First time home hog butchery

Discussion in 'Meat Selection and Processing' started by starwars1138, Feb 21, 2015.

  1. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    *I've since blogged about the whole process here - hope someone finds it helpful - "

    This past Thursday I picked up a locally sourced pastured half hog to butcher at home (and by home, I mean in the kitchen on my wife's counter - I have the best wife btw).


    Source - - josh Davis
    Price - $3.50 lb hanging weight
    Breed - American Mulefoot/Large Black Hog
    Weight - 130lb was my half (liver, kidney, and leaf fat intact - head off, feet on, skin on)
    Age - TBD
    Sex - TBD


    I have no experience. I've never butchered anything aside from cutting up a chicken or maybe slicing some boneless chops from a center cut loin. Didn't know the difference between a breaking knife and a chefs knife. Needless to say, i do now!


    I watched about every video on YouTube I could find. I watched all of the Farmstead Meatsmiths videos as well. I'll add links to some of the better videos as I get back to this post later.

    Books - if you are going to get one book - get the one by Adam Dangorth called Butchering (get the one for pork and poultry etc - he has one whole book for beef). This book is all about butchering and is exhaustive.

    Also helpful was the CD that came with "The Gourmet Butchers Guide to Meat" by Cole Ward. The book was ok but the CD includes a PDF for each meat type - the pork section had over 250 detailed photos with step by step instructions. Very useful!


    Knives - you'll need a good boning knife. I chose a Mundigrip 7 inch semi flexible boning knife from Mundial. Worked great. You'll need some larger butcher knife/cimeter/breaking knife for the larger cutting. I chose a 12 inch butcher from Old Hickory (high carbon, not stainless). I also picked a cleaver from Old Hickory but is too lightweight andi can't recommend it. You should also have a bone saw. I thought longer would be better and got a 22 inch. I see now where having a few different size ones would be helpful, along with some differing coarseness (?) teeth blades. I nice little 16 inch hacksaw would have helped a great deal. Get a honing steel and learn to use it. This is heavy work and your blades will needs attention along the way. Stopping to wash the knives so you can run them through your electric sharpener will slow you down a great deal!

    Meat lugs - big heavy totes. Get a couple. You'll forever be trying to find a place to stick large chunks and you break it down and having three or four of these at the ready will help.

    Bowls - you won't have enough and they'll be too small. I think that is a fundamental law of first time butchery. Have what you think you'll need and then add three to that. Varying sizes, stainless steel.

    Bar rags - see section on bowls. Get a dozen.

    Freezing - you'll need some way to package the cuts. I went the route of a foodsaver vacuum machine. You can also go the butcher paper and freezer paper route.

    Meat grinder, sausage stuffer - self explanatory. And if you've not made sausage before, this is probably not the time to learn. Either practice doing it ahead of time with other meat or just plan to freeze your trim and fat to make a few days after butcher day. Wrestling with that Kitchenaid meat grinder attachment after you've been hacking away for hours on a hog is a recipe for suckage... Masochists only need apply.

    Crock pot - for lard rendering. Other methods exist but I went this route. Painless and hands free.

    Fridge/freezer space - clean your fridge out. Trying to figure out what to do with the leftovers from last week while your ham gets warm and slippery on the counter is not a good idea. If you have a walk in cooler, fine. But for the rest of us unwashed masses, space to keep stuff cold will be at a premium. No wonder they traditionally did this stuff in the cooler months. Having a table on the deck out back to toss the loin-belly section was awesome... Having it 34 degrees in the shade was even better.

    Space - you'll need lots. Clean off your counters, get your cutting boards squared away. I'll be scouring craigslist for some sort of maple topped prep table. Not having to screw around with cutting boards would have been great.

    Help - the more the merrier. But it needs to be proactive help. Part of the stress for me was that while my wife was willing to pitch in, and she did, I was the one with the master plan. If you have a willing accomplice, work with them on the plan so that they can have a understanding on what you want to do and what it means when you say, "okay, can you bring the picnic back from downstairs so I can trim it out?" Or "Can you vacuum seal these chops while I work on the shoulder?" Now that she's seen the
    Recess and gets the whole picture, she'll be even more helpful next time... I might even get some extra knives for her and let her have at some of it.


    This is huge. Have a plan. Know how you want to break each section down. What cuts do you want? The more you know about the animals anatomy, the better off you'll be. Understand that if you chose to go one way, it might exclude other options down the road (you won't have a Boston butt to smoke later if you are wanting to cure it for BBB).

    I went into analysis paralysis for a while. Each video showed a different method. Each book had a different process. Cut here to get the biggest coppa. Cut here to get the biggest belly. Cut here for bone in chops and here for sirloin streaks. Aaaaah! Too many options. Find one process and go with it. Leave the complicated crap for the next go around. It helps to be familiar with some of the other options though... Becuase your plan will change on the fly based on what you see on the table... My animal was longer than I expected and had way more fat than I expected. So while I had a plan and had finally settled on a method, there was some reacting on the fly and had I not been familiar with the other options those hurdles would have been roadblocks.

    If you are going to make sausage as part of this, mix your spices up ahead of time (when possible - remember you won't know how much meat trim you'll have until you have it on the scales). Mix your brines ahead of time. Put your cures together ahead of time for bacon etc... You get the idea. The more you do ahead will make it that much easier. Trust me.

