A lot of folks get nervous when you start throwing wild pig into the dinner table conversation. Log onto any hunting forum and the majority of people will say they don’t bother eating hogs for any number of reasons—smell, taste, unfounded rumors, you name it. It’s simply the majority mindset, or at least it was.
Where I live in Texas, we’re inundated with these feral critters, but there’s a love/hate relationship at play. I hate that they destroy our hay fields, but I love cooking these beasts and do so on a regular basis. Like me, Jesse Griffiths thinks the pig detractors are ill-informed if not crazy, so much so that he wrote a book dedicated to cooking wild hogs. As the owner of the renowned Dai Due in Austin, as well as the mind behind The New School of Traditional Cookery, he’s been waving the banner for wild hogs since before it was fashionable. And people are beginning to catch on.
Regardless, there still are some mental and actual obstacles to overcome. If you’re hunting for pigs regularly, you will run into a smelly one. Particularly when you get to more sparse regions in South Texas, where Jesse hunts, you’re likely to find a “big stinky” now and then. And if the man who literally wrote the book on hog cooking can be intimidated by a particularly pungent specimen, you know it can be a real issue. The good news is that even the stinkiest of pigs can become delicious table fare.
Jesse believes the meat of a wild pig calls for heavy seasoning on any occasion: “The salt-and-pepper brigade is right when they’re talking about things like elk and deer. But the flavor of a pig invites addition,” Jesse told MeatEater. “I think sweet and sour and spice all really work so well with pork, especially wild pork. It should be used more freely. You don’t have to go the more austere route.”
So, whether you’re an adventurous eater looking to get into wild pig cuisine or you have a mother-in-law who won’t buy your “I got it from the grocery store” story anymore, Jesse and I wanted to share with you our three favorite hog preparations for anyone who’s a bit timid about helping out with the wild pig epidemic we’re facing across the country.
When In Doubt, Go With Hog Sausage Maybe it’s the heavy German influence in Texas, but we love sausage down here. And, if you’re unsure what to do with the big boar you just downed, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with turning the entire thing into a freezer full of bratwurst, boudin, andouille, and more.
“I think sausage is a great use for almost any size of feral hog,” Jesse said. “They can be lean and you can add fat in, or they can be fatty where you don’t have to add fat. Spices in more heavily seasoned sausages can conquer the more assertive flavors of wild boars. And, everybody loves sausage. That’s a really good go-to.”
In North Texas where I live, we have plenty of acorns and forage for pigs so we rarely run into one we’re doubtful about eating. But we still regularly make sausage with them, and I’ve never had a timid eater complain about any off-flavors or really even notice that they’re eating wild pig.
As Jesse pointed out, you’ll most likely need to incorporate fat into your sausage. He does run into a fatty pig every once in a while, though. Jesse harvests fat from the forward area of the backstraps above the shoulders and the top of the hams but avoids interior fats as they’re not good for sausage grinding. If you’re lucky enough to kill a fatty pig, just ballpark your ratio of fat to lean meat—somewhere around 20 to 25% white to pink.
Capitalize With a Hog Curry There’s a reason curry is such a popular dish around the world. You can use it to make pretty much anything taste good. By marinating and braising small cuts of boneless meat in heavy spices, you’re introducing so many new flavors and creating tenderness in a piece of meat that needs time and heat.
“Lately I’ve really been getting into curries, specifically Indian curries, because the approach almost seems like it was made for wild pigs,” Jesse said. “I recently shot a big boar who was very stinky, but I still chose to process him and the Indian method of basically cutting everything into boneless pieces and braising with these beautiful spice blends works so well. It doesn’t necessarily cover up the flavor, but it just adds a lot to it and also tenderizes. Right now, that’s something that I’m obsessed with.”
While some of the spices may seem exotic, they’re easy to find. There’s a good chance you already have turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, and ginger in the back of your spice cabinet. The process also couldn’t be more straightforward. As a dish that originated out of necessity—to hide rough taste in tainted meat—you’re doing more than enough to mask any funky flavors from a large boar.
“It varies from pig to pig. Some of them are super mild and some just have a little more flavor. There are so many variables that go into what that’s going to be that it’s nearly impossible to know off-hand,” Jesse said. “I will say, this last boar–he smelled so bad. And he was absolutely delicious. I’m about to smoke some bacon that I cured off of the belly.”
You don’t have to judge a book by its cover. While you may have doubts while processing your pig, just cut a bit of hindquarter or backstrap and throw it in a cast iron for a few minutes. You may be surprised by the mellowness of the flavors despite the smell.
Jerky Doesn’t Have to Be a Last Resort Lastly, I have my own recommendation for wild pigs: jerky. Now, this tip warrants a special disclaimer because you can’t use a traditional dehydrator. Due to the risk of trichinella in the meat, you need to get your it above 145 degrees Fahrenheit for whole muscles and 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meat. With that in mind, a smoker is the way to go.
If I’m unsure about what to do with a large cut of boar meat or simply don’t feel like spending a whole Saturday stuffing sausage, jerky is a fast, simple, and easy way to use large cuts. Simply marinate strips in your choice of spices and sauces and throw them on your smoker for a few hours. I’ve used this method with both shoulders and hams and they both work well. Just be sure to give it plenty of time and trim any bits of fat if your pig has an off smell. I prefer a meatier jerky so I cut thicker strips, but if you’re into the crispy stuff, slice it thin.
Jesse also pointed out that you do want to take extra care in the field with pigs. Try to make minimal cuts in the first 24 hours to let the rigor mortis process take place. Keep the meat as dry as possible too, he says. Then, depending on your preparation, brining large cuts can be a great way to mellow out the flavor. Consider including Jesse’s personal favorite, star anise, which has historically been used to mask strong flavors.
The last thing I want people to take away from this article is that feral hogs will not taste the same as pork you purchase in the store. These are wild animals, after all. In my experience of trapping and hunting hundreds of wild pigs, I could probably count on one hand those that made me think twice about processing and eating. But, if you do run into a pungent pig, these preparations can be a great start.
Truthfully, most wild pigs have a beautiful natural flavor that works well with many different spices. It’s not about hiding the flavor of the meat and trying to trick ourselves into eating something that it’s not. It’s about using the tools at our disposal to enjoy an abundant resource in the best ways possible. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.