When you buy a smoker, this is the proper place to start. I think it's the pinnacle of smoking, but I might be biased.
Another controversial opinion is - Whole hog BBQ is a waste. That’s not to say I don’t like it because I do, and that’s not to say there isn’t a time or place for it, there is. When you see a whole hog on a table at a party there is just something special about it, it feels like a special occasion even when it's just a random get-together. So why do I feel this way?
I hear a lot of people, chefs, bloggers, and “influencers”, talk about ensuring that all parts are used out of respect for the butchered animals' lives. I really vibe with this as there is so much waste in the food industry today. So yes, a whole hog barbecue uses the whole damn thing, so sure there is less waste. But I also believe a huge part of respecting an animal is using every piece of meat to its maximum potential, and that isn’t throwing it all on one big smoker and treating them all the same way. Very rarely do I see the more refined cuts like the jowl pulled into the mix, that's probably because it's overcooked and dry by the time a whole hog cooks.
Pork belly is way better cured and turned into bacon. Why the hell would you want to lose the coppa in a pulled or chopped barbecue? Pork jowl deserves to be turned into guanciale. Ears are an amazing delicacy. Everyone knows ribs and don’t get me started on a tenderloin. Pork rinds are a great snack. I love good headcheese. Each of these cuts can be prepared separately, in a fantastic way that maximizes its characteristics, so why cook them all together? Seems lazy to me, but I guess the blend of it all is part of the allure of whole hog cooking.
For my chopped barbecue I use a bone-in Boston Butt, a cut that comes from the shoulder section of the hog. I know that eastern style is traditionally whole hog, but re-read the top of this if you have a problem with that. Butt's got great flavor, and lots of intermuscular fat to break down over hours of cooking, keeping its sweet meat moist and packed with flavor. There’s almost no waste. Most importantly they typically come in manageable size portions of between 7-12 pounds which works well considering most people have nowhere to keep a big ass hog. Look closely at the label and run away from any that say “10-15% added salt and water” or anything along those lines.
Pre-planning is a critical step in smoking a Boston Butt. Always give yourself plenty of time and think of the amount of barbecue that you need to feed the number of people you are planning on feeding. I usually portion a half pound per person. It gives you plenty of padding, plus I always want a little for leftovers or to send home with friends. In my experience, a Boston Butt usually gives you a 55% final yield. So not to get too math class on you, but here is the formula:
(# of People Eating x .5) / .55 = Raw Weight Needed in Lbs
Chopped Eastern NC Style Barbecue
Makes 8-10 servings 10-12 Hours
8-9 Lb Bone-In Boston Butt
1 C Kosher Salt
1.5 C Whole Black Peppercorns
Cole's Vinegar Sauce (Link)
Oak & Hickory (Chunks, logs, chips, or pellets to fit your smoker)
Remove the Boston Butts from the fridge the night before, or several hours before you plan to cook to allow them to come up to a reasonable temperature. Many are frozen when they arrive at a grocery store, so why it may feel thawed, its core might still be frozen. That will only give you a miserable stall and add to your cooking time.
Prepare the salt and pepper blend:
Using a spice or coffee grinder, grind 1.25 C of the whole black peppercorns to a medium coarse grind. I prefer to leave some bigger pieces in there
Finely grind the remaining .25 C of whole black peppercorns
Add to container containing 1 C of Kosher Salt
Shake to incorporate
Preheat your smoker to 225F add a combination of oak and applewood chips and allow it to begin to generate smoke. The heavier the smoke can be for the first few hours the better. However, be sure that the smoke is white, if the smoke is grey or worse black, you need to adjust your heat levels or air intake to avoid a harsh/ sour smoke taste.
Prepare your butts by heavily seasoning the outside of the meat. Rub it well. There should be a heavy layer afterward but should stop short of completely blocking the view of the pink meat below.
Once your smoker is rolling with smoke, place the seasoned butts, with the fat cap up, on the smoker.
Continue monitoring the smoke levels for at least 4 hours. High levels of smoke will help ensure a good flavorful bark develops.
After 4 hours, the pork will stop absorbing much additional smoke flavor. While small amounts of smoke will help to develop the bark, just let the smoke do it’s thing. Grab a beer and relax for a little bit, Just make sure to maintain its temperature at 225F.
Monitor the meat until it reaches an internal temperature of 197F close to the bone. This will typically take at least one hour per pound. You will hit a stall point around 165F, just leave it alone and do not be tempted to turn up the heat. It’ll push through, and the fat cap on top will ensure that everything stays moist.
Once the meat reaches our target temperature, remove it from the smoker and wrap it in butcher paper or aluminum foil. Rest in a cooler (or your oven in the off position) for at least one hour, but ideally up to four. This will allow for the butt to continue any carryover cooking, and for the fat/ juices to take hold in the meat. Skipping these steps risks a less moist final product.
After resting, prepare your chopping surface. Remove the butt from the foil, one at a time if preparing multiple. Using your fingers (or tongs if it is still too hot), remove the bone from the butt, it should slide out like butter. Make sure to remove all of the meat from the bone and toss it aside.
Use a large knife, preferably a cleaver, and begin cutting the pork into smaller and smaller chunks. Peel some of the bark off to chop separately and ensure that it is evenly incorporated into all of the barbecue, it's one of the best parts after all.
Continue chopping until your desired texture is reached.
Lightly add some vinegar sauce until you get the base flavor you are looking for. I like to go light here so that each person can add as much or as little sauce as they’d like. Just do enough to generate a hint of its flavor and some additional salt.