Exploring the gap between what we eat and where we get it.

Jesse Griffiths on the Myths, Controversies, and Delicacies of Feral Pigs

  1. Breaking the 120-pound barrier
  2. Being "boar curious"
  3. Sid Miller's failed poison plan

A lot of people think of Jesse Griffiths as a renowned chef, restaurateur, and staple in the Austin culinary community—and they’d be right. He’s behind the incredibly rich and informative book Afield and has one of the most exciting restaurants in Texas with Dai Due. But to me, Jesse Griffiths is the hog guy. Ever since I pre-ordered The Hog Book back in 2020, I’ve been chomping at the bit to learn some of his recipes and preparations for feral pigs. Because to a lesser degree, I’m a hog guy too.


Both Jesse and I are hoping that our population of wild pork enthusiasts is growing, but admittedly this invasive species doesn’t always do itself a favor as far as PR goes:


“Well, I think first and foremost is your tactile and your sensory observations. They are ugly, they are dirty, and they're smelly. Boom, right there, it doesn't have that inherent cleanliness of a deer. When you look at a deer in a meadow, it looks...I don't know if you could say appetizing, but it has a positivity to it that feral hogs absolutely lack,” Jesse said in our conversation.


But, despite its aesthetic shortcomings, feral pigs are damn-good eating. It’s true and anyone who says differently is wrong. It’s my hill and I’m willing to die on it. So, I decided to talk to the man who knows why and how this is true, so much so that he dedicated 400+ pages and almost a decade to writing a book on it. And now that The Hog Book is primed for publication, set for this June (you can pre-order it here), I thought I’d celebrate by picking Jesse’s brain about feral pig myths, controversies, and what he’d do if he was faced with shooting the last one on earth.


Here’s chef, author, hunter, angler, and hog guy Jesse Griffiths.


___


Steve: Has anyone ever written a book solely about hunting and cooking feral pigs?


Jesse Griffiths: Not specifically. There's a little bit out there, but they're fairly obscure or old. That's why I did it. We were dealing with so many questions about hogs and this is an issue that came up many years ago. I would do a class on venison butchery and half the questions would be about hogs. At that point, I realized this is really what people want to know about. 


Not only were they asking questions, but there's so much mythology behind it and a lot of misinformation out there. People heard something about a hog or about eating hogs, they took it to heart, and then they spread that same notion. It’s this game of culinary telephone. And at the end, people have these widely varied and very disparate ideas and myths about consuming these pigs. We started making all of our classes about feral hogs. And then, that eventually culminated in a book. 


Why do you think feral pigs are so misunderstood?


Well, I think first and foremost is your tactile and your sensory observations. They are ugly, they are dirty, and they're smelly. Boom, right there, it doesn't have that inherent cleanliness of a deer. When you look at a deer in a meadow, it looks...I don't know if you could say appetizing, but it has a positivity to it that feral hogs absolutely lack. They're mean. It's almost an emotive response. People's feelings about them inhibit their ideas about whether they're edible. 


And then, any evidence or any anecdotal occurrence that happens beyond that reinforces those ideals about the hogs. Like, "Well, I heard you can get diseases from them." And you're already leaning towards them being inedible. You get caught in that echo chamber and you start to delve into the other misinformation, like you can't eat them over a certain weight.

Photos by Jody Horton; THEHOGBOOK.COM


The going rate seems to be 150 pounds.


Oh, man, I've heard it all. And people get so technical and specific. So at 119 pounds they’re delectable. At 121 pounds, they’re inedible. Are you kidding me? Really? Those last couple handfuls of acorns just pushed it over the edge [laughs].


You have this generational misinformation that's passed down, not necessarily within a family but within friend groups. It’s the same with a javelina or an aoudad or anything like that when it comes to wild game. Somebody will tell somebody you can't eat an aoudad, and I’ll ask them, "Well, what did you think of it when you tried it?" And they'll say, "Well, I've never tried it." 


Is there a species that compares to the feral pig that’s maybe a few years ahead?


