How They Cook Hawgs in Mississippi
This will be the most important thing you will ever read on
the Net, so pay attention.
Have the slaughter-house clean the hawg but have them leave on the head,
all feet, and tail (a cap goes on the tail). Also tell them not to damage
the ears (some slaughter-houses think they have to suspend the hawg by
grabbing them with some sort of hanging device around the base of the ears,
but we have found that they can do this without harming the ears). Also,
if you can remember, have them prop the mouth open with a stick because
an apple must go in the mouth, and most humans are not strong enough to
open the mouth for this purpose.
Hawgs in the weight range of 80-120 pounds dressed (where dressed means
a hawg that has been cleaned but has the head, feet, and tail attached)
usually cook best. We've cooked hawgs as large as 396 pounds dressed, but
we don't recommend it. The amount of meat per person will depend on the
group. An all-men group will consume a good bit more than a mixed group,
particularly if the people in the mixed group have never attended one of
these. If they have attended one previously and found that the hawg didn't
kill 'em, then they will eat more. We suggest one pound of dressed hawg
We do not dig a pit in Mississippi due to the clay. Build a pit of concrete
blocks two blocks high, five blocks long, and three blocks wide (for one
hawg) on flat ground or slightly sloping ground which will help drain the
grease away. This takes a total of 32 blocks. If you are short a few blocks,
you can get by with 28 blocks by making the pit four blocks long.
Figure 1: Freezer foil on the bottom, bricks, coarse screen
on top of brick.
Coals will go on top of screen.
Line the bottom of the pit with freezer foil, not regular aluminum foil
as it is too thin. Put freezer foil on the bottom and then brick on which
a coarse screen is placed. The coals are placed on the screen.
Spread out a few bricks (eight to twelve) in the bottom of the pit.
Place a fine steel grate (or coarse screen) on the bricks in the bottom
of the pit. This will prevent large grease fires if you pay attention and
immediately put out the small fires which start when grease drops down
on the hot coals. (Doss likes to use a water (squirt) bottle for this.
I think that's cheatin' and should be done by using the small coal shovel
to spread the coals away from the small fires.)
Place the rods across the top of the blocks with another piece of fine
steel grate on top of the rods. The hawg will go on top of this grate.
(Actually we now use a steel grate that has long lengths of small sized
angle-iron down each side that reaches across the pit and the hawgs go
directly on this grate.) Spray the top grate with Pam.
Figure 2: This is the pit set-up for two hawgs.
When the hawg arrives, start four or five pounds of charcoal in the charcoal
cooker. (This cooker is used only to get the coals ready to place under
To prepare the hawg do the following:
After the hawg is prepared, lay him belly down on the grate. Place a new
Mississippi State hat on his head between his ears, shades on his eyes,
and an Ole Miss baseball cap on his rear end. If he has a bullet hole between
his eyes, he will need a bandaid here. The hawg won't cook without these
Figure 3: Bert and Ernie. You must name the hawgs.
Rip-out the kidneys and any extra tubes, etc. (like the aorta) that the
hawg will no longer need.
Take the single bladed ax and hammer and start splitting the backbone so
the hawg will lay flat on the grate. (This method of cookin' is called
butterfly cookin', so you want to open him up so he will lay-out (like
a flyin' squirrel).)DO NOT CUT THROUGH THE SKIN or you will have
problems later on. In fact, don't cut the skin in any way, or poke any
holes in the skin.
After you get the hawg laid-out, the apple is next. Have your stoutest
guy or gal pull the mouth open and stick an apple in it. I have seen this
done once. If you have no Paul Bunyan around, use item 11 in the equipment
list. The apple is necessary because he will bite the apple when he is
They refuse to cook without personal identities.
You are ready to start cookin` now. Use the small coal shovel to place
2 to 3 coals under each ham and each shoulder. (NO MORE COALS THAN THIS!)
You will now start getting verbal abuse about how the hawg won't cook,
it will be raw, any fool would know better, etc, etc. Tell them fine, they
don't have to eat any of it tomorrow. Then replenish the charcoals you
took out of the charcoal cooker and head for the beer cooler. (You only
have to start the charcoal once. After the first time, simply spread the
hot charcoal out so that when the charcoal gets hot, it is about time to
put more coals under the hawg. I would guess this works out to be about
every 30 to 40 minutes. More on this in instruction number 16 below.)
Say you want to eat the hawg(s) at 5 P.M. on a Saturday. (All that follows
is relative time based on this assumed eating time of 5 P.M. For any other
eating time, apply a suitable forward or backward shift operator.) We usually
pick the hawg up and get him to the site by at least 4 P.M. on Friday.
You should be able to get him started cookin' by 4:30 or 5:00 P.M. on Friday.
The hawg is to be turned over only once. He will probably need to be turned
over on his back between 8 A.M. and 10 A.M. on Saturday at that "moment-of-perfection,"
and I don't know how to describe to you what that "moment-of-perfection"
is, so just turn him at 9:41 A.M. on Saturday. With regard to turning,
just scoot the hawg over to one side on the grate and just turn him all
at once (but watch out for breaking a well-cooked leg). One trick is to
place the hawg between two grates and then turn him while he is tied between
the two grates. This works--but it's cheatin'.
After starting the hawg at 5 P.M. on Friday, continue cookin' him by adding
coals now and then. You can leave him uncovered on the pit for viewing
until around 10 or 11 P.M. Friday night. Then you need to cover him. We
cover the hawg (or hawgs) with one large piece of cardboard that does
not touch the hawg anywhere except the feet and ears. Over this cardboard
place a small tarp that covers the pit. This is essentially your $5,000.00
The rate at which coals are applied comes, I suppose, from experience.
For the entire 24 hours of cooking, you should use slightly less than one
pound of charcoal per pound of hawg. For example, for a 100 pound dressed
hawg (including head and feet, we would buy 100 pounds of charcoal, but
we would probably only use around 70 to 85 pounds of charcoal. The key
to cookin' is to START SLOW and don't ever get much faster. Just
be PERSISTENT. It is a low-temperature/long-duration cooking process.
Every time one of our cookers have described to someone else how to cook
a hawg, they usually cook too fast and ruin the hawg.
After the hawg is turned over, grease will drip, or even run at times,
so one should not put the coals where the grease drips. (Actually it will
begin dripping long before it's turned but the greatest danger of significant
grease fires occurs after turning.) We usually place the coals more around
the edges after turning. This will not hurt the cooking rate because the
cardboard and tarp will be like an oven. This locating of hot coals is,
of course, to prevent grease fires. We have never had a large grease fire
since we started using the raised steel grate on the bottom of the pit.
Also after the hawg is turned you should baste (or pour) barbecue sauce
on the bottom side of the hawg which is now turned up. This doesn't get
any barbecue flavor into the meat, it only keeps the meat from getting
dry on this side, so any kind of sauce will do. We usually serve the barbecue
sauce on the side, so that people can have hot, or mild, or whatever they
want, or whatever you have to offer. Repeat this basting every couple of
When the hawg is done (by definition he is done at 5 P.M., and at this
time he will bite the apple in two) pick him up by using the rods or sucker
rod grate and move him to a place in the food line on the saw horses. Use
two cutters, or pullers, on either side of the hawg. The best thing to
do if the hawg is cooked properly is for these pullers to put on the rubber
gloves (the thicker the glove the better because the meat will be hot)
and simply pull the meat off and pull it apart. Do not use swine experts
or veterinarians for this, as they don't seem to know the difference between
a ham and a tenderloin. Be careful to not break the skin, the grease (which
you will not notice dripping through) can ruin a good pair of boots in