In celebration of spring, warmer weather, and the end of classes, for the past three years the Yale Sustainable Food Project has hosted the Jack Hitt Annual Last Day of Classes Pig Roast at the Yale Farm. It all started in 2008, when a group of students who wanted to put the "farm-to-table" movement in action proposed the idea. Magazine and radio journalist Jack Hitt, a native South Carolinian, generously lent both his knowledge of pig roasting and his name to the event. In full Southern barbecue style, the event has grown to include traditional side dishes such as cornbread, collard greens, coleslaw, black-eyed peas, and pecan pie in addition to pulled pork, all cooked by YSFP student interns and their friends.
The Pig Roast has become a popular tradition on campus—this year we served over 500 people! Here's a breakdown of the event from two of us who were there:
The Pig Roaster's View—Nozlee Samadzadeh:
Though the sustainable food movement often encourages folks to eat less meat, when we do indulge, we make sure to purchase from a local farmer we believe in and eat the whole animal. In that light, our annual Pig Roast is as much about the benefits of snout-to-tail eating as it is about coming together to celebrate the end of classes.
For the first time, this year we roasted two pigs! Both pigs, one weighing 60 pounds and the other 120 pounds, came from Four Mile River Farm in nearby Old Lyme, Connecticut, where they were fed on grain and raised organically. Have you ever seen a whole pig, split from neck to tail? It's impressive.
With everything set up under the Yale Farm's pavilion, I started a fire in the pizza oven to get a few logs ready, and the pigs were in the smoker and ready to go at about 8:00 pm. We added charcoal and logs from the oven to the pigs, lying on their backs side by side, and waited for the temperature in the smoker to reach about 220 F. The pigs were regularly marinated with a "mop" of apple cider vinegar, sugar, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice at the recommendation of Jack Hitt. (It's called a mop that because of the tool traditionally used to apply it, but we just used a rag!)
We maintained that 220 F temperature all night, adding logs to the pizza oven to incinerate them into coals before dropping them into the smoker. Steamy aluminum pans of water in the bottom of the smoker kept the meat from drying out. It was a long and cold night—adding wood to the smoker would drop its temperature, but we had to open it to add in the wood that would maintain its temperature. Taking turns, we napped while the other watched the pigs. Two friends visited in the wee hours of the night.
Eventually the sun rose, and ever so kindly, Jack brought us much-needed coffee at 6:00 am. The pigs had been smoking for 10 hours at this point. Around 10:00 am or so the meat reached the desired "done" temperature of about 165 F, and all we had to do was keep it warm and smoky until we pulled the pork. Other food preparations kept us busy, but finally at about 2:30 pm—over 16 hours after we started—three of us hauled the heavier pig from the smoker to a table, where we preceded to pull every last bit of meat from every bone.
I couldn't help but nibble as I pulled the pork. It was incredible. Aside from knowing that the meat was ethically raised, and aside from all those hours of hard work, it was still the best meat I'd ever tasted. Real tears came to my eyes when I got a big bite of the amazing fatty meat from the cheek of the animal—it was that tender and flavorful.