Maybe duck. Let's compare it to a wild duck. Now, you've had this proliferation of very good outdoor cooking media, like Meateater, and you go online and there's a million recipes for wild duck. People are excited about it. Five years ago they were just wrapping it in bacon and throwing it on the grill with a little marinade of Italian dressing and Coca Cola. I think you've seen it with ducks and also people have rightfully become guilted into actually cooking their ducks instead of just shooting them and throwing them away, which is extremely commonplace. And duck is, I feel like, way harder to cook than feral hog and make palatable, depending on where you are and what your ducks are eating. 


I'm not saying that all feral hogs are delicious, and I address this in the book, but many of them are very good. The last one that I shot was a 130-pound boar. He did not smell like a daisy, but it was absolutely beautiful, mild, fantastic pork, with just a little bit of fat to it. Very, very good. The ribs were excellent. The sausage has been really good. The chops and everything on this thing were just delicious. Most people would look at that pig and say, "Oh, no, first off, he's a boar. And secondly, he's over the weight range." They would miss out on this experience and some very, very good meat.


I feel like I haven’t run into a pig yet that couldn’t be handled in a way to make it tasty. 


Precisely. The most common question that I get is, “What's your favorite recipe for feral hog?” Wait, hold on. How can we address something so broad? Are we talking about a seven-pound piglet or a 350-pound boar? Those are very different animals, quite literally. But also, when you address that, you can’t be overly technical. We went in and created a system in the book for discerning the differences—how do you cook a medium-sized pig, a big sow, or a big boar? You have to come at it from a not super technical way in order to get people to actually try it. You can't be analyzing the fat content.


What we've tried to do with the book is come up with a really simple approach. There are four categories of hog, in general, and within those, this is how we're going to butcher them, cut them, and what's going to be most useful. Here are a bunch of recipes that will apply mostly to this category, but most definitely also to the other categories. It helps people get out of this mindset that one size fits all with recipes. We want to get them to treat the hogs differently. Because I agree with you, I can't even remember the last time I got a hog that was in the inedible category that I shot or received at the restaurant. We get tons of them that are trapped and killed and brought in. They're universally good.


As you’ve served them at Dai Due, have you noticed a perception shift when it comes to feral pigs?


It's hard to say, because most of the people coming to the restaurant are very amenable to trying it. Or the people coming to the classes are either onboard or are very curious about it. I just came up with a term, boar curious. [Laughs] To me, it would be disappointing to think more and more people are deeming them inedible. What that's going to require is education about cooking. 


Here's a good example of something very similar—a turkey leg. I saw a video the other day from one of the old school hunting shows. A bunch of guys go out into the woods hunting turkeys. But, they feel compelled these days to add a cooking component to it, because they have to. It’s the standard now. You have to talk about cooking it. This guy was doing a demo on how he cleaned a turkey and he just breasted it out. I'm looking at all these comments on the video and it was pretty incredible how many people are praising how this guy has cleaned the turkey. People were saying, "You can't eat the legs. They're just too tough. I threw them on the grill and the dog wouldn't even eat them." 


Quite simply, all you needed to do was cook them for four more hours. You know? They're absolutely delicious. If you like turkey breast, then you'll like the legs. If they were tough, I guarantee you they're tough because you did not cook them long enough. You look at that problem and the solution is so simple. It's just education. People are deeming a cut of an animal just completely inedible, but just haven't been taught how to go about it. 


Then, to bridge that gap, I can't say, "Oh, you need to use a french style technique." You're going to lose them, right away. So, you put it in something very familiar, that's the crockpot. You put it in a crockpot and you cover it with water, and you put it on low and you go to bed. Those are instructions that anybody can follow. You’ll wake up and the meat is going to fall off the bone and then you can make a taco out of that. Then, you take that liquid and pour it through a strainer to make stock—the same stuff that you buy in that little box for soup and jambalaya and whatnot. But instead of getting it out of the box, now you've made it out of that leg, and you got two things from that. It’s the most simple thing. 


I think the way we're going to cure the issue of people regarding hogs as inedible is just to give them very simple approaches that they're going to succeed with. They're going to love it. You can't get overly technical. Then, the next time they're going to want to get a little more technical with the recipe or upgrade it a little bit. In the beginning, it’s important to speak to people in really simple ways and try to inspire them to get more out of it.

