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Smoking a Chicken (or 2)

On our farm we raise both chickens for meat, and chickens for eggs. This means we often have to deal with roosters from the egg laying breeds and they are definitely not in the same  class as the meat birds. As a result, I most often simply keep them whole and use them for chicken stew and such.

Today I decided to try smoking a couple with different rubs to see how they turned out – here are the results.

I filled the water pan on the smoker, loaded up apple wood chips and warmed it up to about 200. While it was warming up, I rinsed the birds and coated them liberally with dry rub. I then stuck them in the smoker at 200 for 6 hrs, which was probably a bit too long, but they are so moist and juicy it all worked out great. I think the water pan is what kept this viable and helped avoid dry meat (which no one likes.)

One of the challenges with these birds is that they are generally tough and do not have a great deal of meat. The smoker made a nice difference, cooking them low and slow and breaking the meat down to a much more tender consistency. I will likely brine next time to see how that affects them, and maybe try opening them up but that is for another day. For now, it is dinner time!

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Review of pork butt/shoulder recipe

Jim posted a great article about recipes for pork shoulder.. I decided to review one of the recipes posted.

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Below is our home -grown pork shoulder.

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The directions called for 8 hours of slow roasting at 250 degrees. I rubbed celtic salt and pepper all over the roast.

I chose to use my turkey roasting pan with parchment paper on the rack.

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It was very nice to have the house smell like a delicious roast all day. The roast was removed after 7 hours in the oven. You tent the roast with foil while pre-heating the oven to 500 degrees. Put the meat back in the oven for 20 minutes or until the fat layer can get crispy.

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I was disappointed to see how much it shrunk! Something to take into consideration for the future. This roast fed 5 people, including our 19 year-old son. I think I will adjust our cut list to include larger roasts.

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This was juicy, melt in your mouth meat. It was served with cooked small multi-colored potatoes with butter and scallions on top. We also had a side of asparagus with fresh lemon on top. Great meal for a cold January night!

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Bacon, everyone’s favorite food.

20160106_175755One of the best parts of a pig is the Bacon – and this is a critical selection time on your cut list. Much like your hams, deciding on smoked or not, as well as size is a big decision and something to think about.

I go for thick cut and smoked because we enjoy the texture of the bacon and it is almost like ham slices with that smoky flavor and rich texture.

For comparison, much of the bacon you buy in the store is mostly fat and thin enough to see through in most cases. I am including photos here from tonight’s dinner to show the difference in farm bacon, cut by a butcher to request. Note the thickness of the final cooked product and also the meat to fat ratio. Not to get too technical and over the top with this, but bacon is serious business! When you order your cuts, I do suggest trying at least a portion of it thick cut – it will take longer to cook but due to the meat / fat ratio you may end up with less fat / drippings than your thinner store bacon.

20160106_180412The decision to smoke it is really a preference thing but again, I suggest you try at least a portion of your bacon that way to see what you think.

Now, what I am going to say next may be bordering on sacrilege to purists, but there are ways to cook bacon beyond the classic cast iron fry pan. We have had success in the microwave though for that, I will tell you that you do NOT need to invest in all the gadgets for microwave bacon – simply put it between layers of paper towel and zap it for around a minute or 2 for 1-3 slices. Another easy and low mess approach is in an oven at 450 – optionally to improve this one, you can drape the bacon on cookie racks over cookie sheets but that is not a requirement and I generally don’t bother if I am doing this approach.

If you are really adventurous, try grilling bacon. It is out of this world but you have to watch it carefully, keep it high and avoid the fire / flame ups. Last but not least by any means – deep frying. I worked at a deli many years ago and learned this trick – toss a few slices in the deep fryer while you fry your eggs and toast your role – heavenly if you have a fryer at your finger tips. (or you have a friend who is willing to share. I love my neighborhood)

 

 

 

 

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What is Scrapple and how do I cook it?

For those of you who buy a whole or half a pig, it is standard fare to get a bunch of scrapple along with the rest of the cuts, especially in the Pennsylvania and surrounding regions. Scrapple at it’s most basic is a mix of trim meat and cornmeal along with seasoning and cooking, formed in a loaf and packaged for sale.

The quality of scrapple is widely variable, but I have consistently found farm fresh scrapple to beat out commercial scrapple.

20160106_172442What to expect

When you open your scrapple, you will find something that should look like meatloaf, with a layer of fat. This is normal, expected and an advantage to the cooking process. It should not be mealy, soft and crumbly, rather there should be some texture and firmness to it. I suggest keeping it refrigerated until right before use as it cuts better cold.

How to cook it

There are different schools of thought on cooking scrapple and you will have to experiment to find your favorite, but my families preferred method is thin slices, fried crispy.20160106_174524

Frying Tip:

To ensure you don’t end up with a mess of scrapple mush in your fry pan, I  recommend keeping it cold until time to cook (refrigerated), oiling the pan (bacon fat anyone?), and cooking on medium heat for a bit longer than you might think and only flipping it once the meat has fully crisped on the bottom side.

There is a large following of the 1/2 inch slice method that has a crispy exterior and mushy interior for a texture and flavor contrast – I am not one of those people! The aforementioned fat layer on the scrapple can be used in the fry pan to enhance the flavor, but really is optional if you want to reduce the oils / fats.

For a real scrapple bacony delicious treat, try frying a few slices of smoked thick cut bacon, and then frying your scrapple with a little of that bacon fat. – Ok… Now I am craving scrapple so much I think it may be dinner tonight.

What are people saying – is this guy for real?

Scrapple was largely a Pennsylvania dutch dish for quite some time, and frankly looked down on by many who did not know the origin or background behind it. With the growing movement for more responsible eating and full use of animals harvested, it is growing in popularity. Check out this article from Huff post for a perspective on this tasty meal.

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Pig Cut List

In a prior post, I referenced the cut list that we were putting together as well as the source of our planning numbers. Please check that out for some background.

Here is a link to our Cut List as a PDF file. This list is for our pigs. At this point, we will ask that you save it to your computer and print it out, fill out your preferences and then email it back to us.

If you do not have a scanner, please feel free to take a photo with a camera phone and send that or simply mail the form back via USPS. In the future, we hope to have this available to fill out online, but for the next couple of cycles, we hope to work out any issues with this more manual approach.

 

 

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Lessons in Commercial Pig Butchering

This being our first year butchering our own pigs, we learned some good lessons in how to manage our expectations and also what to expect from the process.

While we have purchased 1/2 pigs and steers from other farmers in the past, it was a simple agreement to the hang weight cost and then we got what the butcher cut. We approached the process in much the same way this time, but going forward we will be better educated, and in turn, those who buy from us will be. The options on cuts are significant, as are the ways to use the cuts and trimmings. We have prepared a robust cut list document that will be the subject of a follow on post, and will use that for all agreements going forward to help both us and our customers get the maximum value from their investment.

Note: The data here reflects estimates and approximations and there will be some variability. The source we are using as a base is the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture as they have a great resource available as a reference. You will note the parallels in that to how we structure the cut list for maximum clarity and ease of reference.

When butchering an animal there are a few weights to be aware of.The estimated standing weight allows you to estimate the hang weight. The hang weight is what costs are based on, and reflects the butchered animal, prepared for retail cutting at about a 28% loss of original weight. The retail, or packaged weight reflects all the trimming and related loss to final retail cuts and amounts to approximately another 20%. Some of this can be retained through selection of the trim for other use, including lard.

In related posts, we will cover some of the many options here, as well as recipes for these cuts for those of you who may be new to the array of options a whole or half animal represents.