Holiday Ham: Butchering out our pig


*As the title to this post implies – it’s about butchering our pig and includes photos that are graphic and may be disturbing to some or inappropriate for children.

One of the many things that happened over the Holiday season was the butchering of our pig. We bought a piglet this last Fall or late Summer and have been feeding him all of our scraps and homesteading waste to fatten him up so we could butcher him. This was our first time raising and butchering our own pig anywhere and also a first for our career here in Congo.

We bought our pig from a Congolese friend who raises them. We are awaiting on one more that we have already paid for but because of some sickness we don’t have it yet. For the moment we are briefly pig-less. We don’t plan to raise pigs year-round, just one once in a while. Perhaps we will make it a fall tradition to raise one each year for a few months to make our own Holiday ham from. This isn’t required as we can purchase any part of a pig we want at the weekly market but it is somehow nicer to raise it yourself.

IMG_0022After dispatching your pig, you have to dip the pig in hot water and then scrape off all of the hair and the top layer of the skin with a blade. It was a long and labor-intensive part of the process. After that you hang it, gut it, saw it in half and then begin piecing it out into the various cuts like bacon, hams, chops and more. This isn’t the first time we have eaten pork here, quite the opposite in fact, because we have the opportunity to buy fresh pork here every week.

IMG_0051At the weekly Saturday market we are able to purchase freshly-butchered pastured pork and have been doing this to make home-made sausage, bacon, and now ham. The sausage is the easiest and it really only consists of grinding up pork and some pork fat and then adding in whatever seasonings you want. We have also made links by stuffing it into natural casing from the pork (pork small intestine that has been washed out very well). We have tried Sage, hot, maple and “original” copy-cat recipes of Jimmy Dean and have been very happy with all the results.


IMG_8780We have also been making bacon for quite some time and the process is a lot simpler than you might imagine. Bacon is made from pork side and belly. When we purchase pork at the market for bacon we have them cut off the whole side, ribs and all, down the spine and take the whole chunk. Once we get that home you need to take the ribs off of the rest of your meat, leaving the skin on.

After the ribs have been taken off you mix up your salt and brown sugar mixture (and any add-ins you want like black pepper, etc.), score the skin and then rub the belly down with the mixture. After that, place it in a ziplock bag folded up to cure for about a week. The time depends on how thick your bacon is. Here the pigs are a lot smaller than US ones so we ended up reducing the amount of cure mixture and time, leaving it for only about five days. You drain the liquid off of your side of bacon about once a day or every other day and other than that it just sits in your fridge for a week.

IMG_8778After the week is up it’s time to rinse off the curing mixture and let it sit overnight in the fridge outside of the ziplock. Then you can smoke your bacon (honestly you don’t have to, but why would you not?). You place it over indirect heat and smoke it for a few hours and it’s done. You can cook it slightly or not – that’s up to you. After that it’s just slice and freeze until you are ready to use it. Super easy. Here is the tutorial we used – be aware that there are some pictures and language in this article that we don’t approve of so use your discretion before viewing.

Smoking the side of bacon
The finished product, prior to slicing

Ham-making, the simple way, is very similar. If you do your research there are several ways to make hams and it varies widely in the amount of work and especially in the amount of time that a ham takes. We did the way that takes the least amount of time and work and the process is very similar to how you create bacon with only a few minor differences.

IMG_0045Ham is usually made from the back leg of a hog but you can use a front one too. We took the two back legs from our pig to make hams out of. Following a tutorial off of pintrest found here, we deboned our hams, rolled them, tied them with wire (sadly we don’t have butcher’s twine here) and rubbed the curing mix on them.

The curing mix is where ham and bacon differ a little. You use regular salt, sugar along with different spices (cloves, cardamom and a few others), and a curing salt. Some people know it as Pink Salt or Curing salt #1. There is some controversy about it’s use as with everything food these days, so do your research and decide for your family what you want to use or not. There are ways to do ham without using curing salt but they are methods that take a lot longer and require a cold environment or a fridge dedicated to hanging meats. We have neither of those here and don’t have a problem using the curing salt. Perhaps one day we can dedicate a fridge in our pantry to this, but for now quick and easy is how we are rollin’.

IMG_0049After you apply the curing mixture you place the hams in the fridge for a set amount of time, calculated from the diameter of your rolled ham, and then after rinsing off the curing agent it sits in your fridge for about three days. After the three days are up it’s time to smoke them for a few hours sometimes more, based on the weight of the ham. The original article used a BBQ but we used our trusty fire-pit covered and walled-in for the job. It did a fine job but made it difficult to place a pan of juice for adding moisture in with the ham.

IMG_0371Part way through the smoking process you remove the skin and finish smoking it. After that, it’s done! Ready to be eaten any which way you like and for us, that was glazed and roasted for our Christmas meal. It really did end up being delicious and did taste “hamy” but had the richness of home-made. Truly great.

All of this smoking and meat-curing had led us to bump up the priority of making our smoke house. We originally planned to include a small one in our outdoor kitchen but have since changed our minds to building a substantial stand-alone smoke house in the corner of our yard. It is close to being completed now and I will write up the details in another post once it is finished and it’s first test-run is completed. Now the only question that remains is – What should we smoke first? 



    1. Thanks! Following your tutorial was ver easy and helpful and the method you use is one we can actually do here in Congo without dedicating a fridge to it. I’ve looked at your other tutorials and plan to try a few others as well. Thanks for the inspiration, instruction and making it easy.


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