This Little Piggy…

**DISCLAIMER: Vegetarians beware! This post may contain pictures and descriptions that are disturbing. Read at your own risk**

One of the upexpected perks of our cooking classes has been the friendships formed. Recently we received a phone call from one of our very first class participants. Her Father had just bought a slaughtered pig and she wanted to know if we could help her butcher it. It’s worth noting here that offering a chef the opportunity to play with a pig carcass is like offering a fat kid cake. The request was simple: in exchange for use of our commercial kitchen and expertise, we could keep any cuts of pork we wanted. DONE!

butchered pork belly
Pork Belly

One cold, winter night, up rolls our Friend, the back of her SUV loaded with half a pig. We proceeded to load the plastic sheet and pig onto our flatbed cart. After a quick tape job to keep our boy from falling off, we rolled our whole package into our walk-in cooler for safe keeping until the following day. I regret not getting a picture of our handiwork at this point because it looked like we were storing a dead body-CSI, STF style. The next day was our chance to play. Joelle, Jerie, and I planned to triple team our boy. (As I write this I realize we didn’t name our pig. It would have certainly made this post easier. For our purposes, let’s call him Mr. P) Since Jerie had never butchered a pig before, the goal was to discuss and explain as we went. What is so interesting with pork is the juxtaposition of the cuts of meat. You can find the super fatty cuts like bacon and ham, right next to lean cuts like the tenderloin. Like any protein, you need to understand whether it’s fat or lean so you know how to prepare it. If a cut of meat has lots of surface or internal fat, low and slow cooking methods are best. This would include roasting, smoking or braising. Leaner cuts, with less fat, lend themselves to grilling, searing, or quick roasting. They do well cooked at higher temperatures for shorter amounts of time. Pork in particular can easily become dry. Old school rule of thumb is to cook pork to an internal temp of 155 degrees. DON’T DO IT! Cook pork to 140 degrees; pull it from the heat source and let it rest. After about ten minutes, slice into the juiciest pork you’ve ever had. But we weren’t at that point yet. We needed to cut Mr. P into smaller, manageable pieces.

pork belly with rub
Simple salt & pepper rub in the back. Mesquite rub in the front.

So first we tackled the side of Mr. P. The picture below from left to right shows the belly-notice the “bacon strip”. The size of the cutting board doesn’t adequately reflect the size of the belly. The belly is approximately the length of the pig…not to state the obvious. Unfortuantely, we don’t know Mr. P’s pre-slaughter dimensions. The belly is attached to the spare ribs. Once you remove these ribs, they are ready to go, as is. The interconnective fat is what makes wood smoking–low and slow method- -the absolute best way to cook them. There is nothing quite like the smell of slow, smoked pork. It’s breathtaking! It makes the anticipation of actually eating it worth the wait.

Once we removed the spareribs and trimmed the excess, I cut Mr. P’s belly into two equal halves. Pork belly has recently become a trendy specialty in high end restaurants. Chefs have found a way to charge a mint for fat! At this point in the butchering, with the right equipment, we could have cut the belly into strips for bacon. Since we don’t own that equipment, we decided to dry rub the sides so we could smoke, roast, or grill at a later time.

separating rib loin from back ribs
Separating the rib loin from the back ribs.

Next we addressed the top side of the side. Here is where you find the pork loin and ”baby back ribs” attached together. Simply by following the seam of the connective tissue, Jerie easily separated the baby back ribs from the loin. Loins are pretty huge! In most grocery stores you will find they usually sell half loins instead of full ones. You can certainly roast the loin whole or slice into pork chops of your desired thickness.

Notice we left a nice layer of fat on top of the loin. This helps keep the meat moist while cooking. Let me interject here and tell you that we didn’t throw anything away. Our Depression-era Grandmothers would be proud! We saved all our trimmings into a large metal bowl for later use. Check out the image of our “scrap bowl” and the spareribs laying across the top.

butchered loin and chops
Loin on the left, chops cut from the loin on the right.

Next we went to work on the front and hindquarters. From the front leg comes the Boston butt. Low and slow is the best cooking method for these as well. This is the cut of meat often transformed into pulled pork. The top of the back leg is the ham.

Finally we were left with the scraps of meat, fat, and leftover trimmings. Jerie’s true excitement actually lay in our big metal bowl. She wanted to make her own sausage. With a simple KitchenAid attachment, grinding meat is easy! We fed the scraps into the hopper and forced it through the grinding disks. Since it looked a little too fatty, we took some meat from the loin and ground it up too.

butchered spare ribs
Spareribs on top of the scrap bowl.

(The actual sausage making and casing filling we’ll save for another post.) Once we finished, we vacuum sealed everything we weren’t going to eat right away and put it all up in the freezer. Thanks again to Jerie for allowing us the chance to brush up on our butchery skills!

And the next time you are ready to enjoy “the other white meat”, Savor This rub on the outside:

Memphis BBQ Rub

  • ¼ c. kosher salt
  • ¼ c. brown sugar
  • ¼ c. paprika
  • 2 T black pepper
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 T granulated garlic
  • 1 T onion powder
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 T chili powder

I like to rub this on everything from pork loin to Boston butt to ribs. This makes a rather large batch so as long as you don’t double dip in the spice blend as you prepare dinner, you can certainly place any leftover in an airtight container for later use.

Eleni holding pork

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