REPOST: Ten Lessons Learned from Smoking Our First Whole Hog

Monk: In honor of Father’s Day, we are reposting our blog from three years ago recapping the first (and thus far only) whole hog I smoked for Father’s Day 2019. Hopefully, I will get to do one again later this year but in the meantime enjoy this trip down memory lane.

Monk: Back on Father’s Day weekend, Speedy and I set out to do something I’ve been wanting to do for years. And you know what? We rocked it. But even using both the Sam Jones: Whole Hog BBQ book and the Buxton Hall Book of Smoke as references, there were still a few speed bumps that we can learn from the next time we smoke another hog (and yes, there will definitely be another time).

Lesson #1 – If your barrel doesn’t have a bottom, don’t set it up on cinder blocks

Monk: The barrel I got, while free, already had both the bottom and top cut off. The top wasn’t needed, but I would have preferred the bottom attached so as to keep the coals in. I did get a tip that an aluminum water heater pan would fit perfectly, and it did. However, after just a couple of hours that pan started to disintegrate so Speedy and I had to figure out a way to get the burn barrel off the cinder blocks mid-burn. We managed to get it done, losing just a few coals in the process. Once we got it on the ground, it was smooth sailing…for at least a little bit.

Speedy: Monk may be underselling this a bit. Taking a hot burn barrel with an active fire off of cinder blocks could’ve ended badly, but the pig was the most important thing. To add to this, I’d say that if placing the barrel on the ground, put a solid sheet of metal that won’t burn through underneath, as it can be difficult shoveling the coals off the ground.

Lesson #2 – Be sure to allow enough time to let a solid bed of coals build up before you start to shovel into the pit

Speedy: What we found was that the cinder block pit we made was losing about 1 degree of temperature a minute, so we ended up dropping coals in every half hour. This shot the temperature back up 30 degrees quickly, but we had trouble keeping enough coals to shovel in (refer to lesson #5).

Monk: We were probably a little bit anxious in adding coals to the pit and should have let the fire go for at least an hour before we started shoveling them in.

Lesson #3 – Get fire proof gloves

Speedy: We were very, very fortunate that Monk’s neighbor had some fireproof grilling gloves that he brought over. These came in VERY handy (refer to Lesson 1), and I wouldn’t try this again without some.

Monk: Yes, these were definitely lifesavers.

Lesson #4 – Get at least a half cord of wood

Monk: In Sam Jones’ book, he says you might be able to get away with a quarter cord of wood, but he recommended at least a half cord because having leftover is far more preferable than running out. In our experience with a half cord, we burned through every last bit of firewood. Next time, I won’t consider ordering anything other than a half cord.

Lesson #5 – And definitely have a few bags of charcoal handy in case its needed (it will be needed)

Speedy: This was something Monk and I didn’t have handy, and we were struggling keeping temperature and weren’t making coals fast enough. Luckily, there was a 24 hour Walmart 10 minutes away, so I went to pick up a couple bags of charcoal while Monk manned the fire. This definitely did the trick, but it would have been nice to have them on-hand.

Lesson #6 – Be sure to have the right thermometer measuring your pit temperature

Monk: I initially used the wrong type of thermometer to measure pit temp (one used for measuring oil used for frying turkeys), and it wasn’t until a couple hours in that we realized we were probably 50 degrees below what we thought we were. Once I plugged in my Maverick Redi-chek thermometer, we were able to adjust our coals accordingly and get the pit temp up to where we needed it to be.

Lesson #7 – Working in shifts is definitely a good idea so that you can get some rest

Monk: We started at midnight to ensure enough time to get the hog done ahead of a 6pm party, and Speedy and I each ended up getting about 4 hours of sleep each. While some late night drinking and BS-ing by the burn barrel is fun and all, make sure you get enough sleep so that you aren’t a zombie the next day at your whole hog party.

Lesson #8 – You will be surprised how quickly the hog gets done

Speedy: Monk had told me the hog would be done in about 12 hours, and I thought no way that could be true. At the end of the day, I think we were cooking around 14 hours, but it definitely could have been done in 12 if we didn’t have temperature issues at the beginning. Lesson learned – never doubt Monk.

Monk: I have nothing else to add here other than to emphasize Speedy’s last point about never doubting me.

Lesson #9 – More is more when it comes to rebar, or consider using a grate

Speedy: To chop the hog, we first split it down the middle and then in quarters at the ribs. Unfortunately, when doing so, one quarter of the hog dropped through the rebar onto the ground. Some of the meat was salvageable, but we probably lost a good 8-10 pounds of meat. The good news is there was still plenty of our 126 pound hog to go around.

