When asked to define the
whole duty of a man in a political year, nine out of ten persons in
the South or Middle West would say, "To holler right, vote straight,
and eat as much barbecue as any other man in the country."
From Harper's Weekly (1906), describing the barbecues in vogue at the time.
Any month of the year or any occasion is good for a pig pickin' in North Carolina. The
barbecue style will vary according to what area you're in: In the eastern
part of the state, the entire pig (split down the middle) is cooked, and the
sauce is made with vinegar and pepper. In the western part, only pig
shoulders are cooked, and a tomato-based finishing sauce is used. Unlike
other food preparation in the South, which is usually dominated by women, barbecue is a male domain.
Before the Civil War, pigs were a food staple in the South because they were
a low-maintenance and convenient food source. The pigs could be put out to
root in the forest and caught when the food supply became low. These
semi-wild pigs were tougher and stringier than modern-day pigs. Pig
slaughtering became a time for celebration, ant other families would be
invited to share in the eating. Out of these gatherings grew the traditional
southern barbecue. Plantation owners regularly held large barbecues for
their slaves. According to historians, southerners ate, on average, five
pounds of pork for every one pound of beef.
In the 19th century, barbecues were an important feature of church functions
and political rallies. Members of both political parties would come to the
same gathering, with the leaders of each party competing with one another to
supply the largest contribution of food and drink. Folks would gather from
afar to reach the appointed place in time for the speeches, band concert,
and all-important barbecue. The only accompaniments to the roast pig were
thick slices of good bread, cucumbers (fresh and pickled), and whiskey. The
saying "going whole hog" came out of these political rallies.
During the 20th century, barbecue joints or pits flourished (a typical joint
or pit was a bare concrete floor covered by a corrugated tin roof and
walls). Restaurants grew out of a simple barbecue pit where the owner sold
barbecue to take away. Many were open only on weekends, since the "pit men"
worked on farms during the week. As the century progressed, barbecue joints
grew and prospered.
North Carolina Pig Pickin'
my friends, Bill and Andra Cook of Raleigh, North Carolina (a
couple of years ago), Bill's father, Elbert Cook of New Bern, North
Carolina, brought his homemade barbecue pit (which he has fixed on a
trailer) to the Cook's home and carefully tended the pig. When done,
we pulled the meat off the ribs with our fingers and ate pig pickin'.
It was finger lickin' good!
Yields: serves many
Prep time: 1 hr
Cook time: 7 hr
1 (60 to 100-pound) dressed pig*
60 pounds charcoal briquettes, divided
Secret Sauce (see below)
* A live pig weighting 90 to 130 pounds will
dress out a carcass approximately the desired weight. (Dressed means that
the pig is prepared for pig pickin cooking. Do not remove the skin.)
Split open the whole dressed pig and butterfly
(slit the backbone to allow the pig to lay flat, being careful not to pierce
the skin). Trim and discard any excess fat (excess fat may cause a flare-up
during cooking). Sprinkle the cavity with salt, cover, and let pig sit overnight.
Place 20 pounds of charcoal in the barbecue
pit or pig cooker (add charcoal as needed during cooking process). Pour
charcoal lighter fluid on the briquettes and ignite. Let the charcoal burn
until a fine white ash covers the briquettes.
Place a heavy gauge wire screen or rack about a foot above the coals. Place butterflied pig on rack
(skin side up) and season with additional salt. Close lid of the cooker.
Raise temperature of cooker slowly. It should
take up to 3 hours to get external temperature to 200 degrees F. (meat will
crust over if temperature is too high). Let external temperature rise to 250
degrees F. Carefully watch the temperature to maintain the 250 degrees F.
Cook approximately 7 to 8 hours or until the internal temperature of the pig reaches 170
is the type of cooking and meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking. I get many readers
asking what cooking/meat thermometer that I prefer and use in my cooking and baking. I, personally, use the
Thermapen Thermometer shown in the photo on the right. Originally designed for professional users, the
Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer is used by chefs all over the world. To learn more about this excellent
thermometer and to also purchase one (if you desire), just click on the underlined:
When done, turn pig over (skin side down) and spread
with Secret Sauce (see recipe below). Cover and cook an additional 1 hour until skin is crisp. Remove from cooker.
Slice or chop the meat or allow guests to pull meat from the bones. Serve with additional Secret Sauce.
Serves many hungry people.
This recipe was generously donated by Al Carson of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Most families and restaurants
that are known for their barbecues make their own sauce. In fact, they'll
tell you that the "secret is in the sauce." You would no more ask a barbecue
man for his sauce recipe that you would for the use of his dog. Most people
simply call their sauce "Secret Sauce."
1 gallon apple cider vinegar
1 (28-ounce) bottle ketchup
2 3/4 cups firmly-packed brown sugar
1/4 cup garlic powder
1/4 cup salt
1/4 cup crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
In a large
stainless-steel pot over medium-high heat, combine all the ingredients;
bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for approximately 15 minutes
or until crushed red pepper sinks. Remove from heat.
It should be bottled
hot, not boiling. Just hot enough that the bottles are hard to hold for more
than a few seconds. Fill bottles within 1/2 inch of the top. By bottling
hot, it will seal itself. Does not need refrigeration until after opening and then only to protect flavor.
NOTE: The sauce
does not seem to have a problem with spoilage. I have used unopened bottles
a year later and they have been very good. The sauce does get hotter with
If you like the sauce even
hotter, add 1/4 cup of Tabasco before cooking.