    Butcher day:

    Transportation - fortunately for me it was cold. I picked up the hog from the farm and tossed it in the back of the pickup. Was colder when we got it home than it was when I picked it up. Had it been summertime, I'd have done it in the minivan with many bags of ice and a tarp. Had help lugging into the house and getting on the counter.

    Cutting - it's more physical than you expect. Those primals are heavier than I thought and getting them to and from as I went got old. I can see why butchers have strong wrists and forearms - you'll use muscles you don't normally use.

    Be flexible - like I said, your plan will change. And that's okay. I had planned to brine the picnic but after boning other stuff out I realized that I wanted more trim for sausage so the picnic got cut up for sausage.

    .... That's all I have for right now. The kids are requiring attention. Will post more and pics later this week. Hope this is helpful to someone.
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2015
  2. woodcutter

    woodcutter Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Very nice! These are the thoughts going through my brain. Was your pig scraped or skinned?
  3. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Scraped with skin on. Still had quite a bit of leftover hair. My guess is that part of that is breed and part is processor. I seem to remember that many of the heritage breeds have thicker coats and are harder to scrape to the same results as commercially supplied hogs who are certainly bred for ease of processing.
  4. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Let me know if you have any specific questions and I'll be sure to address those WC.
  5. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

  6. pops6927

    pops6927 Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thank you for your input!

    Please allow me to add a few things if possible.  

    One thing I bought was a mobile butcher block cart with folding top from Walmart, about $88 or so:

    I use poly cutting boards on it that i can wash off in the sink easily.

    For containers, I use 1 lug from a restaurant supply store plus dishpan buckets from the dollar store that fit in the sink for cleaning:

    Shallow lug from Rest. supply:

    As long as the plastic has a 

    symbol, the plastic is food safe.

    My setup, boned and rolled some pork shoulders for cured and smoked shoulder hams, with cart,  bucket, and cutting boards (and my helper..).   I have done half hogs on this also, cutting off the neck and shoulder, then the hind leg, then split the loin from the belly/sparerib, then processing each chunk as needed.

    I have a bunch of knives I've collected over the years, but use basically two; 12" Victorinox cimeter, rosewood handle, and 6" Dexter boning knife, plus a Dexter diamond steel.  I sharpen my knives with a WorkSharp unit:

    Don't hesitate if you have any questions!
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2015
  7. Nicely done for not being a butcher. I have been cutting meat for some 35 years now. I checked out your blog post and it was well put together and well written.
  8. atomicsmoke

    atomicsmoke Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    This stuff is gold. Thank you star wars for documenting your "adventure".
  9. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Thanks for the input Pops!  And thanks for the brine recipe!

    I'm intrigued by the knife sharpener... hmmmmm!
  10. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Thanks Chef!  It was a lot of fun.  I have a new level of respect for those of you that do this kind of thing well.  You guys make it look so easy - which is what empowered me to give it a whirl.  The good thing is that had I known how tough it was, I might have given it a pass - but since you guys made it look so simple, I went for it.  And now, next time, I know it will be so much easier, than I can't help but want to do it again :)
  11. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Thanks for reading - I pulled some more bacon out of the smoker this weekend.  I need to report on that as well.  Glad you enjoyed it!
  12. bwsmith_2000

    bwsmith_2000 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Well done Starwars! Reminds me of when I was growing up .... about 50 years ago. Back then there were no meat cutters in our area so we did all that ourselves. It was a family affair and one hog would take the best part of a whole day. And it was always on a cold day as you described. Thanks for the post.
  13. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Thanks Bill - I can totally see how it would be a family affair.  Especially if the intent was to get everything "working" (curing, sausage, etc) as quickly as possible.
  14. mikemeg

    mikemeg Newbie

    Any photos of the knifes and other equipment I may need?
  15. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Yes. Please see the link to my blog at the top of the post. Waaaay more information there. Hope you find it helpful.
  16. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Hi Mike - I hope you found the link okay and found the blog post informative.  If you need clarification on anything, please let me know.

    The ham came out of the brine last week and got smoked this weekend.  I'll blog about it later.  But in the mean time, here's a pic :)

    mikemeg likes this.
  17. frosty

    frosty Master of the Pit

    Great effort!  My mouth dropped open when I re-read the "no experience"!  

    Well done, Starwars and congrats!!!  Nothing but respect for your work.
  18. starwars1138

    starwars1138 Fire Starter

    Thanks Frosty!  I'm certainly humbled by the comments I've gotten.  While I enjoyed putting the blog together, it did take some effort so its nice to know that people appreciated it.

    Its funny - I really feel like after the first time, I'm a veritable expert (at least with respect to my own experience) as I've now got 100% more experience than I had before I did it.  I think you only gain that level of experience growth one time (from an exponential standpoint that is).  I now know that I can achieve the same results (and hopefully not make some of the same mistakes) MUCH easier next time - perhaps even improving.

    While I get that when you do something for a living, it has the potential to suck the fun out of it, I can totally see how butchery is an artistry.  There is always room for improvement and improvisation.  Truly a lost art.  I'm thankful to have been able to do it and I really do look forward to doing it again as soon as I can make it work.  

    For those of you so inclined - go for it!  It's the next logical step in your meat evolution :)

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