Lesson #10 – If you can swing it, smoke your first hog with your best friend

Monk: If Speedy wouldn’t have been able to make it, I would have been doing this solo. Besides the pure labor aspect of smoking a hog, there’s a definite sense of satisfaction of smoking your first hog with a good buddy. And remember – its Barbecue Bros, not Barbecue Bro.

Dukes Bar-B-Q – Orangeburg, SC

Name: Duke’s Bar-B-Q
Date: 4/14/22
Address: 801-813 Chestnut St, Orangeburg, SC 29115
Order: Large barbecue plate with hash and rice and slaw
Pricing: $

Monk: Along interstates 26, 95, and 20 in South Carolina, you are certain to see signs for a number of Duke’s Bar-B-Q’s. While these are not all part of the same chain of restaurants per se, they are all loosely connected to the Duke’s barbecue lineage which goes back decades in the midlands of the Palmetto State.

Each store is independently owned an operated, and according to Destination BBQ this plain white cinder block building off Chesnut Street in Orangeburg is just down the road from the original Dukes Bar-B-Q that was opened by Earl Dukes in 1955 and launched the Dukes Bar-B-Q brand. That building sat less than a mile away but closed some years ago. This store is operated by Earl’s nephew Harry Ott, Jr and his wife Ann; Harry’s mother Elma was the sister of Earl and he learned the recipes from his other Uncle Danny in addition to Uncle Earl.

Not much has likely changed since 1975 when the Otts moved from their original location in St Matthews, and this rectangular box that is lit by fluorescent lights has a dining room with checkerboard table cloths at the front with the kitchen separated by the counter and serving area. Also going back to 1975, be sure to have cash on hand as they don’t take cards.

At Dukes, a large plate will get you a generous portion of hash and rice as well as barbecue topped with their mustard sauce and a side of slaw. The chopped pork was fine and the slaw inoffensive but for me, the draw was the hash and rice which isn’t overly sweet. I’m still a newbie when it comes to hash and rice, but I enjoyed the Dukes version of it which has a more orange tint than what I tried a few days earlier at new school Palmira Barbecue in Charleston.

New school is something Dukes definitely is not, but that’s a feature not a bug. Sitting four miles off I-26 in Orangeburg, check out Dukes Bar-B-Q for a classic, old school South Carolina barbecue experience.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Hash – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 3 hogs
Overall – 3 hogs

The Carolina BBQ Festival Delivered on its Promise to Put Charlotte Barbecue on the Map

Monk: On a perfect spring day in a perfect setting, the first annual Carolina BBQ Festival capped off Barbecue Month in style at the Boileryard at Camp North End in Charlotte in late May.

My hopes were high, as I had previously written, and I was heartened to see that first the VIP then the General Admission tickets sold out in the weeks ahead of the festival. As someone who can now be considered a longtime Charlottean (having lived here for 17+ years), sometimes you can never tell whether Charlotte is going to show up for a brand new festival but Lewis Donald and team can build off a sold out festival going into next year’s edition. 

Of course, the big selling point for the festival was the barbecue talent rubbing elbows together, and on that front it did not disappoint. 

The biggest lines on the day were for former Charlottean Bryan Furman’s whole hog served with his signature bourbon peach sauce that pulled from his current Georgia roots. Tay Nelson of Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, SC handled the sides of slaw and an almost dessert-like sweet potato side dish that seemed to be a fan favorite.

Elliot Moss built a behemoth cinder block pit on the Boileryard grounds and smoked his eastern NC (though more accurately SC Pee Dee-style) whole hogs overnight. Matt Register of Southern Smoke brought the elevated sides of a BBQ saltine cracker casserole with a tomato salad and cornbread.

Not to be outdone, Nathan Monk, the 3rd generation pitmaster of Lexington Barbecue, brought a bunch of Lexington-style pork shoulders and red slaw smoked the night before in the storied Lexington Barbecue pits while Brandon Shepherd of Shepherd’s Barbecue in Emerald Isle handled the sides of Mexican street corn and baked beans.

For those fortunate enough to snag a VIP ticket, Jon G’s brought the heat with their beef rib croissant and jalapeno cheddar grits with a burnt end garnish while Sweet Lew’s provided a pickled ramp sausage and cheesy potatoes and a side of his version of hash and rice.

Oysters were provided by North Sea Oyster Co and Crystal Coast Oysters. Oysters plus a couple of mimosas or bloody marys made for a very filling experience for VIP customers, for sure.

