Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa II

The first post on this blog was my attempt to cook a whole hogs head buried underground whole on a camping trip.  For 24 hours.  It was quite a scene and it led to me posting my cooking adventures on a (semi) regular basis on this blog and helping you lose weight with every reading.  I assumed I would be back to cook another hogs head, just because I am cheap and they are $10 apiece at Meatland in JP.  Oh, and I have had one in my freezer for the past year.  I had to cook that one at some point.

This past weekend was blog character Dupee’s bachelor party on Webb lake in Weld, Maine.  And, since it is between May and October, it’s time for a refresher on how Maine is the most wonderful place in New England for a few months every year.

Ah, Maine.  It was a ridiculously nice day and I think we saw 4 or 5 people that weren't in our group all day.  How great is Maine?

Ah, Maine.  It was a ridiculously nice day and I think we saw 4 or 5 people that weren’t in our group all day.  How great is Maine?

With lots of fishing planned and steak tips on the menu for dinner, I wanted do something special for Dupe.  So, I decided to give him head.

When we got there the first arrivals were out fishing, so I decided to rinse and prep the hogs head on the dock.  Apparently while Grandma was watching.  Still an awesome houseguest!

When we got there the first arrivals were out fishing, so I decided to rinse and prep the hogs head on the dock.  Apparently while Grandma was watching.  I am still an awesome houseguest!  Yes, that is also in the shallow swimming area in front of the beach, right near where they draw water for the tap in the house.  Awesome, awesome houseguest!

Well, really, I was planning to give everyone some head.  Let’s just let that spoof stay where it lay and move on with the rest of the post.

When the first arrivals asked what exactly I was planning to do with a hogs head, Dupee shrugged and said, “probably make tacos”.  Correct!  In fact, I can’t figure out a damned thing to make with animal heads aside from head cheese and tacos.  And why fix it if it aint’ broke?!?!?

Let' be honest here, it's kinda broke.  I might need to make some guanciale or pig face cracklins or something

Let’ be honest here, it’s kinda broke.  I might need to make some guanciale or pig face cracklins or something soon.  Or just stop hoarding animal heads like a hoarder hoards computer monitors

Alrighty, here are some thoughts on the somewhat horrifying image above:

  1. The eye area was much cleaner and trimmed than the last one
  2. The ear area was far better cleaned too
  3. The skull was pre split for easy access after cooking
  4. There was a lot more meat at the back of the head than the last one
Whole lot going on in this shot and probably for the best that you can't zoom in.  That part of the head is best not closely examined or questioned prior to being dark and crispy

Whole lot going on in this shot and probably for the best that you can’t zoom in.  That part of the head shouldn’t be closely examined or questioned prior to being dark and crispy

After patting the head dry with paper towels, I did a little inspection for any nasty bits that would need to be trimmed off and eventually just accepted that nothing was nastier than anything else on the head.  I then moved on to removing the ears and stuffing them inside the mouth so they wouldn’t burn.  Then, I covered every square inch of exposed flesh with a rub of paprika, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, and salt before squeezing it into a Pyrex.

The split skull is a bit more apparent in this picture.  I am sure this disrupted the Pyrex's plan to cruise through its remaining days baking brownies and maybe some chicken breast here and there

The split skull is a bit more apparent in this picture.  I am sure this disrupted the Pyrex’s plan to cruise through its remaining days baking brownies and maybe some chicken breasts here and there

I wrapped the head tightly with foil and put it into a preheated 300F oven to bake for 6-8 hours or until I figured out a way to smoke it.

While the head cooked we did some more fishing and horseshoe throwing.  But mostly fishing.

I didn't catch any of these and most were caught before I arrived and jinxed the whole thing Oliver-style.  These trout will play a role in a future post hopefully.  Here's a hint: a part of one of them has been sitting in one of my kitchen cupboards for 4 days.  And that cupboard be STANKIN

I didn’t catch any of these and most were caught before I arrived and jinxed the whole thing, Cousin Oliver-style.  These trout will play a role in a future post hopefully.  Here’s a hint: a part of one of them has been sitting in one of my kitchen cupboards for 4 days.  And that cupboard be STANKIN’

Around 6 hours into the cook time we came up with a plan to finish the hogs head in a smoker fashioned from fresh birch chips and a ‘Lil Smokey grill.  I proceeded to babble about it nonstop and lay some pretty poor groundwork for eventually executing it without actually getting started.  Then I got distracted, probably dug a hole in the sand with my feet, and eventually went up to check on the head and discovered it was already fully cooked.

I have 4 or 5 of these pictures and they all are oddly half focused/half unfocused.  It would be hard to figure out why that was happening if I hadn't needed to clean a thin sheen of pork fat off my entire phone the following morning

I have 4 or 5 of these pictures and they all are oddly half focused/half unfocused.  It would be hard to figure out why that was happening if I hadn’t needed to clean a thin sheen of pork fat off my entire phone the following morning

The skin was crispy, the meat was falling apart, and there were some delicious bits of meat to pick off the back of the head.  Considering that it almost fell into four pieces when I moved it three inches from the Pyrex to the plate and was completely cooked through, I abandoned the smoker plan and got started picking.

