No one is quite certain how many people in Alabama consider themselves wild pig hunters, but there’s one thing for certain: There’s about to be a bunch more in upcoming years.
The recent creation of an Alabama hunting license that enables the holder to hunt feral swine at night with thermal imaging and night vision equipment opens up a fun new way to battle the troublesome swine.
It is also about to unleash a flurry of questions about what to do with feral swine once you harvest them.
Asking whether wild pigs are good to eat brings the “I heard” experts out in droves. Most can’t supply you with any usable information based on experience, just things they have heard. AON decided to track down some serious pig hunters in Alabama who prepare and eat feral swine on a regular basis. We wanted to pick their brains for fact-based information. Many were willing to participate and all provided usable info.
Some obvious common denominators among those contacted were that proper field-dressing, cleanliness and an understanding of the differences in feral swine and commercially raised pork are critical to providing a great finished product.
Jody Courson, of Leeds, is in a hunting club in Sumter County in west Alabama that is inundated with wild hogs. He wanted to do his part in reducing the club’s feral swine population, but he couldn’t bare the idea of killing something without utilizing the meat. He said what he learned was that many of the beliefs about feral swine meat just aren’t true.
“I always heard that a wild pig over 150 pounds was not fit to eat and that you can only eat sows,” he said. “That just isn’t true. I killed 14 hogs this year, and I had all but one processed. I had one 220-lb. boar butchered, and I soaked it in pineapple juice. I served it as barbecue at the Shoot and Brag Club’s annual wild game dinner. Everybody was saying that there was no way it was a wild hog.”
Jody said if it’s a small pig, he processes it himself. When he harvests a larger pig, he said the $80 cost to have the pig butchered, cut up and packaged at Allen’s Deer Processing in Vincent (205.672.7906) is well worth the money.
“When I butcher one myself, I pressure wash it to clean it, and then I skin it out,” he said. “I let all mine age in a cooler for about a week. I keep ice on it and the water drained off. If that makes any difference, I couldn’t swear to it, but in my mind, I believe it does.”
Jody says he has experimented with having the hogs he has taken butchered into different cuts. He has found his favorites.
“I get a lot of the meat done like cubed beef steak, and it as good or better than cubed beef steak,” he said. “Flavor-wise, wild pig is closer to beef than pork. Anything you can use beef in, you can substitute wild hog. It looks like beef and it tastes like beef.
“You can put the cubed pork steak into a crockpot with roasted green chilies and one stick of butter and let it simmer overnight or all day, and it is the best thing you have ever eaten. You can do the same thing in a crockpot with potatoes and carrots. It makes like a beef pot roast.”
Jody also has much of the meat made into a hot pork breakfast sausage.
“I use it in spaghetti, but the best thing is hamburgers,” he said. “I mix about 3 1/2 pounds of ground chuck with 2 pounds of the breakfast sausage and make patties and cook them on the grill. Everybody says it is the best hamburger they have ever had.”
Jody says there are some cuts he avoids, but that may be changing.
“Because of a wild hog’s diet and its range, they are very lean,” he said. “There’s not much meat on the ribs, so I discard them, but I gave some to a friend, and he told they are the best ribs he has ever had and they are better than store-bought ribs.
“I also don’t usually keep the pork belly, but I finally got one hog the other day where the processor said he could make bacon out of it. He said so many people are feeding corn to deer, the pigs are eating it and building up more fat than before.”
Larry Wilson lives in Baldwin County but operates a pay-to-hunt lodge in Beatrice in Monroe County that is overrun with feral swine. He has customers who come from far and wide to experience the wild pig hunting like they witness on the Internet. He has a permit to hunt hogs at night, so hunters can either take pigs during the day or participate in night hunts with thermal imaging equipment. In the past year, 98 wild hogs have been taken off of the 3,000-acre piece of property.
“They are very good to eat,” he said. “We eat a bunch of them. We also clean them, ice them and let our customers take them back with them. We don’t waste them. Any of them that we don’t cook or customers don’t take, we give to local families in town.”
His favorite way to cook wild pig?
“We cook the small ones on the grill,” he said. “You can’t find a better piece of meat for the grill. Our customers get a kick out of seeing that.”
Larry says there isn’t enough meat on the ribs of a wild pig to make saving them worthwhile, but the hindquarters, backstraps and front shoulders provide good meat.
“A pig that weighs 60 to 70 pounds is also good in the smoker,” he said. “You can smoke it six to seven hours and it’s great.”
He insists that most wild pig meat doesn’t naturally have a gamey taste, but it can be made to taste gamey with poor handling.
“You may eat venison 12 months out of the year and love it, but you may get some that wasn’t handled right, and if you ate that, you’d never eat venison again. Wild pigs are the same way. Done right, a wild pig hindquarter on the grill is as good of a piece of meat as you can get anywhere.
“What I like is that wild hogs are not as greasy as farm-raised pork.”
Ronald Allen of Allen’s Deer Processing in Vincent is one of many deer processors across the state that have added butchering feral swine to their offerings. He said he processed more this year than ever before, and that trend has been steady for several years.
He requires wild hogs to be gutted and skinned before being brought in for processing. He said that should be done quickly after they are killed, but like deer hunters, novice pig hunters are bad about wanting to show them around first. It’s often a period of two hours or more before they are gutted and skinned, and that is reflected in the quality of the meat.
He said there are similarities and differences between farm-raised pigs and wild pigs.
“The pork chops, Boston butt and shoulders are all the same cuts,” he said. “But there is a world of difference in the texture. Wild pigs are lean and can be tough and have almost no fat. I tell people the best thing to do is to take the best cuts and grind it into sausage. I mix it with pork trimming I get commercially at Royal Sausage in Pell City. It’s great in chili.”