Photos by Jody Horton; THEHOGBOOK.COM


When did you decide you’d write a book?


Essentially, we started working on this one before Afield even came out, and that was in 2012. One of the great things about taking that much time is that I did literally a hundred classes in that time, if not more. During each one of these classes people would ask me questions. And when you hear hundreds of questions about feral hogs, cooking them, it really gives you an incredible foundation to write an educational work about hogs. When people ask you the same question three or four or 10 times, you know it needs to be addressed. Afield clocked in at, I think, 260 pages. The hog book is 420 pages. It's a big book.


We discuss stalking, we discuss building blinds, we discuss where they're going to be, their habits, to an extent. We discuss trapping and how to build a simple trap, even if your budget's $200. There are four main stories in the book, and each one of them highlights a different technique. Then, it also includes four very intense butchery diagrams and breakdowns of different sized pigs. As a reference, if you kill a medium hog, you can flip to chapter three and see how I would break down a hog of that size. Beyond that, there are going to be 115 recipes. 


Why did you start hunting feral pigs?


We started the hunting school in 2008 and that's when I really upped the amount that I was hunting them. I came to hunting later in life. I've been hunting for about 15 years now. I've fished my whole life. I started off hunting deer. When you hunt deer in Texas you're also usually hunting hogs. So, I'd killed a couple and then it kind of just ramped up from there. 


I was a butcher before I was a hunter, so I was coming at wild game from that angle, and I really appreciated hogs. When I looked at a deer carcass, I saw 10 things that I could do with it. When I looked at a hog, I could see 30. It's a more diverse animal. Most of that has to do with the fat. It's got a very edible fat. If you get that really nice fatty pig, it can be great. 


You probably have good looking hogs where you are in North Texas, a lot of oaks and a lot of pecans. If I can tell regionally where you're killing pigs, I can take an educated guess at what meat quality they'll have. They're appealing in that way, and also I love hunting them. They have such a specific set of senses. They vary between very easy and extremely difficult to hunt. 


They have such a random anarchist way to their family groups. A deer is probably going to follow that same path, more or less the same time of day every day. But a hog does whatever the hell it wants to do. You have to be absolutely at the ready at all times when you're hunting, because they just pop up. You could hunt them for five hours and go back to the truck and slam the door and one runs off 25 feet from you. That's happened to me. I like cleaning them, butchering them, and each different hog is different. I enjoy how much they make me think.


What’s your stance on feral pigs in general? There seems to be a love/hate relationship, and farmers and ranchers tend to lean more towards hate.


I think that's a really great point, and I address it a couple times in the book. I live in Austin and I don't deal with feral hogs in my yard. If you've got a hay farm that the hogs root up badly, but you enjoy eating them, let's take one thing out of that equation and see where we would stand with it. Now you have a hay farm that's being torn up by an animal that's completely inedible. Look at how different that situation is. We have a very distinct positive from this population explosion of hogs that we've had, in that they are very good to eat. 


We’re not getting out of it. It's kind of like guns. They’re here to stay. All these ideas about controlling guns—the toothpaste is kind of out of the tube on that one, so we're going to have to approach it from a different way in order to attack that problem. It's the same thing with hogs. Thankfully, they're very good to eat. Maybe that'll inspire people to kill more of them which is what we need to do. 


Now, if I had the very last feral hog in the world in front of me in my sights, would I shoot it? I don't know. I love hunting them, I love eating them, and I like that they're in the landscape to an extent. But, I can also sympathize with people who are incurring pretty terrible financial loss because of them.


It definitely softens the blow that we can eat them. 


We've had poisoning, the Warfarin that passed probably about four years ago. Sid Miller, the head of the Texas Department of Agriculture, fast tracked a Warfarin poison for hogs and it was very, very unpopular. The most diverse coalition of activists gathered against it. You had the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Foundation, joining with the Texas Cattleman's Association and the Texas Hog Hunters Association. It is an incredibly complex issue. But, as long as we're killing them, why can't we eat them?


To pre-order and learn more about The Hog Book, be sure to head over here. A huge thanks to Jesse for lending me some of his time and talking pigs—if you’re ever in Austin, a visit to Dai Due should be at the top of your list.

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