10 Steps to Hostin' a Pig Pick’n
Organizing a Carolina tradition doesn’t have to be complicatedBy Wendy Perry
Many of us who grew up around North Carolina feel like we were born eating barbecue. We’ve lost count of the pig pick’ns we have been to or hosted over time. The picking of pigs is so much of a norm for us that when folks who “ain’t from around here” say they’ve never been to one, we gasp, and feel a need to host or find one of these Southern communal feasting rituals so that they may be initiated.
So let’s chat about hosting one, and let them in on our good eats.
First, a fact that is imperative to establish at this point: Barbecue is a noun, not a verb. At least for most of us. We eat barbecue. We don’t “have” a barbecue. We grill or cook out, or in this case, have a pig pick’n.
But just what does it take to host a pig pick’n? Don’t be overwhelmed — I’ve broken it down here in 10 steps:
1 A reason isn’t really required to cook a pig, although there often may be one. Being that food is a focal point for most all celebrations, and since hogs can be had in all sorts of sizes and are relatively inexpensive, a pig pick’n is budget friendly and suitable for all sorts of affairs. From hauling one in its cooker to a college football parking lot to wedding celebrations, you can’t go wrong with pick’n pork.
2 Next, you’ll need to jot down your guest list to decide just what size hog is needed. It is at this point you will want to bring your friend, the local pitmaster, to the party. He or she is the most vital ingredient of your gathering (aside from the pig of honor, of course). We all know who these folks are, but if you are new to this, ask your local friends for recommendations. Let the pitmaster take on the piggy prep while you focus on the hosting and fix’ns. They will be the providers of the all-important sauce, too, typically their own special “secret” recipe.
3 So now that the pig is off your plate, so to speak, it’s time to dress it up. When we dress up our pigs, we’re not talking fancy frou-frou sorts of stuff. This is when you call up those friends who love to cook or those who have said “let me know if I can help with anything” or “can I bring something?” (although they probably didn’t actually mean that, and were just being gracious).
For smaller gatherings, it’s fun to turn it into a potluck and ask others to bring their special slaw, tater salad, baked beans, or whatever other barbecue-centric recipes are dear to them. It’s like the good old days of country church homecomings, when long rows of sawhorses topped with plywood were filled with such a bounty, and chickens were fried that morning, not put out in golden yellow or red and white boxes!
Just be sure to keep a list so you don’t end up with a trough-full of one or the other, and so you will know what to fix yourself to fill in the gaps.
For larger gatherings, you will want to dial up your local country cook’n restaurant and let them help you be “hostess with the mostess” and make up big pans of sides, usually presented in tin foil pans. By hiding these and dishing out into your own serving vessels (and shaking a bit of paprika here and there) you can accept the accolades, except from the inevitable few who patronize said restaurants and recognize their dishes by looks alone.
4 At this point, I must stress food safety! My friends know me as the Food Safety Police. This is the most important element of your food and presentation. You do not want your party to be remembered for being that one that made dozens sick because hot foods weren’t hot and cold foods were … warm! UGH. (Did you know even baked beans can wreak havoc?)
Please keep cold foods on ice, put out in small batches kept in proper refrigeration. I beg of you. And if you have a big crowd and lots to keep chilled, an easy way to do that is with a small kid’s swimming pool, or things like big galvanized tubs lined with burlap. Fill with ice and sit your bowls into the pool at serving time. Borrow or rent chafers for your hot foods, and chat with your pig cooker about his food safety plans also.
5 To round out your meal, white bread or rolls are standard and help with grease absorption. Some like to add hushpuppies. You’ll probably want to pick those up somewhere, or for those a bit more adventurous, try our award-winning recipe for Oinkers with BBQ Gravy Dip (see page 12).
6 To wash it all down, sweet tea (and unsweet) must be invited to the party. A tub of ice and pitchers of lemonade will be appreciated. Just resist the urge to serve your lemonade in a cute tin bucket or tub, as a resulting acidic chemical reaction may leave your refreshment tasting metallic. And don’t forget to have plenty of cold water! A recommended added treat here in NC: plenty of iced-down Cheerwine.
7 Little else is needed, except fun disposables. And tables and chairs. Adorn your tables with flower vases (aka jars pulled from the back of your cabinets). Nothing fancy is required — whimsical flowers and greenery are often available growing wild around the neighborhood. Inexpensive sheets of burlap can be had from farm container supply businesses.
8 Finally, desserts are a must. “A little something sweet” to balance out the pig fat, you know. Typically, this will be banana pudding and pig pick’n cake. We have made this really simple for you with our Pig Pick’n Banana Pudding — a no-cook crowd pleaser that you can throw together in no time (or farm out to one of those who asked to “do something”).
9 A few last tips: Be sure to have plenty of containers or zippered bags to pack up the leftover pig, as there will usually be some. Ask your pitmaster to take care of this final pick’n for you. Have some of those “can I help with anything” folks lined up to pitch in with post-pick’n clean-up (and reward them with leftover pig).
10 Last, but not least, have fun! Don’t work yourself silly. The beauty of hosting a pig pick’n is its simplicity … so even the host can kick back and enjoy it.
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