He charges $85 minimum to butcher a wild pig.
He says he has found that the best eating feral swine are the ones under 50 pounds, but the larger can still produce good meals if they are taken care of properly.
Joey Wright, of Jasper, has no problem locating landowners who want him to remove feral swine from their properties. He hunts them with dogs and at night with thermal imaging equipment when he has a permit. He also traps them.
“Boar hogs of a certain age and size can have taint to the meat and a musky odor,” he said. “If it is field and processed right, a young 150-lb. sow hog can be cut up into pork chops, hams, backstraps and front shoulders. It makes great sausage.”
Joey insists that the best eating wild pigs are sows in the 75- to 80-lb. range. He cooks them on the smoker after first removing the hair. He leaves the skin on because the pigs don’t have a lot of fat and the skin helps to keep the moisture in.
“If you do skin them to make individual cuts, you skin them like you do a deer,” he said. “All the cuts are basically the same. The boars have a full shield on their front shoulder. You have to use a Sawzall to cut those off.
“We love the meat. I haven’t bought pork in six or seven years. We have a big cookout once a year.”
Wild Pig Baked Ziti
1-lb. pork breakfast sausage
1 can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
One 8-oz. can tomato paste
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 cup ziti noodles
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup Ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste.
In a large pot, brown pork sausage, drain and return to pot. To the pot add fire roasted tomatoes with juice, Italian seasoning, tomato paste and minced garlic. Add water as needed and simmer for 30 minutes. In a separate bowl, cook ziti noodles until tender. Mix all ingredients and serve.
— Jody Courson
Pork Belly Burnt Ends
1 side pork belly BBQ rub 1 cup brown sugar 1/4 cup honey 1 stick butter 1 cup BBQ sauce 1/4 cup apple jelly 1/4 cup apple juice 1 tablespoon Frank’s Hot Sauce
Remove one side of pork belly by cutting from in front of the rear leg to the front shoulder being careful to filet pork belly alongside ribs. Cut pork belly into 1-inch by 1-inch cubes. Slice the skin off each cube with filet knife. Sprinkle your favorite BBQ rub on all sides of pork belly cubes and allow to sit. Pre-heat grill or smoker to 225 degrees, and add cherry wood chips. Place cubes on indirect heat with fat side up. Cook for two hours. Remove cubes and place in an aluminum pan. Sprinkle with honey, brown sugar and place 1/4-inch slices of butter on top. Cover pan with foil and cook another hour. Meanwhile, while this is cooking, make a glaze by mixing one cup BBQ sauce, 1/4 cup apple jelly, 1/4 cup apple juice and one tablespoon Frank’s Hot Sauce in a small pot. Simmer on stove until smooth. Once burnt ends have cooked under foil, remove foil and remove pork belly burnt ends from the liquid. Move to another aluminum pan and glaze the cubes with a BBQ brush. Leave the cubes uncovered and cook on grill or smoker another 15 minutes to set glaze. The burnt ends will have a beautiful mahogany color and will melt in your mouth. — Mike Bolton
Properly Butchering Wild Pigs
Here’s a step-by-step guide to butchering a wild pig. Input is from several hunters who do it regularly.
It is recommended that the pig be field-dressed immediately when killed and stuffed with bags of ice to cool it quickly.
To butcher the meat, you’ll need a gambrel like used in cleaning deer, a way to hoist the pig into the air, rubber gloves, a sharp filet knife, and a water hose with a spray nozzle.
If you plan to cook a small pig (75 pounds or less) with the skin on, you will also need a clean 55-gallon drum, concrete blocks for the drum to sit on, a fire source under the drum, a table to lay the pig on after scalding and a stiff scraper such a putty knife to scrape the hair away.
• If you plan to cook a small field-dressed pig (75 pounds or less) with the skin on, wash it thoroughly to remove dirt and blood and build a fire under the 55-gallon drum. Get the water temperature up to 150 degrees. Lower the pig into the hot water. Leave it until you are able to pull the hair out by hand. When you are able to do so, remove the pig from the scalding water and place it on the table.
• Scrape all the hair away using the sturdy scraper.
• The pig is now ready to cook on a large grill or on a large smoker.
• If you plan to butcher the pig and remove the skin, hang the pig on the gambrel by the back legs and hoist it to a comfortable working level. Wash the pig thoroughly, removing all dirt and blood. The following steps will be much like cleaning a deer.
• Make the first cut by splitting the skin around all four legs above the knee joint.
• Next, make a circular cut around the anus, and if it’s a male hog, the cut should also encircle the testicles and penis.
• Make a swooping cut from one rear leg to the other, dropping the cut below the circle cut you made around the anus and the sex organs.
• Carefully begin to remove the skin by pulling the skin away from the body with one hand while using the filet knife to cut the skin away from the body.
• Carefully remove the skin around the front legs. The cape should now fall down over the head. You can remove the head. Do so by making a circular cut around the neck, and cut until the head twists off.
• Thoroughly wash the carcass, being careful to remove any loose hair.
• Inspect the carcass looking for any remaining scent glands in the meat. They can be found inside of the hams, along the spine, in the armpits and in the neck area. They will be brownish/tan and about the size of a butterbean. If not found and allowed to be processed with the meat, they will give a foul taste.
• The backstraps, tenderloins, hams and front shoulders are the prime cuts. It will take some advanced butchering skill before you can produce chops and bacon.
• Cleanliness is critical throughout the process. Keep washing the meat with cold water while butchering, and place the meat in individual, clean plastic tubs.
• The butchered meat should then be drained of any excess water before grinding into sausage or made into specialized cuts.
• Wrap in butcher paper before freezing and clearly label the cuts with a felt tip pen, and be sure to include the date.