Have you ever wanted to process your own meats but didn’t know how to even begin? Below is a step by step guide of how my family explored this option for the first time and how it all turned out.
(Editor’s Note: Please be aware that this post contains graphic pictures of a slaughtered pig. -Christina)
One of the things my husband has talked about doing for quite awhile is processing his own pig. Not the actual slaughter, we paid someone to do that! But our own cuts, the way we want them. If we are going to be meat eaters, then this is one of the most basic, most primal ways to get back to basics and control our family’s diet. Now that we have recently moved to upstate NY and into a rural area, it proved to be the perfect opportunity.
So we bought a pig.
Actually we shared the pig with some friends of ours; we took half and they took half.
Only having a faint idea of what we were about to do we also bought two books and watched videos online.
These are a must for anyone wanting to try charcuterie and whole cured muscles:
- Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Rulhman and Polcyn: very good description of butchering in both the Italian/european style (primarily for making cured salumi) but also has a description of the US primals and the cuts you can do.
- and the video on butchering a half hog. The butcher doing the illustrating is Canadian so a few of the cuts are different but the videos are great. And then I let my husband do most of the cutting up. I took the pictures and am now writing about it.
Why even attempt to do this? What’s the point and what are the advantages?
- Well, it’s much much cheaper than buying store bought
- You can get exactly the cuts YOU want plus the extras like bacon and sausages, YUM!
- You know exactly where your pig came from, what it ate, and who the farmer is that raised your soon to be pork.
So….what was the cost? Is this an affordable option?
This is how much we paid – the pig was $450 and processing $50. And we split this with some friends. So our share was $250. We did all of the cuts ourselves, but if you want to save the time you can get your butcher/processor to do it for you for extra.
Here is our inventory for $250:
- Pig alive: somewhere between 240 and 250 lbs.
- Hanging weight 205 lbs post slaughter and organs removed.
What did we get for this?
- (we got the whole head) From the head: 2 jowls 3 lbs each, pig ears for the dog, the rest goes to make head cheese,
- Out of the shoulder: picnic ham (7-10 lbs) and shoulder butt (8-12 lbs)
- Ham (20-25 lb)
- Belly (9-12 lbs) for BACON yumyumyumyum
- Out of the loin: Tenderloin (1-2 lbs), Large loin roast, bunch of back fat for sausage, 6-8 pork chops 2 inch thick cut,
- approximately 15 lbs of bone for stock
- 15 lbs trimmings and a stack of back fat for sausage
- leaf fat, kidney and liver
GRAND TOTAL: So that all comes down to approximately roughly 90 lbs of edible stuff at about 2.75 dollars per pound of high quality pork.
If we can do this without having done it before, you can too. You don’t need to be a professional chef or butcher, you just need the correct equipment, and the willingness – with the high possibly of messing up a little bit. But it’s all meat, so if you don’t do your cuts exactly right you can still eat it. And if you’re not in the business of reselling the pork, that doesn’t matter so much. Honestly for the first time ever, my husband did a pretty good job. Some cuts that we tried came out too chopped up for a decent cut, so instead we are saving the meat to make extra sausage.
Here are the basic steps to get you started:
Step #1: Get a pig
You can either raise one yourself! or the more likely possibility is to buy one from someone else who does. We live in a rural area and got our pig from a farm we buy our milk and cheese from. They are not normally in the business of selling pigs, they just had a few extra they were willing to sell. Which brings me to how to find one if you live rural, suburban, or even urban – it’s called Ask Around. These things are not normally advertised so go to your local farmers market and ask the people selling pork. They might have an extra pig they are willing to part with and if not they will probably know someone who does. That doesn’t work? Ask the farmer you buy your veggies or cheese from. They might have a pig or two they can sell to you under the table, as a lot of these farmers just raise animals for their families and sometimes end up with extra. Or what about asking your favorite butcher, or do you know a chef/restaurant? Who are their suppliers? Ask Around gets you a long, long way.
