoe cakes and syrup.

The first hint of daylight would find pigs hanging from gambrels under ancient oaks that could bear witness to generations of farming traditions like this. Course, wiry hair was steamed and scraped off in huge vats that doubled as sugar cane syrup boilers. Meat hanging, the head and choice organs were removed and set aside for cleaning and cooking. Almost every part of the pig was used, down to the “chitlin’s,” which the older women would clean out with a stick and a bucket of water.

“The old folks always joked that they used every part of the pig except for the hair and the squeal,” said Perry McAlhaney, who still lives on this century-old family farm his grandparents built. “Those old people came up in The Depression, when there wasn’t anything to be had and no one had much cash money to speak of. What they had, they had to grow it or shoot it, and you didn’t throw anything away.”

The last man to arrive always caught hell and jokes. “Here comes ‘Old Blister!’ Shows up when the work is done!” The young are put to work chopping firewood and wrestling carcasses to the cutting table, the veterans put their knives to work separating meat from bone, and the older men — or the lazy men, depending on who you ask — volunteer to build the fire and tend to the boiling pots. This isn’t Paula Deen cookware — these are large cast iron pots that are 90-something years old and counting. Want to talk about priceless? Those same deep-black, smoke-smudged pots have cooked liver pudding, washed clothes and even bathed young’uns for three generations of Southerners. You can’t find a pot like that in Wal-Mart.

Making Meat

Forget the local butcher: we cut our own chops and roasts around here, as well as grind, stuff and smoke our sausage and even make our own bacon and lard, but the grand finale is always the liver pudding. Into the pudding pot went the head, tongue, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs (the old timers called them the “lights” because they float to the top) and the spleen, along with neck bones, shanks and other scrap pieces. Some ate the tongue and organs straight from the pot, while the more squeamish waited for the finished product. I counted myself among the ranks of the squeamish.

Seasoned, boiled down and pulled off the bone, the meat and organ mixture was then seasoned with sausage seasoning, ground with cooked or raw onions, garlic and rice, then stuffed into casings with a sausage press just as old as those hallowed ebony pots. There is nothing finer than country liver pudding and hot, buttery grits on a cold morning.

In those days, it was a family get-together that rivaled Christmas: kids running and playing in the cornfields and lots, women chatting while tying up sausage links, men in overalls laughing at something they didn’t want their wives to hear. There was usually a bottle of brown liquor hidden somewhere around. Those were long days but mighty fine days, a time looked forward to and appreciated. When the last pot was washed and fire kicked out, you would go home tired, the smell of wood smoke on your clothes, but there would be plenty of meat for the freezer.

“The old ways are still important, because there will come a day when you might not be able to drive four miles to a store and come back with something to eat,” McAlhaney reminds us. “And the best part is, you know what you are eating and it’s all natural.” 

Modern Problems, Ancient Solutions

Nowadays, Southern families don’t raise kids or livestock in the same numbers we used to. There is no longer a need to butcher a half-dozen hogs a year to feed hungry mouths. But in our corner of the South Carolina Lowcountry, we continue most of the old ways, partly out of tradition, and partly to solve a modern problem that plagues farmers like us up and down the Coosawhatchie river swamp: wild hogs.  Trapped or shot, we need them out of our corn and peanut fields, and it’s not our style to let good meat go to waste.

The shoats are marinated in orange juice then baptized in vinegar and spices over charcoal grills. The mature, more gamey hogs? The centuries-old methods our fathers and grandfathers used for farm-raised pigs are also well suited for wild hogs bred in swamp muck and mud. Sausage seasoning is a great equalizer, and highly seasoned sausage recipes like andouille and chorizo, which includes lots of chili powder and vinegar, can tame just about any wild game.

The pudding pot can also do wonders for wild meat. Cooking pork (and you can even add a little venison if you like) with onions, spices and rice can make almost any game tasty. Even if you don’t go for all the offal and organs that our forefathers fared on, you can boil down the shoulders, head and neck bones with only the liver and achieve that traditional “country pudding” taste. (If you are concerned about parasites in a wild animal, you can buy pork liver at most meat markets. A little goes a long way.)

Wayne Nettles, a South Carolina deer and hog processor that has been in business for close to 30 years, recommends not eating male hogs over 200 pounds, and females over 400 or 500, but adds that some customers do and they don’t complain. He also recommends removing all glands when processing, and discarding any animals that have an overly strong smell when harvested, such as when they are rutting.

“I have processed and eaten hundreds of wild hogs,” Nettles attests. “If you do it right, it is mighty fine eating and better than anything you will find in a grocery store.”

Whether it’s a farm-raised pig or a wild boar, you can follow in the footsteps of our ancestors and gather around the pudding pot in a tradition as old as the South. So next time you’ve had a successful hunt, call some friends and family to help keep a Southern tradition alive.

Coosawhatchie Chorizo

10 pounds wild pork, with fat (Butt or shoulder works great)

1.25 cups ground chili powder

2/3 cup ground paprika

2/3 cup dried oregano

5 pinches (1/4 teaspoon) ground cinnamon

5 pinches ground cloves

5 teaspoons ground cumin

5 teaspoons salt

10 cloves crushed garlic

2.5 cups white vinegar

Grind the pork twice. Combine all ingredients and mix well by hand. Let sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours for flavors to blend, then cook or freeze. Can be frozen in bulk, or stuff into casings and even smoked for true Spanish chorizo flavor. Great with scrambled eggs or in traditional Mexican dishes such as tacos or burritos.

Lowcountry Boudin

10 pounds of pork, with excess fat trimmed

4 medium yellow or white onions

2 large bell peppers

2 bunches celery, chopped large

3 bunches green onion, finely chopped

1 bunch fresh parsley, finely chopped

10 cups cooked rice

2 tbsp salt

1 ½ tbsp black pepper

4 tbsp cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes

2-4 tsp minced garlic to taste

1 package Legg’s Old Plantation sausage seasoning, to taste

1 package sausage casings (optional)

In a large stockpot, combine pork, garlic, celery, whole onions, half of the green onions and the whole bell peppers. Season with all spices except the sausage seasoning. Cover the contents with water and boil until the meat is done and separates from the bone. Remove all meat and cooked vegetables and set aside to cool. Save the stock, or “pot likker,” for later.

With a meat grinder, grind together the meat and boiled vegetables.  You may grind in one additional onion raw, if desired.

Dump the ground mixture into a large bowl or tub for further mixing. Mix in the crawfish tails. Add the finely chopped green onion and parsley along with the cooked rice, mixing by hand. Pour in the stock from the pot until the mixture has a slightly wet consistency and mix well. Add sausage seasoning to taste, mixing and tasting the boudin until it suits you. If it is not spicy enough to suit you, then add more red pepper or Cajun seasoning to taste.

Once mixed and seasoned to your liking, the boudin can be stuffed into sausage casings or rolled into balls, dipped in egg wash and seasoned bread crumbs, and pan fried. Boudin balls are excellent with spicy brown mustard.


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