Friday, January 2, 2009

Farm Direct buying: How much meat is half a hog?

I received this email earlier today, and since I've been asked this four times in the last month, I thought it worth writing up.

"How big is half a pig, and how much freezer space will I need? What cuts do I get, and what choices do I have about the way it's cut? Are there any cuts that you think I should ask for?"

I usually slaughter my animals at 280-350lbs. The 280 are for folks who are interested in the fresh pork meat, the larger animals for folks that want some of the other items, like back fat, for their own use, either as a cultural thing, or because they'd like to experiment with making their own charcuterie.

A 280lb pig will result in two halves, each weighing 110 or so lbs. Each of those 110lb halves will result in approximately 75lbs of cut-and-wrapped meat. If you ask the meat shop to do it, they'll also cut and bag the back fat. Otherwise they'll dispose of it (probably into other peoples sausage. Why not eat it yourself? ) There is nothing like lard to make pie crusts flaky and for deep frying and so on. More on lard later.

So the 75lbs of meat from each half will be:
2lb ham hock
13lbs pork chops*
7lbs of bacon
10lbs ribs
20lbs shoulder or sausage**
11bs sausage***
12lb ham****

Stuff you can ask for that's worth eating for someone:
The jowl. Makes great bacon or pancetta, easy for you to home-cure
The backfat and other fat. Easy to render into lard, which freezes beautifully
The ears, and various bones. If you have a dog, there's nothing they like better than 1lb frozen servings of fresh pork bones. my dogs eat the whole thing.
The skin. If your pig was skinned, the skin wasn't scraped, so it still has hair on it. If you know someone with a big dog, the 80lb pig skin can be cut into paperback book sized pieces and frozen. Dogs love pig skin. Heck, i love pig skin if its been scraped.

* The bone in a lion pork chop is also the bone that appears as "baby back ribs". So when you have your pig wrapped, you can choose to have the pork lion cut off and the back ribs packaged as a tasty alternative, or you can have pork chops. But you can't have both pork chops and back ribs.

**Shoulder or sausage: Pork shoulder is the top of the front leg. It is a working muscle, which means that it has connective tissue and can be a little tougher than other cuts -- so you cook it a little longer, or use a moist cooking method like braising. The shoulder also contains pretty much the perfect mix of meat and fat for sausages. So you can either have roasts or sausages. I usually have roasts -- because I can turn it into sausages pretty easily but I can't easily produce another roast.

*** Sausage. You'll get some amount of sausage anytime you have an animal wrapped. It's all the trim from the carcass, with a little bit of the back fat. It usually includes meat cut from all parts of the pigs body. Most butchers have a couple of sausage options. Breakfast sausage is a perennial favorite at my house.

**** if you don't do hams as a holiday meal, consider having them cure the ham, and then cut it into 1/2" thick ham steaks. They work great for breakfast or for a quick dinner with some scalloped potatoes. Having the ham sliced shouldn't be any additional cost.

If you'd like to see what the meat yields are for pigs or other animals per university research, look here


Stoney Creek Homestead said...

thanks Bruce. That was very helpful. Now I understand the diagrams in my butcherin books better!!

Bruce King said...

you're welcome.

Luv2Ride said...

Just won half a hog in a 4-H raffle and didn't know what to do with it. This article certainly helped. Thanks!

Sarah J said...

This was very helpful! We just purchased 1/2 pig for our first time and are awaiting a call from the butcher as to how we would like it cut. Thank you for the info!!

Jay said...

How do you buy half a hog? Do you just call up the local meat processor and get on a list, or do you actually contact the farmer?

Bruce King said...

It's pretty easy. find a farmer who has what you'd like -- for pigs, you can search or your local craigslist.

For my operation, just tell me whether you want a half or whole, and I'll put you on the slaughter schedule with a small deposit; typically $50 per side of pig. You'll call the meat shop to tell them how you want it cut up -- takes a couple of minutes, and I'll handle the details; you pick it up at the meat shop where it'll be wrapped to your specifications.