You Bought Your Heritage Breed Pastured Pig, Now What? (Pt 1)
If you’ve ordered a whole hog or half of a hog from High Grace Farm, and are waiting to have it processed, you’re in for a treat. I’m always excited to take a hog in to the processor, order the specific cuts I want, and come back a few days later to pick up some of the freshest, most delicious pork I could hope for. Our heritage breed, pastured pigs yield a delicious, rich, moist pork that is much different from the lean, dry pork marketed as “the other white meat.”
If you’ve never bought a hog before and had it butchered to your specifications, you may have some questions about what to expect. In this post, I’ll try to answer some of the questions I had the first few times I did this, and some of the questions others have asked when they processed the pork they bought from us. It is a long post with a lot of information, so I’ll break it up into several posts.
If you don’t want to read through the whole thing, use these links to jump to your particular question.
Who Butchers My Pig?
At the most basic level, the products and cuts you can order largely depends on which processor you choose.
At High Grace Farm, we use 2 different processors depending on what pork products we want.
Most of our hogs are processed by Key Packing Company in Robbins, NC. They are a state-inspected facility, and all of the individual cuts of pork that we sell to our clients are packed by them. State law requires that all pork for sale be processed in an inspected facility.
Key Packing Co. does a wonderful job and is our first choice even if we are only processing a pig for our own use, not for sale. They have excellent recipes for their different sausages, they offer a choice of link or bulk sausage, they use no monosodium glutamate (MSG) in their sausage, and they cure and smoke their own bacon. They do not cure or smoke ham.
They do use nitrites in their bacon cure, and many health conscious, natural and whole food advocates (we include ourselves in this group) try to avoid nitrites, thinking they are bad for you. After much research, and specifically this recent article from the Weston A. Price Foundation, we’ve decided that nitrites are not a concern for us.
Key Packing vacuum packs their products, which makes for better storing and handling.
Because they are such an excellent company, Key Packing stays very busy at this time of year. I called for an appointment shortly after New Year’s Day, and the next available slot was April 20th!
Thankfully, for those of you who already bought your hog, your butcher date is scheduled for February 5th.
If we don’t use Key Packing, we use McLamb’s Meat and Butchering in Dunn, NC. They do not offer the range of options that Key Packing does, and they wrap their products in freezer paper instead of vacuum packs. Their sausage is very good, but they do use MSG in their recipe. They do not cure or smoke bacon or other cuts.
As licensed meat handlers in NC, High Grace Farm cannot sell any of the products McLamb’s processes because they are not inspected for that. So, we never use them if we are processing a pig for resale. If any of our clients want their pork processed there, they can purchase the hog from us, and then take it to McLamb’s for processing. We can deliver the hog there and the customer is responsible for the rest.
Naturally, one would ask, “Then why use them?”
If we are planning to cure and smoke bacon or make sausage for our own use, it does not matter which processor we use. We just ask them for the cuts we want and do the rest ourselves. For instance, we might ask for the hog to be cut into whole pieces (shoulders, hams, etc) if we are planning an event that requires large cuts of meat. Likewise, we use ground pork in many recipes, and it requires no seasonings. And, bacon cured and smoked at home just can’t be compared to any bacon we’ve ever bought from a store. Because McLamb’s is so much closer, it is much more convenient to have the pig processed there if these are the cuts we want. And, the wait time is much, much shorter.
Lastly, many of our customers really like the flavor of McLamb’s sausage and are not concerned that there is MSG in it, so they choose to have their hog processed there.
There is another McLamb’s processing company in Benson, NC and they do vacuum pack their products. We’ve never used them and don’t know anyone who has, so I can’t include much about them in this post.
One last note about the pork you receive from the processor. None of it can be re-sold, it is strictly for personal use. Even if it is processed in a state inspected facility, it will be labelled “Not for Sale”.