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I am buying a whole pig and need advice...

We are buying a whole hog (280 lbs.) to have butchered for this year's pork. This is my first experience with this... I have enough freezer space, but need advice on what to tell the butcher about cutting it. I don't want to just leave it in his/her hands; are there any special requests I should make, or great cuts that I don't want to miss out on...any help from more experienced chowhounds would be greatly appreciated. So far I know I want the head meat, I also want to try my hand at making different types of sausages...what I don't want is piles and piles of chops. Thanks in advance...

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  1. Leaf lard (I think it comes from back fat.)

    There is also the porterhouse, which is unusual (at least, I never see it in the supermarket cuts.)

    9 Replies
    1. re: jaykayen

      The leaf lard sounds great, I'll make sure to ask about that...thanks

      1. re: jaykayen

        fat back AND leaf lard are both great.

        fatback makes a more flavorful lard - great for tamales, tortillas, and other savory lard applications. Leaflard is from the area around the kidneys (if I remember properly), it is very "pure" and milder in flavor. It is preferred for baking.

        1. re: lisa13

          Ooops, you're absolutely right that leaf lard is from around the kidneys. My bad!

          There is also caul fat.

          1. re: lisa13

            I know I want the fat back, but what exactly am I going to be getting...Is it like salt pork or something I will have to render to get lard...as you can tell this is a new experience for me:-)

            1. re: snix

              You will have to render leaf lard yourself, probably.

              1. re: snix

                Salt pork is a generic term, but what is sold as salt pork in supermarkets is indeed fat back. You can render it for lard, but it is said to be excellent for sausage making (never been able to find it locally, so I can't say from experience). Go for it.

                1. re: Zeldog

                  isn't salt-pork *cured* fatback ? If so, this is really quite different from fresh fatback, and I don't think it would make good lard at all.

                  fresh fat back usually comes with the skin on. You cut it into cubes, and cook gently to render the fat (search the boards for methods to render lard - it's pretty well covered). If you leave the skin on, you end up with a slightly stronger porky flavor, and the skin turns into "cracklins" (ie, pork rinds).

            2. re: jaykayen

              I've never heard of pigs having leaf lard. I believe that is beef and veal only. The highest quality fat is the back fat. They'll probably leave it in slabs.

              Decide if you want the skin left on for the leg for instance. The surface will be shaved but you'll still see some hair and hair marks. Bit of a surprise the first time.

              We like to live the rib intact on each chop. It makes for flinstone appearance and makes a chop a party. They are delicous.

              1. re: JudiAU

                By definition, lard comes from pork. Fat rendered from beef is tallow.

                Leaf lard is rendered from the fat around the kidneys and on the inside of the loin. It's more neutral in flavor and has a higher melting point than lard rendered from fatback.

                Just rendered a pint or so of belly lard today. We're having folks over for Mexican food on Saturday, and I like the extra-porky flavor for making flour tortillas. Only problem is that the dogs are losing their minds over the cracklings on the counter...

            3. wow! that is so cool. i would think maybe to have a really good diagrahm of the specific cuts, to really know what you want as basics but hopefully if you have a great butcher that could help you with the finer points. sound like fun!!!

              1. The first thing to realize is that you'll loose anywhere from a third to a half of the weight in cutting loss, so will end up with less meat than you may be expecting. The link below may give you more info to help you decide what you want to do. Enjoy your pork! :-)


                1 Reply
                1. re: OldDog

                  Thanks for the information, the website helped out alot... I can't wait to pick up the meat.

                2. In my experience, too many chops is never a problem. We always end up with way too much bacon and sausage.

                  You'll want to think how thick you want your chops and bacon etc. and how many you want him/her to put bundle together. Two chops at a time? Four? etc.

                  Have fun!


                  1. It's been some years since I've bought a whole pig.

                    I liked loin roast and tenderloin from one side and 1 1/2" boneless chops are great form stuffing.

                    1. If you want any of the nasty bits, be sure to let them know. Many places will toss in the head, the feet, and/or the heart, tongue, liver, maw, chitterlings, etc. at no additional charge, but you have to ask.

                      Head cheese is delicious, but as far as my daughters are concerned the best thing about it is how it freaks out the other kids in the neighborhood when you've got a whole pig's head simmering away.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: alanbarnes

                        Nasty bits sound like fun to me. What would I do with the head, other than head cheese and is that really hard to do?

                        1. re: snix

                          I made my first head cheese last summer. The process is straighforward, but time-consuming. I started by looking for recipes and found this thread:


                          then got more information (and discussed results) here:


                      2. ask for the jowl/cheek and make guanciale!

                        it is SO easy! Not to mention delicious. I use Mario Batalli's recipe but I mess around with the spices every time I make it: http://www.babbonyc.com/in-guanciale....

                        nutmeg is a great addition.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: lisa13

                          I would love to make guanicale, but live in FL and have no where cool enough to hang it. I was going to ask the butcher to grind the jowls for ground pork...I thought that would have good flavor...

                          1. re: snix

                            ohhh I don't hang my guanciale out either - I let it dry in the fridge. I lay it on chopsticks across a plate to give it some room to breathe, then just leave it in the fridge, uncovered. Turn it every so often and in a few weeks it's good to eat.

                            not as authentic as it could be, but still REALLY good.

