Tips for Cooking the Perfect Hog

Tips for Cooking the Perfect Hog
Prepping your game is part of the grand scheme. Caring for the game meat before it hits the table must be done with great care.

featureOne early morning on the way to a turkey hunt, I saw a group of young wild hogs running across our tail lights as my hunting partner and I drove to the woods before sunrise. I was blurry-eyed still, sucking in hot coffee when I saw them and blurted out, "Those look good."

It was an instinct, a voice that spoke without my help. In the dark morning, those small hogs didn't look like hairy four-legged creatures to me; rather, like running sausages. In the years since then, I have had many colorful hog hunts, some riding on the back of an ATV chasing them along the banks of the Mississippi; then settling into the birthplace of the Delta Blues, with a cigar and scotch at dusk, and a barrel smoker transforming a whole hog into something otherworldly.

There's one question that I get quite often as a chef who hunts: "What is your favorite wild game dish?" I always describe a whole hog, smoked for up to 12 hours, blanketed in layers of bacon and molasses, its juices dripping down into a tray of apples peppered with cinnamon. From the first moment I tasted it in the heart of the Delta, it earned a special place in the crevices of my mind.

Preparation, Aging, and Cleaning

Every animal tastes better if it is aged first. Aging is a change in the activity of muscle enzymes. At death, the enzymes begin to deteriorate cell molecules indiscriminately. Large flavorless molecules become smaller, flavorful segments; proteins become savory amino acids; glycogen becomes sweet glucose; fats become aromatic.

Prepping your game is part of the grand scheme. Caring for the game meat before it hits the table must be done with great care.

All of this deterioration and breakdown of the cell molecules creates intense flavor, which improves further upon cooking, particularly slow cooking. This shift in enzyme activity also tenderizes the meat by weakening the proteins that hold things in their place.

The collagen in connective tissue also begins to weaken, causing it to dissolve into gelatin during cooking and helping it retain moisture. With wild hogs, aging is optional, but tenderness increases rapidly in the first 48 hours postmortem.

I recommend it before marinating the meat if you have the time. Unlike domestic animals, wild ones have that rich, variable flavor, because they are often older at death, exercise freely, and enjoy a mixed diet.

The wild flavors that result from cooking these animals are often described as "gamey," and so two to three days of bleeding/soaking and/or five days of dry cooling will make the final dish taste that much better.

While aging is optional, what is essential for successfully cooking a whole hog is how the animal was killed—that it was shot cleanly, preferably in the head, and killed quickly to prevent adrenaline from pumping through its veins. It also needs to be dressed and cleaned in an impeccable way.


Cleanliness can be helped with a good marinade that includes a lot of acid in the form of vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, and orange juice, in any combination. The size of your hog will vary, and so you have to rely on intuition when it comes to how much marinade to use.

You can marinate the hog for one to eight days, and the acid will clean it and also impart flavor. You can marinate it in an ice chest if your hog is up to about 80 pounds on the hoof or 45 pounds cleaned.

Or you could use a garbage bag. It is ideal to have a walk-in cooler or large refrigeration system available.

Don't think your going to get a delicious hog just by pulling the trigger. Care for your game by marinating, gutting, skinning and quartering the hog with care.

Marinades have been used since the Renaissance, when their primary purpose was to reduce spoilage. They are made with an acidic liquid, such as vinegar, wine, citrus juice, buttermilk, or yogurt, and today serve two different functions: as a tenderizer and as a flavor enhancer.

Once the meat is fully immersed, the acid breaks down the fibrous proteins and increases its ability to retain moisture. The addition of salt will allow it to retain moisture further.

Meat should always be marinated in the refrigerator to prevent bacterial growth at room temperature, and unless you are cooking with it, all used marinade should be discarded once the meat is removed. If you do want to serve some of the marinade with the meat, set an amount aside before bringing it in contact with the meat.

A good marinade will have a balance of ingredients so that the outer surface of the meat does not become too sour from the acid. Once a piece of meat has been marinated, it is best not to freeze it, as the outer layer will become mushy.

Cooking and Smoking

The smoking time with a whole hog varies, depending on the size of the animal. It could be six hours, it could be twelve. The temperature in your smoker should never go above 250° F; I suggest a probe-style meat thermometer, as it is the most accurate for testing wild game. Other thermometers can read high (especially with smaller game). When it is finished, the densest, deepest part of your hog will be 160° F.

In order to create an even radiant heat, it is best to heat the coals to a uniform temperature before you put in the hog. What smoker should you use? There are many large smokers on the market (I have used The Good-One with a lot of success), or if you want to be particularly traditional, you can dig a pit, create hot coals, lay the hog in, cover it, and smoke the hog in the ground in the Italian or Hawaiian fashion.

Although you can use charcoal, pecan wood is best if you have it in your region of the woods, or you can use a tree indigenous to your area. In the Southwest it is mesquite, in Washington State it is apple wood, and in the Midwest it is hickory.


The presentation may be the best part of cooking a whole hog. Lay it on a large wooden cutting board and serve it alongside the roasted apples in this recipe that have been catching the drippings of the hog for many hours. When carved, the meat will fall off the bone in an intoxicating kind of way.

I recommend baked beans and crusty bread to soak up the juices. And a cigar and scotch post-dinner, of course.

Recommended for You


MLF Pros: What's Your Go-To Lure?

G&F Online Staff - May 20, 2019

When all else fails, here's what these pros tie on.

Fishing How-To

Your Guide for the Best Catfish Baits

G&F Staff

If you've been catching catfish with the same method for years, it's time to change it up and...


New TRUGLO Bowfishing EZ•Rest

May 23, 2019

Brush-style bowfishing arrow rest and kits designed for simplicity and reliability.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor Hoody

John Frazier of Simms Fishing Products helps OSG's Lynn Burkhead understand the new features of the new Simms' Solarflex Ultra Cool Armor sun protection hoody.

Berkley's Surge Shad

Major League Fishing pro Scott Suggs has relied on the Berkley Surge Shad lure concept for years, using similar designs to capture MLF titles and a $1 million dollar FLW Forrest Cup win. With new features in the Surge Shad, Suggs tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead that even he can find success out on the water!

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


Top 10 Biggest Pike World Records of All Time

Jack Vitek - August 19, 2015

While wildly popular amongst anglers around the world, the IGFA World Record book shows the...

Other Freshwater

6 Tips for Nighttime Crappie

Keith Sutton - June 19, 2017

Fishing for nighttime crappie gets you out of the summer heat and puts more fish in the...

Other Freshwater

3 Deadly Bait Rigs For Stripers

J.B. Kasper - April 21, 2005

The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers.

See More Stories

More Hogs


Quick Tips: How to Spot and Stalk a Hog

Ian Nance - May 28, 2019

Try these tips to improve your wild boar hunting skill set.


Swine Story: A History of Feral Hogs in the U.S.

Brian McCombie - April 23, 2013

It's highly unlikely Martin Varner was the first person to hunt wild or feral hogs in Texas....


Wild Hog Trafficking Operation Busted; 4 Charged

April 11, 2017

Conservation officers have uncovered an illegal wild hog selling operation in South...

See More Hogs

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.