First up was the ears which were tender, sticky and falling apart.  Sliced these into little pasta-like ribbons.

Immediately brought memories of the 10+ bowls of unidentified items put on our table at the turtle hot pot dinner in Beijing.  Not sure I knew what these were then but I know now

Immediately brought memories of the 10+ bowls of unidentified items put on our table at the turtle hot pot dinner in Beijing.  Not sure I knew what these were then but I know now

The tongue was up next and was definitely more innocuous looking than the one I cooked a few weeks ago.

I originally put this into a separate bowl after slicing before deciding anyone who was willing to eat pig face wouldn't mind a little tongue in there too, and mixed it in with the regular meat bowl

I originally put this into a separate bowl after slicing before deciding anyone who was willing to eat pig face wouldn’t mind a little tongue in there too, and mixed it in with the regular meat

From there I got a stack of paper towels, brought over the trash bin and started the messy process of picking through all of the fat and skin to get to the tender head meat.  The bulk of the meat came from the cheeks, but there are also decent-sized deposits around the eyes, on the inside of the jaw, and multiple spots on the back of the head.  A couple shots of the carnage.

I steered clear of that whole teeth and sketchy lip area, but you can see how much meat is barely hanging on to that jaw bone

I steered clear of that whole teeth and sketchy lip area, but you can see how much meat is barely hanging on to that jaw bone.  Dag, looked at those teeth again.  Generally this is a much worse foto than I originally thought it was when I posted it

This is shortly before was able to crack the skull in half because of my incredible strength and manliness.  Then I removed the brain, washed my hands urgently, and screamed when I saw a bug on the window

This is shortly before I was able to crack the skull in half because of my incredible strength and manliness.  Then I removed the brain, washed my hands urgently, and screamed when I saw a bug on the window

With the meat keeping warm in the oven and my stomach stuffed with crunchy skin cracklins consumed while cooking, I moved on to the ears.  I heated up a few spoonfuls of rendered fat from the head in a pan and threw the ears in.  And I had a learning experience.

I once tried to make fried clams and had them all explode in the fryer covering my face with hot oil, but let’s give pan-frying ears its proper due as a close runner up to that.  The oil got way too hot too quickly and the slices of pig ear started exploding like crazy, covering my arms and face with oil.  I found out the following day that you gotta go the opposite way on the burner to get it to a temperature that won’t burn everything in sight.  Oh well, the pig ears stayed about the same level of edible.

fried ears on left, cup of fat in the middle, brains and eyes on the right.  That bowl on the right had nothing good going on, I've learned that pork is not the mildest eating brains and eyes and didn't touch this set.  Still left it out so someone else could make the same mistake I've made (and they did)

Fried ears on left, cup of fat in the middle, brains and eyes on the right.  That bowl on the right had nothing good going on; I’ve learned that pork is not the mildest eating brains and eyes and didn’t touch this set.  Still left it out so someone else could make the same mistake I’ve made (and they did)

That bowl of ears didn’t last long, which was surprising.  I think Dupe ate most of them but they were pretty much gone when I got back to the kitchen.

With dinner close, I heated up 24 corn tortillas in more of the pork fat for the tacos.

Not much to this one, I guess I wanted to point out how many rounds of tortillas I had to heat

Not much to this one, I guess I wanted to point out how many rounds of tortillas I had to heat

From there, it was pretty much serve and eat.  I setup the taco bar with the head meat, raw onion, cilantro, limes, crumbled goat cheese (because I couldn’t find queso fresco), and some hot sauce.  I probably could have cut the stems off the cilantro, but, meh.

I went with the double tortilla for authenticity but it was stupid then and it still looks stupid now.  Plus we ran out of tortillas and I had to heat more, so, even stupider

I went with the double tortilla for authenticity but it was stupid then and it still looks stupid now. Plus we ran out of tortillas and I had to heat more, so, even stupider

There’s not a lot to say here that wasn’t covered in the first post, but these were tasty tacos.  The meat was tender, flavorful, rich, and very very porky.  Hence the need for all of the fresh ingredients and other strong flavors to accompany it with.  I wish I had found a better way to serve the skin which I let go from crispy to soggy in the hour between when it came out of the oven and dinner.  Some crispy pig skin slivers on top would have been a nice touch.

Probably not my last venture with hogs head, but not sure I will be roasting it again.  Just not that much meat and my hands are still sticky.  But, a decent, odd meal in honor of Dupe.

Next week, mystery cupboard fish parts!