                        2. We got cubed pork last year, on recommendation of our butcher, and I really liked it - used it in tacos mostly. We also requested one shoulder kept in tact, while the other cut into picnic shoulder and butt. We used the entire shoulder for a Cuban-style roast on the grill. I know you said you don't want piles and piles of chops, but I loved the variety of chops we got. In prior years, I'd ordered center rib roasts and sirloin roasts, and felt I ended up with too many of those...this year, the variety of ribs was almost better. I also like getting some slab bacon, which can be fun to experiment with.

                          One final note - I noticed you said you plan to make your own sausage...if you were thinking of getting any sausage from the butcher, make sure you sample it first. One year, we got sausages that were oversalted and not very flavorful. We just get a ton of ground pork now, and make our own.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: RosemaryHoney

                            Thanks for the cubed pork idea, I had not thought of that yet. We are definitely keeping one shoulder intact for smoking and then freezing the extra pork.

                          2. "what I don't want is piles and piles of chops"

                            Pork chops only come from one area of the animal. That area is either cut into chops or left whole for a pork loin (bone in or bone out - up to you). In any situation you should not grind up loin meat for sausage. The fact is that you WILL have quite a few chops out of this. Not a bad thing.

                            You should keep both shoulders intact for smoking or braising. Grinding one up is OK, but I think you're losing some of the good parts that way. Sausage/ground pork is reserved for trimmings in my opinion.

                            It's up to you but think of it this way - buying whole animals is often regarded as an economical way to purchase meat but be aware of what happens if you grind up too much of it... you get really cheap chops and really expensive ground meat.

                            "Head meat"

                            What do you want here? You can cook the head as a whole, but my guess is that's not what you want. As far as "head meat" what are you talking about? Obviously you already talked about the jowls, but there really isn't much butchering to be done to get "head meat".

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: HaagenDazs

                              Ok... yall have definitely given me alot to think about...here's my working list so far
                              Leaf lard and fat back to render
                              both shoulders whole for smoking
                              maybe do 1/2 chops and 1/2 loin
                              roasts (some cubed)
                              some ground (so i play with sausage)
                              heart and liver
                              head (probably ground- the head cheese sounds a little intimidating for my first time out)

                              So what's the verdict?

                              1. re: snix

                                You like playing with sausage huh? Might want to keep that to yourself next time. Ha! Only kidding. ;-)

                                1/2 loin 1/2 chops is a good idea.

                                For the shoulder, you might want to see what his/her definition of a whole shoulder is. Picnic shoulder and the smaller, but more common Boston butt (butt is shoulder - who came up with that dumb name anyway?!) are different sizes. You don't need to smoke the shoulders necessarily, you can roast them or use them in a braise and they perform just as well in that regard. See: pernil.

                                You're forgetting the hams. You can leave one whole for smoking/roasting and you can have one cut into more manageable 2, 2.5, 3 inch thick ham steaks. These will be similar to the cured ham steaks you see in the grocery store with the little circle bone, only these will be fresh, not cured.

                                For the loin roast, tell the butcher you want the chine bone removed. http://www.recipetips.com/glossary-te...

                                "Bacon" isn't bacon until it is cured and smoked. The butcher may do that for you, but if they don't what you'll have is pork belly.

                                Boiling or roasting a whole head can be intimidating. And it's a rather large amount of meat to have around all by yourself once you scare off everyone else by pulling a pig's head out of the oven!

                                Do you want any ribs?

                                1. re: HaagenDazs

                                  You're awesome...the shoulder is no longer a mystery now. Ribs are a definite! Ham I had not thought of for some dumb reason, but one whole and steaks sound like a good idea. I think I will save the whole pig's head idea for next year..when I have a little more experience with this whole process. However, the evil side of me does like the idea of freaking out my husband and scaring small children with the pig's head in the oven.

                                  1. re: snix

                                    Glad to help... The pig's head is a good Halloween treat (or trick?). Let us know how it turns out and if you need any more suggestions.

                                    1. re: snix

                                      We did a whole pig roast last year and the, umm, gentlemen in our group speared the head on a stick, stuck it in the ground and used it as a display of their 'manliness'.

                                  2. re: snix

                                    My 2c...
                                    Instead of keeping both shoulders whole for smoking, how about a shoulder and a leg. Use the other shoulder and leg for smaller cuts (then its not JUST cuts of leg OR shoulder).
                                    I agree with alanbarnes - decide on what you want to do with the nasty bits. The butcher may assume you want none of it, so you'll have to let him know.
                                    Feet and hock are great for corn soup, or quebec terroir cooking, or a small batch of gelatina (can use the tail in the mix here as well).
                                    You can make boudin with the blood, but you'll have to be prepared to do it when fresh.
                                    Tongue is good (pickled, boiled, sliced, whatever), but to prepare only one seems like a lot of effort.
                                    Head. If you want to make head cheese (kinda like gelatina with long boiling times, picking meat, etc) fine, but many people don't want an overboiled, smiling pigs head in their kitchen pot.... Besides making guanciale, there are a few classics using cheeks and ear and snout like bean dishes.
                                    Skin. When not on a roast, skin can be used for chicharon (deep fried goodness) or cotechine, Italian sausage.
                                    Sausage. I would definitely recommend making your own, but if you haven't done it before, maybe start a bit slow (its simple enough, but if you have 20lbs of meat and its your first time, it can get hectic).
                                    The beauty of sausage is that you don't have to actually stuff casings - you can season the meat to your liking (italian hot or mild or whatever, breakfast, chorizo, etc etc etc) and freeze in bulk or patties.
                                    Hair. Maybe make a high end paint brush{;-/)