I have been so eager for The Hog Days of Summer that I thought it was two weeks ago. Two weeks ago when I texted Tyson Ho the hog cooking Chinese-American Yankee who put on the event along with John Brown Smokehouse he responded, “Next Friday . . . very close my dear friend. Soon we shall be awash in HOOOOOOOOOG!” For about a month I have been like a child waiting for Christmas. A tiny, carnivorous child. At last the appointed day came and I showed up the night before to help out a bit. The first thing I noticed was Tyson’s gigantic rig emblazoned with his nom de cue Arrogant Swine.
While the sun was still up the wood, a mixture of oak logs and other woods was delivered. And then came the hogs, two 200-plus pound Gloucester hogs, which each took three men to carry. Tyson instructed his apprentice, James in the finer points of whole hog butchery, teaching him how to expose the shoulder meat so that it gets a nice burnished crust while cooking. With their heads removed and the breast bone cut through so they would lie flat, they were ready for the cooker.
The wood pile was fed into the burn barrel one log at a time, to burn down into embers that would fuel the dual Arrogant Swine pits for their 18-hour cook. Soon the barrel—actually two 55-gallon drums welded together with a smokestack on top—was belching flames and sparks out the side door. The logs groaned and crackled as they fell to the bottom of the barrel where they burned down to glowing embers that would fuel the magic of Yankee-style North Carolina whole hog barbecue. After watching both hogs go into the cookers I left at around 12:30 a.m. as I had a Flushing food tour to do the next day. As I went to bed I made mental note not to eat too much on the tour.
I was running late to the evening session and was concerned that the festivities had started without me. “Don’t worry, been here about two hours and no hog yet,” a friend informed me via Twitter. When I got there the hungry crowd was enjoying all-you-can-drink beer provided by Founders Brewing Co., and waiting more or less patiently for their pork. The hog was soon hauled from the cooker and Tyson and his crew got to work. First Tyson cut along the mahogany skin to split the great beast in half.
Then the chopping began. Two men with cleavers chopped the hog—shoulders, loin, bits of fat, and various other parts—into largish chunks. They also chopped the crunchy skin up. This was then all mixed together, salted, and liberally doused with standard issue North Carolina vinegar pepper sauce. The finishing touch was freshly fried pork rinds, light, airy and imbued with porcine flavor.
The resulting mix ensured that each plate of barbecue contained almost every part of the magnificent animal. It was chopped coarser than any of the barbecue I had on a recent trip to North Carolina, and it was better than any of the cue I had at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. It was the third time eating Tyson’s whole hog, and to my mind, the best. This coarse chop is a new development and one that does well by the pig. And the addition of the pork rinds was just brilliant. So much so that for my second plate I skipped the cole slaw and made myself what I’ve dubbed the “fatkins plate,” half pork and half pork rinds. Tyson has evolved his own Yankee version of Carolina ‘cue.
With the party in full swing Tyson announced that Fifi and Fido were welcome to the bones. I counted myself a lucky dog, too as I waddled to the subway full of pork and good cheer. There are seven more whole hog cookouts left this summer, including one this weekend in Greenpoint. As a friend likes to say, these are meaty times we live in.