How We Cook Hawgs in Mississippi
This will be the most important thing you will ever read on the Net, so
- Have the slaughter-house clean the hawg but have them leave on the
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
- 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 per
- 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
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
- 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 the hawg.)
Figure 3: We use this extra cooker to continually start fresh coals.
- To prepare the hawg do the following:
- 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
BIG-TIME 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
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 done.
- 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 items.
Figure 4: Bert and Ernie. You must name the hawgs.
They refuse to cook without personal identities.
- Now take pictures with the bosses up front and the real workers in the
rear, or better yet with the real workers not even in the picture. The
reason for the pictures is that all night long you will swear you are getting
nowhere in cookin' this hawg, but 24 hours later you can prove you started
with a raw hawg. The reason for the bosses being up front is because they
will be there anyway. Besides, this may encourage them to pay for
everything, and they are of no use for anything else.
- 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
- 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.
With regard to turning, the best hawg turner is Terri Swafford from
Tullahoma, Tennessee. (She ain't bad lookin' either.) She can turn a
hawg by herself and not lose a foot, rib, or anything. Then there is Boss
Doss. When he turns a hawg, he loses legs, ribs, and hams, and this is
when he has help to boss around. It's worse when he is by himself. So,
don't do what Boss Doss does, do what Terri does. Problem is, Terri won't
tell how she does it. So, I won't tell either. (You'll need a little
mystery to look forward to.) Oh well, I'll tell you how to do it after
all. 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). Boss Doss
likes to place the hawg between two grates and then turn him while he (the
hawg, not Doss) is tied between the two grates. This works--but it's
- 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 cooker. (We used to use sheet iron for
this but Oscar cut our special piece of sheet iron in two and nailed both
pieces to Doss's goat pen. Boss Doss shot Oscar. Wish old Doss hadn't shot
Oscar now because the cardboard works much better.)
- 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. Before the use of the steel grate we had some big-time grease fires
that even Ward would love. (We caught the 396-pounder on fire. He
looked like the Empire State Building burnin' up. We had to submerge
him in a creek to get him out.)
- Also after the hawg is turned you should baste (or pour) barbecue
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 hours.
- 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 Justin boots in no time.
Figure 5: Grace Cliett liked this. Said she now won't even have to buy a
tombstone for ole Charlie,
just change the date on this one!
For a list of everything you need to cook a hawg Mississippi State style,
see Equipment for Cookin' Hawgs.