To Butcher a Hog

hh 1

IMG_1550 Our Hogs to Ham program re-creates the hog butchering programs of the 18th century. The whole carcass is brought into town and process begins after the hogs have been gutted and the hair has been removed. hh3

We use axes to cut the animals into smaller portions that will either be salted or eaten fresh. The first step is to pack a mixture of salt, salt peter and brown sugar into the hams, bacons and shoulders.


The meat will be stacked in the salt tubs with layers of salt– and they will stay this way for six to eight weeks.

The exact time depends on the winter temperature. In very cold weather, the meat freezes and the salt cannot remove the moisture, so the process just stops. It can remain just like this — sort of in limbo — until the salt removes all the excess moisture from the meat, preserving it.

It is the salt that preserves the ham — not the smoke. hh5The smoke adds color, flavor and aroma to the meat.

After the meat is thoroughly dried in the tubs, it is removed from the salt. During the 18th century,  the meat would be coated with wood ash and hung in the smokehouse. The wood ash acts as a barrier to keep bugs off the meat.

hh6The meat that is not being salted and smoked is butchered and must be eaten fairly quickly. This is one of the reasons why 18th century Virginians often invited all their friends and neighbors to the hog butchering so that all could share the work — and the food.





« Back to recipe browser

16 Responses to “To Butcher a Hog”

  1. June 16th, 2014

    Ron says:

    Gland to see the blog back! I love the new look!

  2. June 16th, 2014

    James says:

    This is an amazing piece regarding hog butchering. Today we take for granted how difficult it was to preserve food. It is ironic how we are told to limit our salt intake, where as in Colonial times, salt was imperative for the preservation of their food. I see that the meat sits in the salt tubs for about 6 to 8 weeks, how long will the meat last after the process is complete?

  3. June 18th, 2014

    Frank says:

    James, salted pork lasts indefinitely. I think the oldest ham in Virginia was cured in 1907 or so. One important note when working with salted meats of any kind it is important to soak the meat in fresh water for a few days before cooking it. We have found the best way to cook a Virginia style ham is to simmer at very slowly for about 20 minutes a pound and change the water at least once during the cooking.

    • March 12th, 2019

      amber says:

      3 11 2019

      How long does dry cured meat last? Can it last forever?

      Forever is a long time… No, it can’t last forever.

      Depending on what kind of “cured meat” you’re going… a wet brining, a dry rub, etc.. and what your end product is, be it a jerky or biltong, or a cured ham, bacon, or prosciutto, and the amount of salt or other preservatives in your process… will decide if your “edible” shelf life is measured in weeks, months, or years.

      “hard dried” meats such as jerky or biltong, stored in dry conditions, maybe with a crust of salt and/or nitrites in the correct proportion, can last many years. So can a properly cured and hung ham (though after a year or so, it’s not going to be nearly as tasty!

      Brined or otherwise cured “salt pork” or bacon, can be packed in barrels with salt, and survive several years. It will take some soaking in fresh water to reconstitute it and leach out the salt to be edible… but nothing bad is going to grow in that much salt for a long time!

  4. June 19th, 2014

    Christine Hansley says:

    Hi Frank and Food Crew,
    Glad you’re back. I look forward to many interesting blog posts.
    Now that you have butchered the hog, what will be on the menu? Please give us some idea of meals they prepared from the hog. Obviously ham. Did the folks in the 18th century eat bacon, pork chops and BBQ ribs the way we eat them today?
    Thanks for all of your shared knowledge,

    • June 30th, 2014

      Frank Clark says:

      Hi Cristine, actually in this time the general term for any part of cured hog was bacon. The inventory for the governor’s palace indicates 133 pieces of bacon, but I am sure that some were hams and shoulders as well. this makes it hard to know exactly which cut they were using for certain recipes. The bacon from this time has much more fat so it was not usually served as a meat but, used to wrap things and line pans as a way of adding flavor to dishes. The fresh cuts like the ribs and chops (known as griskins)were grilled fried, or roasted as well. One last note is we do not have bbq sauce yet, so it will be a little different from today.

  5. June 24th, 2014

    Jan says:

    So glad to see you are back! Thanks for the new post, and I’m looking forward to more.

  6. June 24th, 2014

    Neil says:

    I’m glad to see the return of the blog. it was missed.

  7. June 27th, 2014

    Paula says:

    Hog butchery and meat curing is a wonderful tradition! Do you use your local Ossabaw Island pigs? I hear that hams from that breed are some of the best!

  8. June 29th, 2014

    Susan says:

    I am part of a study group in which our program this year is Great Houses of the South. Our first program in October will include two houses in Williamsburg and Mount Vernon. My house is a replica of the Blair Brick House. Now known as The Red Lion. We will be meeting in my home and for the luncheon I would like to serve a typical ladies luncheon that would have been served in the 18th Century. Could you please give me some suggestions for a menu? By the way, I really like your website! Thanks so much for any suggestions you might have.

  9. July 14th, 2014

    A Colvin says:

    In your website image, you show a female dressing the hog. Its worth remembering that in Colonial society farm women were expected to know how to butcher livestock, not just feed the chickens or use a loom. Great site. 🙂

  10. July 14th, 2014

    Dolores Kelley says:

    So glad History Is Served is back! Looking forward to more wonderful recipes from Colonial Williamsburg.

  11. March 16th, 2015

    Jessica F says:

    How interesting! Do you offer a demonstration, or tasting? Are these hogs you raised at Williamsburg? I imagine the home grown pork is delicious!

  12. April 5th, 2015

    Frank Clark says:

    Yes Jessica, The pork butchering is always the second Saturday in December. Unfortunately the FDA does not allow us to offer samples but please come see the process. We usually raise 3 of the pigs out at Great hopes and the rest at other farms in the area.

  13. April 18th, 2017

    Elizabeth says:

    my great great grandfather was a butcher and curer in 19th century Glasgow

Leave a Reply