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How Carolina Barbecue Legend Sam Jones Cooks a Whole Hog

Each pig gets cooked over a wood fire for around 18 hours

Sam Jones has become a Carolina barbecue legend by carrying on his family’s tradition of cooking whole hogs. “The way I look at it, I’m the fourth generation of my family that’s been doing this right here,” says Jones, owner of Sam Jones BBQ. “Our evolution has come this far out of the ground because once upon a time they were cooking in the ground, but then again, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

He begins preparing the hog by putting water on the skin, then sprinkling on salt (water helps the salt stick). It’s an exercise in simplicity: “Once that happens, that is the only thing that’ll be applied to this animal until it’s finished and carried inside tomorrow, roughly 18 hours from now,” says Jones.

When Jones checks on the hog, he can tell when the meat is done cooking just by the way it looks. “The fact that the ribs and the backbone are starting to separate from each other is a telltale sign,” says Jones.

Jones then takes the heat shield out from under the pig, exposing it to the direct heat from the wood fire, which will crisp up the skin of the hog. “The crisping of the skin, there’s a talent to that,” Jones says. “You can cook a whole hog and, you know, your hog be fine and your skin be crap. Once the skin is crispy and parched, but not scorched, it’s done cooking.

When it comes time to serve, Jones feels that what sets his family’s style apart from others is that he chops up the skin with the meat. “You get a little crunch in the bite, everything’s blended in together,” says Jones. “I have no idea the origin of why my family’s always done that; I don’t know of any other barbecue place that chops the skin in the meat like that. It changes the dynamic of the bite, the texture; it’s that perfect balanced bite.”

Once the hog is all chopped up, it gets tossed with what Jones describes as a dressing rather than a sauce because it enhances the natural flavor of the pork instead of drowning it out. “You want to taste all that time and energy and wood and fire and smoke that went into making that animal taste what barbecue’s supposed to taste like,” says Jones.

The hog gets served by itself or in a sandwich on a burger bun with slaw. Watch the full video to see how Jones and his team cook with their six wood smokers — which also cook up — chicken, ribs, and turkey, and up to 12 whole hogs at a time.

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