The Tradition and Beauty of Whole Hog Barbecue, with Michael Pollan

Food writer Michael Pollan recalls his experience at The Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina. The owners roast whole hogs in a giant barbecue pit over a 24-hour period.

Michael Pollan: I was looking for the most unreconstructed cooking I could find, cooking as it's been practiced for thousands, if not millions of years. And I found that in Eastern North Carolina whole hog barbecue where there is no sauce to speak of. It's just this animal slow cooked over a fire, wood fire. And the place where I first found it was a barbecue joint in Ayden, North Carolina near the coast called The Skylight Inn. I don't know why it's called The Skylight Inn, there is no skylight. And there is also on top of this building a capitol dome like you see in Washington sitting on top of this building. That didn't' make any sense either except they told me that National Geographic had said they were the capital of barbecue in 1965 and they put up this dome. In The Skylight, The Skylight Inn had a restaurant in front where they're selling barbecue sandwiches. Very few items on the menu but basically barbecue sandwiches, sweet tea, coleslaw, you know, that's basically it.

And in the back were these two structures, buildings made of cinderblock with a metal roof. And in there, in these buildings was the pit room, the barbecue pit. And when you went in Sam, Samuel Jones who was the proprietor says, "Welcome to the vestibule of Hell." And I walk in and we open the door and we're just assaulted by this smoke, this delicious smelling smoke. And inside is a giant fireplace with logs like this. I mean it looks like a giant's fireplace. And the grate is made out of truck axles, that's how big it is. And they're burning down wood to coals and then they're shoveling the coals in these long cinderblock containers that have a grate on top and on top of the grate sit these whole pigs. These pink, you know, pigs with their heads and tails intact, splayed out. And they shovel the coals underneath in an outline of the pig form. And there's a man named Mr. Howell who is the pitmaster who says very little. And he's just kind of wheeling back and forth to the walk in and he's got this wheelbarrow with a piece of bloody plywood on top and he goes back into the backroom and he comes back and there's a dead hog on it.

And he wheels it over, tips it onto the grate, shovels some coals beneath it and the entire room is an oven basically, a low temperature oven, you know. And the animals are cooked at around 200 degrees for over 20 hours this -- goes over night. You can barely see in the room and the pigs look oddly human. I mean they're pink. They're our size. They have these little sly smiles. It's a really kind of upsetting tableau and it's hard to imagine eating what's coming out of this room. But, but come back the next day and those pink alarming carcasses are honey colored, they smell delicious and you develop an appetite for them. And so Mr. Howell carts them into the restaurant and there's a giant chopping block and a man stands behind the chopping block and takes big hunks of this animal and starts chopping it with two cleavers.

The chopping block has been chopped so much that it has a big depression in it from just chopping. So there's wood getting into the barbecue too. And the key of whole hog barbecue is you're not eating the loin or the belly or the shoulder, you're eating all of it cut together. And it's the mix of different cuts, some of them fatty and juicy. Some of them drier, leaner. And the sken as they pronounce it which is kind of salty and, I mean, incredibly captivatingly delicious. It all gets cut together so there's little shards of salt in there with the meat and they chop it until it's fairly fine. And they mix in some apple cider vinegar, some red pepper flakes and a little salt and mix it a little more and then they put it on a sandwich and they sell it for two dollars and seventy-five cents. It's a very democratic treat.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

Michael Pollan explains the whole hog barbecue traditions of The Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina. Pollan is the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. His latest is Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (http://goo.gl/ct3B0V).

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

(Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
  • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
  • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
Keep reading Show less

Why avoiding logical fallacies is an everyday superpower

10 of the most sandbagging, red-herring, and effective logical fallacies.

Photo credit: Miguel Henriques on Unsplash
Personal Growth
  • Many an otherwise-worthwhile argument has been derailed by logical fallacies.
  • Sometimes these fallacies are deliberate tricks, and sometimes just bad reasoning.
  • Avoiding these traps makes disgreeing so much better.
Keep reading Show less

Why I wear my life on my skin

For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

Videos
  • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
  • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
  • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
Keep reading Show less