NATIONAL WHOLE HOG BARBECUE DAY | Third Saturday in October
The third Saturday in October is National Whole Hog Barbecue Day and we invite you to indulge in one of the South’s most revered traditions.
Wood smoke and smoldering charcoal are a sign of the season. Traditionally cooked over wood and charcoal, whole-hog barbecue uses the whole pig, everything from the nose to the tail. Every year, pitmasters and barbecue lovers from all over the Southeast celebrate National Whole Hog Barbecue Day coinciding with North Carolina’s historic State Fair in October.
The tradition of whole-hog barbecue started in Eastern North Carolina and dates back over 350 years to the first settlers in the region. Although barbecue lovers may disagree on the best type of barbecue sauce for their pork, everyone agrees that vinegar-based chopped whole-hog barbecue is where it all began.
Smoking a whole hog takes anywhere between 10-12 hours, and requires attention to keep it smoky and cooking at a consistently low temperature. As long as you have a pit, hard-wood charcoal with oak or hickory, plenty of time and something brown to drink, you can create this delicious Southern delight. Whether you have a homemade brick pit or a custom-made steel fire box, the trick is to keep the cooking temperature steady and low. However you decide to smoke your hog, extra help is always appreciated to do the heavy lifting, including flipping the pig a few hours into the cooking process.
Seasoned Hog Tips
Seasoning your whole hog depends on your preferences. But traditionalists will lightly salt the pig before cooking, and after flipping use their own special blend of vinegar-based sauce with salt, black pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Many pitmasters use plenty of sauce throughout the cooking process to keep the hog moist and juicy as the hog renders down in the last few hours of cooking. The more the better!
What is a pitmaster? Technically, a pitmaster is someone who oversees cooking done in a barbecue pit. But, a pitmaster is more than that. A pitmaster is considered an expert in the field of barbecue. They control the temperature, along with the flavor output of the meat. Most importantly, they make sure the barbecue is kept tender during the cooking process. At the end, during the chopping, they taste and add dry seasoning and sauce to make the perfect-tasting barbecue.
- Kiki Longo
- Max Lavoie
- Aaron Franklin
- Greg Hatem
- Myron Mixon
- Rob Rainford
- Ted Reader
- Steven Raichlen
- Gather your recipes and get cooking!
- Host a pig pickin’ with whole-hog barbecue or attend a festival where you can taste some of the best in the country.
- Give a shout-out to the best pitmasters out there.
- Let us know if you like your barbecue sauce sweet, spicy, or both?
- Attend a whole hog barbecue competition.
- Attend the North Carolina State Fair.
- Share and post your #WholeHogBarbecueDay celebrations on social media.
NATIONAL WHOLE HOG BARBECUE DAY HISTORY
In 2022,The Pit Authentic Barbecue in Raleigh, North Carolina, founded National Whole Hog Barbecue Day to celebrate the traditions and history associated with whole hog barbecue. Each year during the third Saturday in October, we recommend everyone find some place to host or attend a whole hog barbecue celebration.
The tradition started in 1980 in Halifax County, North Carolina, when friends reunited at the Roanoke River for a pig pickin’. Then in 1983, the tradition moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where friends gathered again during the third weekend in October to go to the N.C. State Fair and celebrate the fall harvest with whole-hog barbecue. The festivities moved to downtown Raleigh in 2007 with the opening of The Pit Authentic Barbecue, which has been serving whole-hog barbecue ever since. The restaurant opened for guests in Raleigh who didn’t have time to drive into Eastern North Carolina to get their taste of whole-hog barbecue.
Whole-hog barbecue is such an important part of North Carolina’s culinary heritage, in 1985, the North Carolina Pork Council organized and sanctioned the first Whole Hog Barbecue Championship. It has become the culmination of the Whole Hog Barbecue Series local competitions across the region. The chefs who qualify in the local events come together to duke it out for the title of Champion.
Many people across the country consider grilling to be barbecue. However, if you ask any North Carolinian, barbecue has always been referred to as pork. Since the early settlers in the 1500s, pork has been the king of barbecue. In fact, there is historical evidence showing natives of the West Indies roasting meat over wood coals. It wasn’t until the 1600s the technique of cooking barbecue became adapted by everyone in the South. Even George Washington loved a good pig pickin’, journaling about going to a “barbicue” near Halifax, North Carolina, in the 1790s.
The Great Debate
There is a great debate about barbecue sauce. The eastern parts of North Carolina lean towards a clear sauce made with vinegar, salt and crushed red pepper. The western parts of North Carolina add sugar and ketchup to their sauce, creating a light red sauce.
Developed in the late 1600s, vinegar sauce was born out of convenience. Colonists would use ingredients available to them to make their barbecue sauce, which was also used to preserve the meat. Unfortunately, tomatoes were thought to be poisonous so using them was not an option. It wasn’t until around the early 1800s tomatoes were finally considered to be safe to eat, which was about the time settlers came down to Western North Carolina and started adding tomatoes and brown sugar to the vinegar-based sauce. In addition, unlike their Eastern North Carolina neighbors, they would cook only the shoulder of the hog, not the entire pig. As for our barbecue brethren in South Carolina, they added mustard to their whole-hog barbecue sauce.
Today, depending on where you live in North Carolina, barbecue sauce changes slightly. There could possibly be hundreds or thousands of sauces with different spices. Subtle differences in sauce occur about every 50 miles within the state. Interestingly, North Carolina also has a debate on how you should eat barbecue. Some like it chopped, while others like it pulled. But everyone enjoys pulling right off the pig in a traditional pig pickin’.