Breaking Down Half a Hog; How Easy?


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When I get back home, I am going to start a few different charcuterie projects, including a Prosciutto Crudo, Coppola and Porchetta di Testa, which I am really looking forward to.  I am thinking about just buying a whole half hog, with a whole head, and breaking it down myself in order to get the right cuts.  I have broken plenty of birds, but never a hog.  

How difficult is this?  It looks like something I can tackle, but I just want to make sure.  

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Like most processing it is very doable but there is a bit of a learning curve.  Have a quality butcher and boning knife on hand.  Don't have to be $$$ just sharp boning and heavy butcher for the job to make life much easier.  Please keep an updated thread on this if you can.  I have done many sausages and some curing but still have a lot to learn.

Having done it a few times I prefer to pay a rural processor and get my hog from a known farmer, the 2+ hour round trip drive to Bowling Green, MO and $100 processing fee is worth it for me. I am guessing PA has a robust industry as well.  Just an idea, much cooler to do it yourself.

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It can't be that hard. I've skinned, gutted and deboned thousands of pounds of Elk, Moose, Deer, Antelope and Bear meat deep in the back country, miles from any roads. These animals are all surprisingly similar in anatomy to each other/farm animals once the fur is gone. As @therealrsr said there is definitely a learning curve (my grandfather taught me the basics when I was little) but doing it in your kitchen/garage should make the process a lot easier. 

Watch a few videos on youtube, invest in a good boning knife (look at Victorinox NFS) and/or a replaceable surgical blade knife like "outdoor edge". The blades are crazy sharp and I've broken down an entire 450LB Elk with a single blade, so they last longer than you'd think. What ever you use, make sure it stays VERY sharp. 

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5 hours ago, therealrsr said:

I am guessing PA has a robust industry as well.

Very much so, many skilled butchers here for processing all the game hunted in rural PA, as most kills must be butchered to comply with state law. 

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I make different salami's and culatello's with a friend.  Are you getting the half pig fresh?  You need to make sure it remains super cold the whole time.  Bacteria takes off like no one's business.  Keeping everything cold and sterile; I cannot stress it enough.  You'll really need to be precise with trimming, removing veins, arteries, silvers skin,  gunky meat, blood patches, etc.  You'll need a very careful eye when grinding.  If the fat smears when grinding, you'll end up with junk.  If you get a whiff of barnyard, that means bacteria is already making its way.

We normally make all our charcuterie with hams and bellies.  Shoulders require way too much trimming. 

How the pig is slaughtered is super important.  If they get spooked, you'll taste it in the meat.

Good luck!!!  Like @Corylax18 I like the Victorinox knives.  Stays wicked sharp and handle doesn't get slippery.

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1 hour ago, BrightonCorgi said:

How the pig is slaughtered is super important.  If they get spooked, you'll taste it in the meat.

This intrigues me - how does it effect the flavor?

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27 minutes ago, MrBirdman said:

This intrigues me - how does it effect the flavor?

If the animal "wises up" they can dump a ton of Adrenaline and other hormones into their bloodstream just in time for it to spread throughout the entire cardiovascular system. Think "fight or flight." Its one of the reasons a quick ethical/kill is important regardless of how the animal is dispatched. Draining off all the blood quickly helps, but you'll never get it all out of the meat. Its the same reason some people(me included) prefer antlerless game for consumption. The males can taste much gamier, especially during/just after the rut. 

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Just now, Corylax18 said:

If the animal "wises up" they can dump a ton of Adrenaline and other hormones into their bloodstream just in time for it to spread throughout the entire cardiovascular system.

That part I understand. I was just curious how it “tasted.”

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@MrBirdman this is true for fish as well. The more gently you can get the fish to/in the boat, quickly bleed and get it on ice, the better. Impacts the texture and flavor of the meat.