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Weird Crap I Cook: Hogs Head Barbacoa

After hearing stories of cows head barbacoa and seeing the process on various food shows, I was completely hooked on the idea of giving it a try.  I wanted to find out why, despite everyone raving about the flavor, the idea of it repulsed so many people.  When the opportunity to bury and cook something for 24 hours emerged with an upcoming (then) camping trip, the only obstacle I faced was finding a cow’s head.  As it turned out, fears about prions from the brain contaminating the meat made it impossible to purchase a cow’s head in and around Boston.

Just as I was giving up, a friend saw a sign in the window of the butcher shop in our neighborhood of Jamaica Plain advertising hogs heads for $.89 a pound.  I assumed this would be a straightforward substitute and moved forward with purchase.  However, I couldn’t find any documentation online about ways to cook a whole hogs head aside from boiling it, and certainly not info on burying it to make barbacoa.

So I decided to wing it based on various techniques for other meat, and here is the story.

The head arrived frozen and came to a grand total of $13. After thawing for 48 hours I put the head in the sink to begin the preparation process.

I am not a sadist, but I do smile instinctively when pictures are taken of me

The first step was to remove the tongue since it made the head tougher to handle and I was concerned it would give the meat an odd flavor if cooked altogether.  I reserved in the plastic bag you see to the right.  Afterwards I rinsed the skin thoroughly, rubbed salt into the skin and then rinsed again.  During the process, I noticed that the butcher had missed some hairs on the face of the pig…

Mach 3 Turbo, only the best for this guy

…which led to the awkward experience of shaving the pig.  Afterwards, I rinsed again, patted dry with paper towels, and removed the ears.  I then generously seasoned all surfaces of the head with salt, black pepper, cayenne, and garlic.  The tongue got the same exact treatment; rinsed thoroughly and seasoned.

Once head and tongue were ready to go I wrapped them fully in banana leaves I purchased from the local grocery store and secured the leaves with kitchen twine.

This is about as old school as cooking methods get

Then heavy duty foil

Slightly more new school

Based on shows I had seen on other meats cooked in ground, I needed to find a way to attach a chain to the meat so that they could be easily placed in the cooking pit and removed later. I did this with picture frame wire, two hooks, and a chain purchased at a hardware store for $7.  The whole shebang then went back in the cooler and headed for the campsite.

Charcoal and Meat having a cordial interaction before their inevitable confrontation

At the site, we dug a 2’ deep by 2’ in diameter hole and made a fire at the base of the hole.

That’s a well dug hole, courtesy of the Mooman

Once the coals had burned down, the meat was lowered into the hole and positioned.

This is admittedly a posed photograph, multiple shots were taken during the lowering

Ater some deliberation, we decided to position the head neck down

We quickly covered the meat with dirt to trap the heat of the embers.

The top of the head was 10-12 inches below ground level

And built a fire on top that we would need to keep going for the next 24 hours.

The first thing you learn in business school is using the teepee method to get a fire going; works every time. Also, note the chain in the back for easy meat removal later.

After 24 hours of Maine microbrews, little sleep, and lots of angst over whether this would work, it was time to start digging this thing up.

The roasting site cleared of embers and logs. The ground was still very hot, though.

After a couple shovel loads of dirt a puff of steam shot up from the dirt and the ground appeared to be bubbling.  As I started to pull the chain, more steam and smoke shot out from the small opening in the ground.

The steam carried the ash and dirt from the pit. Pretty cool and a little scary for some reason.

The tongue emerges with the head not far behind. At this point I touched the foil and it felt lukewarm. I was crushed, but tried to hold out some hope.

Close up of the head and me taking the wire frame off. Still couldn’t feel any heat coming off the head.

I knew this part would be messy so I put on the same shirt from the day before. OK, I never changed because I was camping. Mooman didn’t mind

When I finally got the foil off was when I realized for the first time that the head had definitely cooked.  It was a huge relief.

Much more deflated than previously and soaked with rendered fat

Very thankful that it smelled amazing since we all had to pretend it didn’t look a little gross

The second I attempted to move the head after it was unwrapped, medallions of cheek and jaw meat fell out onto the banana leaves.  It was the richest and most tender pork I have ever eaten in my life.

Scraping a knife along the skin caused large chunks of meat to separate from the remaining fat and fall off. I will spare you the rest of the photos of mining for meat inside the head.

The fat had rendered almost completely and the meat separated easily from the remaining fat and skin.  After picking for a bit, we had about 2-3 pounds of meat that we served with corn tortillas toasted on a comal, lime, and fresh cilantro.

Seriously delicious, like slow roasted pork shoulder but richer and more tender

The tongue had also cooked well in its separate wrappings.  The usually tough skin was tender as can be and we simply sliced the tongue and made tacos de lengua.

The contrast in flavors and textures was amazing when mixed though both were great on their own

And that was it.  The tacos with fresh cilantro and lime were a perfect vehicle for the rich meat and an incredible payoff for the effort we put in.  It was a reminder of how great food doesn’t have to be expensive, it just takes time and effort.

Update: A coworkers take on the original picture on this site

Update: A coworkers take on the original picture on this site