Step # 2: Processing:
Usually if you end up buying a pig/other animal from someone they will know where to take it for processing. We took it to a guy down the road who normally processes deer for people and did the pig as well as a side job.
In the USA there are also USDA processing facilities. For those local to upstate NY there is one called Eagle Bridge Custom Meats in Rensselaer County.
We did not go here and cannot speak for the service but it is an available place where they can do cuts for you. Their website shows they will do pig, cow, lamb or goat plus for additional cost, cuts and specialty sausages.
Step #3: Equipment & Storage
This is a list of the equipment we used:
Left to right : Steel, Straight flexible and curved stiff boning knives, small knife, poultry shears, bone saw
Vacuum sealer. For the cuts that will be frozen it is a good idea to vacuum seal them for longer lasting freezer life. There are many makes and models. We have a Weston and it does the trick.
Deep freezer or access to one for storage, as you will end up with a heafty supply of pork that will last months and months.
Sanitize your work space, cutting boards, and implements of destruction with a bleach/water solution. Having a CLEAN workspace is crucial to limit the chances of non contamination.
Step #4: The Cuts, A how to with pictures:
- primal cuts straight from the processor. This is a possibility of what your pig will look like at the start:
- separate lower ribs from belly:
- belly (Bacon!!!!!!)
- taking kidney and leaf fat off loin:
- separating the tenderloin from the loin:
- cutting pork chops
- whole shoulder:
- parts, fat, trim and bones for stock , sausage and lard making:
- deboning picnic ham (front shoulder):
- liver (for making Pate)
- ham after aitch bone has been removed (hip bone socket):
- split ham in half. top is rump and bottom is shank:
- chops to leave as loin roast, bone out to make boneless loin roast, or leave bone in for rib roast, or cut into chops:
- jowls if you have the head (or ask your processor to remove for you). Cut jowls and remove any glands you may find. Jowls are very rich and make fine cured/dried meats (Guanciale) or you can make jowl bacon:
Step #5: Make it edible
Cook the pork by roasting, slow cooking, smoking, pan frying, grilling or however way you choose! And then make things! Bacon. sausages, head cheese, lard, jowl bacon, pate, treats for your dogs, so many many options Also if you are like my husband you can make your own cured meats and sausages.
If you are into eating offal meats, you also have the heart, kidneys, intestines, and liver (we are making pate too). Or you can cook it up for your dogs. Pig ears and ham bones also make great dog treats.
RECIPE: How to prepare and smoke a ham (written by husband, Mark Zaleski):
We used this brine for making ham.
There are many variants, but the basic water:salt:sugar ratios are pretty much the same. For additional flavor we added some fresh chopped thyme, peppercorns, cloves and juniper berries. We skipped the pink salt in this one since the meat was super fresh, from a good source and everything was refrigerated up until smoking/cooking. If you don’t use the pink salt, parts of the ham may appear a bit more gray than pink but that is purely asthetic. Since we don’t have a brine injector, I pushed a knitting needle along the bone several times so that the brine could penetrate.
Leave in the brine 7-14 days (the longer you leave it the more salt and flavor penetrates). We smoked over apple and cherry wood at approximately 140F for 4 hrs and then at approximately 225F until the internal temperature reached 145F. We also split the ham first to make it easier to get up to temperature (as well as to have more surface for smoke to penetrate and also allow us to freeze one easily). You can eat it right away or chill down and reheat. I have found that keeping in the refrigerator after tightly wrapping in plastic wrap and foil for several days after smoking allows the smoke flavor to penetrate through the ham much more, yielding a delightfully tasty product.
As a final note: Leave NOTHING to waste.
Eat it all or find a way to use it all. That’s a main point of all of this. We are responsible for the death of this animal and the eating thereof. This pig is giving my family sustenance, therefore to respect the life it has given us it is important to use as much as possible from that animal. One way to change our food supply is to respect it wholly. Next time you eat meat, please ask yourself where it came from. Visit with your farmers and if you can’t, ask, and if there is no way of asking or finding out, don’t eat it. This process can be repeated with other meats: cow, lamb, mutton, or goat. Happy eating!