With my 40th birthday approaching, my wife Rachel asked what I’d like to do. We had already made plans to see my sister and her family for the 4th of July, with my actual birthday following on July 5th. But she felt that spending my 40th birthday driving 8 hours home from Little Rock would not sufficiently mark the momentous occasion, so she was kind enough to solicit something else.
Two things came to mind. First, a small gathering here at home with my friends. Instead of going out to a restaurant, I preferred to have a few folks come over where we could relax and talk without being hurried. Second, I wanted to cook. I know it may sound counter-intuitive to want to host others and do a bunch of cooking in celebration of one’s own birthday, but a cornerstone that Rachel and I share is opening our home to serve others. We decided to provide a keg of wine from The Austin Winery and a generous offering of something tasty.
Like everyone in Austin these days, I am obsessed with BBQ. It’s been around this area forever, but within the past few years the popularity has exploded. I’ve visited a number of the famous places and read about the owner/operators. It’s a fascinating story, and like many of them, I’m dedicated to my own backyard laboratory, working to perfect my style.
Fortunately, my parents had just given me a new Brinkman smoker from Home Depot for my birthday. My dad has several BBQs, including a custom made monster that rides on a flat-bed trailer. It was made in Uvalde, TX and he and mom hauled it back to the Minnesota/Wisconsin border where they live. He’s done a bit of catering over the years and has his method of Minnesota style smoked meats down to a science. He is a scientist at heart and I’d put his pulled pork up against anyone’s. Thus, after discussing techniques over the past two years he determined I was ready to move on from my elementary school level smoker to a more substantial rig.
Next, I decided that instead of feeding 10 people the usual brisket, ribs, sausage that I needed to raise my game. After carefully considering some options, I decided that cooking a whole pig was the only logical way to honor my friends. My mother’s side of the family are mostly Iowa hog farmers, so as a head-nod to my heritage, cooking a whole pig was an honorable endeavor.
About a week before the party, we placed our order for a 20-25 lb. pig from MT Supermarket in Austin, which we were to pick up on the following Friday. That week I scoured the internet looking for recipes, methods, techniques and tips. The key difference between my project and most that I found was that I wanted to cook it indirectly on my new smoker, as opposed to over direct heat on a rotisserie or open fire pit. A great article from The Smoke Ring gave me the info I needed to feel confident in my approach.
We collected the pig the next week, a perfect 23 pounder. When I got him home I opened it up, did some careful trimming, removed the membranes from the ribs, and put it in a cooler filled with pineapple juice, orange juice and a few bags of ice for a good overnight soak. It was my grandfather’s old metal Coleman cooler that I inherited, and I felt he would have felt honored by its use.
In the next post, I’ll recap the rest of the preparation, the cooking process, and the results….