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3 hours ago, Corylax18 said:

If the animal "wises up" they can dump a ton of Adrenaline and other hormones into their bloodstream just in time for it to spread throughout the entire cardiovascular system. Think "fight or flight." Its one of the reasons a quick ethical/kill is important regardless of how the animal is dispatched. Draining off all the blood quickly helps, but you'll never get it all out of the meat. Its the same reason some people(me included) prefer antlerless game for consumption. The males can taste much gamier, especially during/just after the rut. 

  Back in the day, a nearby town to me used to have a run set up between all the shops and houses and sent all the animals through with the local yokels whoopin and yuk-yuking driving the animals into a state of fear frenzy because they believed it made the meat taste better. 

  It's still mostly the same now but the animals are no longer there

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1 hour ago, Greenhorn2 said:

I'm my part of the country, whenever a hog killing goes down, all women are asked if they are menstruating.  If so, you don't touch the meat, at all.

Silly question maybe, but do they only have male animals on farms? Won't there be animals in heat all the time?

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39 minutes ago, Bijan said:

Silly question maybe, but do they only have male animals on farms? Won't there be animals in heat all the time?

Yes they have both animal sexes on the farms. What I was getting at is if a woman was menstruating then she wasn't allowed to touch the processing of the meat. The meat wouldn't keep, it would spoil. If you killed a male hog and for some reason one of its testicles didn't drop or was missed during castration , the whole hog was discarded because the meat would stink up the whole house if you tried to cook it. Imagine peeing in a hot frying pan.

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5 minutes ago, Greenhorn2 said:

Yes they have both animal sexes on the farms. What I was getting at is if a woman was menstruating then she wasn't allowed to touch the processing of the meat.

Thanks I misunderstood and thought it was the scent of menstruating women that affected the hogs and it seemed like you'd have a bigger problem from the hogs and other animals in that respect.

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1 minute ago, Bijan said:

Thanks I misunderstood and thought it was the scent of menstruating women that affected the hogs and it seemed like you'd have a bigger problem from the hogs and other animals in that respect.

You probably have a legitimate point there too! Lol

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3 hours ago, Greenhorn2 said:

Yes they have both animal sexes on the farms. What I was getting at is if a woman was menstruating then she wasn't allowed to touch the processing of the meat. The meat wouldn't keep, it would spoil. If you killed a male hog and for some reason one of its testicles didn't drop or was missed during castration , the whole hog was discarded because the meat would stink up the whole house if you tried to cook it. Imagine peeing in a hot frying pan.

Similar with goats needing to be castrated at certain age or the meat is no bueno.

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8 hours ago, BrightonCorgi said:

Similar with goats needing to be castrated at certain age or the meat is no bueno.

Yes, we always castrated the hogs just as soon as both testicles dropped. The younger they are, the faster they recover and start gaining weight. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

So I thought I'd give an update.  

All of my salamis, Capocollos and bacons are coming along nicely but I ruined the Prosciutto crudo.  Life is filled with lessons, some expensive.  

Specifically I think I did this by covering the salting vessel with a lid, allowing for excess humidity to build up, and did not keep it cold enough.  I also used minced garlic and shallots to add flavor but those strong aromas overpowered the smell of any rancidity, not allowing me to catch it early enough.  I came home last night though and the unmistakable smell of rancid meat was present.  Alas, I just tossed the whole leg.  

But, I will not be deterred and plan on trying this again.  

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2 hours ago, Kitchen said:

So I thought I'd give an update.  

All of my salamis, Capocollos and bacons are coming along nicely but I ruined the Prosciutto crudo.  Life is filled with lessons, some expensive.  

Specifically I think I did this by covering the salting vessel with a lid, allowing for excess humidity to build up, and did not keep it cold enough.  I also used minced garlic and shallots to add flavor but those strong aromas overpowered the smell of any rancidity, not allowing me to catch it early enough.  I came home last night though and the unmistakable smell of rancid meat was present.  Alas, I just tossed the whole leg.  

But, I will not be deterred and plan on trying this again.  

Keeping it cold is super critical.  Sucks on the ham.

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  • 1 month later...

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