Before I go any further, I should pause to give props to all of the pitmasters who came from all over NC and the southeast, many of which were running off of a lack of sleep due to running their restaurants or handling catering gigs. Not to mention the hogs provided by Ronald Simmons and Master Blend Family Farms.

On the entertainment front, several local bands kept the crowd entertained. Carolina Gator Gumbo started off the afternoon with their cajun creole music before giving way to Justin Fedor & the Denim Denim. Fedor, who also spends time in Charlotte psych-rock band Ancient Cities, channels his country-rock troubadour in this band of his. Finally, Emanuel Wynter capped off the afternoon with his unique blend of his violin skills with a talented band behind him switching easily between genres. In between sets, DJ That Guy Smitty kept the crowd’s heads bopping with his mix of funky and soulful tunes.

As successful as the debut festival was, next year I’d like to see a second wave of customers enter after the initial rush moves through because while there are lengthy lines for the first hour or two, there was not as much activity at the tents in hours 3 and 4 while there was still plenty of food. No doubt Lewis and team are working through that and more tweaks for next year’s festival.

Speaking of which, Lewis told me he has even bigger and better plans for next year’s edition, and I can’t wait until he unveils them to the public. The first Carolina BBQ Festival was certainly a great start to what hopefully becomes a Spring tradition in Charlotte. For me, it more than delivered on its promise to put Charlotte barbecue on the map.

More sights from the festival:

Palmira Barbecue – Charleston, SC

Name: Palmira Barbecue
Date: 4/11/22
Address: 99 S. Market Street, Charleston, SC 29401
Order: Whole hog barbecue, hash and rice, beans, slaw, and collards (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: As has been well documented, Charleston has experienced a bit of a barbecue renaissance the past few years. Swig N’ Swine and Home Team Barbecue have expanded onto and around the peninsula. Rodney Scott started his self-titled barbecue empire in Charleston in 2017 And now has locations in Birmingham, Homewood, AL, and Atlanta. John Lewis started Lewis Barbecue around the block from Home Team BBQ’s downtown location and Lewis has since opened his border cuisine restaurant Rancho Lewis. Then, in recent years, Palmira Barbecue entered the Charleston barbecue chat.

Hector Garate named Palmira Barbecue after his grandmother and his approach to barbecue reflects both his Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage. He got his start at pop-ups at local breweries, but last fall the Port of Call Food + Brew Hall came…er, calling. Port of Call is what I would consider to be a mini-food hall at the former Bubba Gump Shrimp Company location right off the market. It has a great biergarten-style courtyard with an outdoor bar, 2 more indoor bars, and 5 total food stall options: Italian, Greek street food, Asian Fusion, acai and poke bowls as well as a raw bar. I found it to be a great concept and while business was a little slow on a Monday evening I have been told it gets pretty packed on the weekend.

Palmira offers smoked whole hog every day of the week and on the weekends expands its menu to include some combination of beef cheeks, brisket, beef barbacoa, and house-made sausage. The approach is “farm-to-pit” and for the whole hog, Garate partners with Marvin Ross of Peculiar Pig Farms in nearby Summerville for the heritage hogs that he smokes. The result is flavorful barbecue that is pulled and mixed by hand. Garate spent some time in eastern NC, and perhaps some of that influences his whole hog. Fantastic stuff.

Garate also offers hash and rice most days, a dish that Hector apparently loves and eats daily according to his interview with the Tales from the Pits podcast episode earlier this year. For his hash, he smokes the pig head that goes into the hash and pours the meat gravy over Carolina Gold rice. I might go for a double order next time around.

The Cuban and Puerto Rican influence really came through for me in the sides. The beans have a “Puerto RIcan twist” in the form of I believe sofrito. The Palmira slaw is vinegar-based but nothing like you’d have in either eastern or western North Carolina. The collards pack quite a kick in the form of spice on the back end.

Big things appear to be on the horizon for Hector Garate and Palmira Barbecue. Instead of waiting for a pricey smoker to be built and delivered to him, Hector built his own smoker and will soon be expanding into smoker building for other customers – Cienfuegos Smokers.

Port of Call Food + Brew Hall is a fine start, but I can see Hector expanding to his own brick and mortar for a second location before too long. In short, based on my experience I expect to see more of Palmira Barbecue and its sustainable approach to whole hog and Texas barbecue around Charleston in the near future.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 3.5 hogs
Pork – 4.5 hogs
Hash – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs