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.

Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall – Atlanta, GA

Name: Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall
Date: 4/14/22
Address: 684 John Wesley Dobbs Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312
Order: Pulled pork tray with ribs and chicken wings, BBQ chips, chilled street corn, “BBQ fries”, and fried okra (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: Our most loyal readers will recall that I spent a year living in Atlanta. While there, I graced Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall with my presence 5 or 6 times, but I never knew they had barbecue. In fact, I never ate anything there at all. So imagine my surprise when on a return trip, there was ‘cue on the menu. And I had the entire Monk clan in tow to boot!

Monk: I’m assuming there was a change in the menu since you left Atlanta to become our Senior Tennessee Correspondent because on the day we visited (in town for the wedding of friend of the blog and Yelper HOFer TDB) the smell of smoke was evident as soon as we got out of our car and also wafted throughout the gravel patio set up with biergarten-style tables and firepits. 

Food and drinks are ordered cafeteria-style in the mode of a Texas joint, and the line moves pretty quickly. Unfortunately, at dinner on a Thursday night they were out of brisket so we made do with the available meats that Speedy could tolerate.

Speedy: Easily the star of the show was the St. Louis style ribs. Meaty, tender, and well-seasoned, they had good flavor and texture, but lacked any extra “oomph” that I’m generally looking for that could come from an extra kick; the perfect application of smoke or a sweet glaze. So while perfectly enjoyable, and something I’d order again, I don’t think they will be winning any Memphis in May awards any time soon.

Monk: We always order pork when its available, but as soon as I brought the tray to the table I knew this pork wasn’t going to cut it for us North Carolinians. It came pre-sauced and if there was any smoke to be found, it was certainly masked by the thick, overly-sweet sauce.

Speedy: The wings, like the ribs, were solid if unspectacular. Smoked then fried, these wings were tender and had good flavor, but I didn’t feel compelled to write home about them. Called “Nashville Wings” on the menu, I didn’t taste traditional hot chicken seasoning (I have become an expert), so I’m not sure what that’s about. Still, worth ordering a round for sharing.

Monk: With our group we opted mostly for the “shareable” sides and on the whole they about as successful as the meats. Which is to say, a mixed bag. The pre-sauced pork made much more sense on the “BBQ fries,” the okra was fried nicely, the chilled street corn had good flavor, and the BBQ chips were inoffensive.

Speedy: The best part about Ladybird is definitely the huge outdoor space right on the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail, which is perfect for people watching. In fact, Ladybird will show up on many “best of Atlanta” lists when discussing where to have a drink on a nice day. Unfortunately, it probably won’t repeat its spot on any best of barbecue lists. While the barbecue at Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall is good enough to get by, true ‘cue lovers are best served looking elsewhere.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 2 hogs
Ribs – 3 hogs
Chicken Wings – 3 hogs
Sides – 2.5 hogs
Overall – 2.5 hogs

Bringle’s Smoking Oasis – Nashville, TN

Name: Bringle’s Smoking Oasis
Date: 2/19/22 and 3/5/22
Address: 4901 Centennial Blvd, Nashville, TN 37209
Order: Beef rib, smoked turkey, beef brisket, pork ribs, collard greens (link to menu)
Pricing: $$$

Speedy: As you dear readers know, Peg Leg Porker has been one of my favorite Nashville joints since I moved here in 2017. The ribs and wings are both some of the best you’ll find in Tennessee, but the menu limits itself to Tennessee style barbecue – basically all pork and chicken. So when owner Carey Bringle announced he was opening a Texas-style barbecue joint, well I was interested. Bringle’s Smoking Oasis opened in December 2021, but I had not had a chance to go try it until a friend visiting gave me the perfect excuse to head over for a Saturday lunch.

First things first – the space is awesome. Bringle’s Smoking Oasis is right in the heart of the Nations – an up-and-coming neighborhood in Nashville – as is walking distance to several breweries and other restaurants. For anyone planning a visit to Nashville, this is a popular Airbnb location, with lots of new “tall/skinny” houses popping up, and several condo complexes. In addition to being in a nice neighborhood, Bringle’s Smoking Oasis has a huge outdoor area with a large bar section. In the summertime, this will be the perfect spot to enjoy an outdoor beverage or two. The inside is small but functional – a cafeteria-style line and around a dozen four-person tables.

The cafeteria-style line works a little backwards, as you first grab dessert (I opted for apple pie), then hot sides, cold sides, and ended with the meat. I was initially planning to order some the brisket, but as I got to the meat station, I saw one lonely beef rib just calling my name. Usually reserved as a Sunday special, I was told that they had a couple extra beef ribs this week and made some for Saturday as well, and there was only one left. So of course, I had to go for it, along with a bit of turkey. Friend of the blog Nate ordered pulled pork, brisket, and pastrami (on recommendation from the slicer), so I knew I’d get to try most of the meats. One small complaint here – as someone who has been to a fair share of ‘cue joints in Texas, the line, in comparison, moved very slow, with the meat station generally slowing things up. Meat slicers in Texas are artists, and move with both grace and quickness. I’m hopeful this process will speed up in the future at the Smoking Oasis, but there was a bit of a backlog at times.

All that said, we were through the line and it was time to eat. I don’t want to bury the lede, so I’ll just say the beef rib was my favorite part of the meal. The cook on the rib was perfect – it was incredibly tender pulling right off the bone, and there was just the right amount of bark outside. There could potentially have been a little bit more seasoning (I’m a pepper fiend), but that’s nit picking. I’m glad I ordered the rib, though in reality it’s probably best to be shared with 3-4 people (the rib weighed in at 1.8 pounds, bone included). My turkey was also very flavorful with great smoke. It was just a tad dry, but I also got the end of the breast, so a cut off a freshly unwrapped cut would likely solve this. The flavor was great and I will be ordering this meat again.

As for the brisket and pastrami, I really feel like I didn’t get enough to judge, so I ended up taking a solo trip back two weeks later for another go. This time I went with brisket and pork ribs. The brisket ended up being better than I remembered, with good flavor and moistness; however, it was not as tender as the top briskets I’ve had and couple probably use a little more bark. Still, a fine effort and a meat I would order again. I expected the ribs to be exactly like the ones at peg leg porker, but they were instead also cooked Texas style. The flavor was excellent, and the meat was tender, so no complaints. Based on memory, I would give a slight nod to Peg Leg ribs because of the rub, but I plan to side by side them in the future. 

Overall, I can’t recommend Bringles Smoking Oasis enough, especially on a nice day where the outdoor space can be utilized. I had high expectations going in, but they were all exceeded and Bringles will be my go to spot to bring visitors and vaults to the top of the Nashville rankings.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 5 hogs
Beef rib – 4.5 hogs
Brisket – 4.5 hogs
Turkey – 4 hogs
Pork ribs – 4.5 hogs
Sides – 4 hogs
Overall – 4.5 hogs

Peg Leg Porker – Nashville, TN (RE-REVIEW)

Name: Peg Leg Porker
Date: 6/18/21
Address: 903 Gleaves St, Nashville, TN 37203
Order: Full rack of ribs, pulled pork, smoked wings, Kool-Aid pickles, cole slaw, smoked green beans, french fries (link to menu)
Pricing: $$

Monk: Peg Leg Porker is a new-school Nashville barbecue institution, even inspiring a little bit of a Martin’s vs Peg Leg rivalry for barbecue enthusiasts in the city. Despite Speedy now living in Nashville, our only other review to date was from nearly 6 years ago a few years before Speedy had even moved to Nashville. While we had briefly stopped in for some wings at the bar last time I was in town 3 years ago, I had not officially had a meal there on the books. I made sure to change that with my most recent visit to Nashville to visit Speedy as well as my real life Bros.

Speedy: Peg Leg is not my favorite barbecue in town (in fact, it comes in at #4), but it certainly is worth a visit for anyone spending any amount of time in Nashville. Located in the trendy Gulch neighborhood, it is easy to get to but gets crowded fast, so we showed up for an early-ish lunch and after a short wait, placed our order at the counter.

Monk: My understanding is that the ribs are the star of the show for Peg Leg, and this full rack did not disappoint. Peg Leg does Memphis-style dry rub ribs and there were perfect bites all around.

Speedy: Agree, Monk. The ribs have always been my favorite part of any meal at Peg Leg, and I do think these are probably best in town – maybe in the state. The generous rub offers plenty of spice and flavor, and no sauce is needed. 

The pork (served unsauced) is pretty consistent in that while flavorful, is always a little dry. There are sauces provided, but I always prefer not having to use extra sauce if not needed, but in this case, it is needed. So while still enjoyable, the pulled pork is a notch below the ribs.

Monk: The smoked then fried wings come with the drumettes, wingettes, and wing tip all attached which from my experience isn’t the norm for a wing at a barbecue restaurant.

Speedy: …Quick interjection: Central BBQ wings are also served this way. Ok, carry on…

Monk: The wings are also finished with a dry rub and were more successful than the pork for me. I had the wings on both of my trips to Peg Leg Porker, and I will probably get them on my next visit, whenever that is.

Speedy: Definitely agree, Monk. Wings and ribs are the pro order. And you know what – I’m just fine with that. The other solid order, which was skipped on this go round, is the yardbird half chicken. It uses the same rub and is equal to the wings. This is a popular item at Peg Leg, and for good reason. But not worth passing over the ribs for.

Monk: Of the sides we ordered, the one I want to call out is the Kool-aid pickles. This is a Delta-region delicacy where Kool-aid mix is literally added to the pickle juice so that the pickles take on the color and flavor (looked to be “red” on this day), resulting in a sweet and sour experience in the form of a crunchy pickle. Just awesome.

I agree with Speedy’s statement above that Peg Leg Porker is definitely worth a visit when in Nashville. Now that I’ve experienced a full meal there, I’ll go with the ribs, wings, and Kool-Aid pickles next time I visit Speedy in Nashville.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Ribs – 4 hogs
Pork – 3 hogs
Wings – 4 hogs
Sides – 3.5 hogs
Overall – 4 hogs