Appalachia Appalachian Dialect Appalachian Food

Hog Killin Weather

the tradition of butchering hogs in appalachia

One of my favorite cold sayings is cold enough to kill hogs or the variation cold enough to hang meat. Few of us actually kill hogs these days, but the meaning behind the saying is still fresh enough in our past to keep the phrase circulating throughout Appalachia.

Before meat was readily available at the local grocery store pork was the staple meat for most mountain families.

Before the chestnut blight most folks in Appalachia let their hogs free range and forage for their own food. After the blight, and as the land became more populated, folks kept their hogs closer to home in pens.

In my area of Appalachia folks waited for cold weather to arrive before slaughtering their hogs. I’ve read folks farther south used blocks of ice to aide in their hog killing process since a stretch of cold weather couldn’t be guaranteed as easily as it could be in the mountains.

Pap’s father, my Papaw Wade, was known as a “good hog butcher” around our area. He was called to various homes and farms throughout the hog killing season. Some folks paid money for his services, but most paid by giving him part of the meat, and those who couldn’t afford to did neither.

Pap shared some of his hog slaughtering memories with me:

  • They waited until the temperature was under 40 degrees for 4 or 5 days. He said it was okay if it warmed up some during the day, but the nights needed to be cold.
  • Usually the hogs were penned up in a small area and fed only corn and water for about two weeks before they were slaughtered. This ensured the lard and meat would have a good taste.
  • They tried to go by the signs, but sometimes you had to slaughter when you could. Pap said if you were able to follow the signs it made for better meat and lard.
  • They had a barrel buried in the ground at a 45 degree angle. Boiling water was poured into the barrel and then the whole hog was lowered into the water. This made the hair easier to scrape off as well as cleaned off the hog.
  • Pap’s family salt cured and sugar cured most all of their pork. It was hung by wire in the smokehouse. Keeping it on a wire kept the mice off it-eek! They canned backbones, ribs, and sausage that was made from the scraps. They also used the ears, tongue, and parts of the head to make souse meat which is a ground up meat mixture. Pap said the souse meat was eaten up pretty quickly, never lasting more than a week or so.
  • Typically the women begin rendering the lard as the men were still butchering.

The Deer Hunter has always wanted to have hogs and slaughter them in the fall of the year, but we’ve never managed to accomplish it. Both our families had hogs as a source of meat when we were growing up and we each have memories of the hogs…totally different memories.

One year The Deer Hunter’s Papaw James bought two hogs to fatten up and slaughter for meat. From the beginning The Deer Hunter was warned not to become attached to them. From the beginning-he didn’t heed the warning. Ever chance he got he headed for the pig lot. Feeding the two pigs and petting them. In short order those hogs became his best friends.

I suppose the grown ups knew he would be upset when slaughtering day arrived, but after all they had warned him.

On the big day The Deer Hunter had a plan to stop them. He gathered a good supply of rocks and hid within easy throwing distance. As the men walked down to the lot he began his rock attack. His plan failed and he’ll tell you it was without a doubt the worst whipping he ever got.

Pap and Granny never kept hogs, but I remember at some point someone in the holler did. Maybe it was my Papaw Wade or maybe an uncle. Whoever had them, kept them in a hog lot down below my Uncle Henry’s. One of my funniest memories from childhood is about those hogs.

My cousin, Maria, and I were walking along the road that ran beside the pig lot. We realized the hogs were out at about the same time the two big hogs noticed us. We took off running towards home with the two pigs in hot pursuit. I think we knew they wouldn’t actually hurt us, but there was much screaming and laughing during the chase and a lot of teasing for two silly girls who ran from hogs afterwards.

To read more about the tradition of hog killing day in Appalachia jump over and read this guest post from the archives written by Keith Jones – Hog Killing Day.



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  • Reply
    Betty Brantley
    February 2, 2021 at 2:23 pm

    I loved all the posts! I find it so interesting about blowing up and playing with the hog bladder!

  • Reply
    Catherine Spence
    December 29, 2020 at 8:46 am

    You know you’re in the South when restaurants feature hog brains and eggs on the menu.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    January 12, 2019 at 4:50 pm

    We raised and slaughtered several hogs every year, there was a large Cedar with a large limb hanging out over our scrapping platform which was level with a large cast iron bathtub beside the platform. We had a chainfall attached to this large limb. My job started the day before as I had to fill the 55 gallon barrel which sat on a rock fireplace and bringing it to a boil. Initially Daddy handled the shooting of the hog, he drew an imaginary line from an ear to the opposite eye and placed a shot at the intersection of the X and used single shot .22 rifle, I don’t recall ever hearing a squeal. After cutting the Carotid Artery and the Juggler Vein and bleeding the pig we would attach a gambrel (usually a single foot0 to the rear Achellies tendon and lift the pig up and lower it into the tub of of hot water making sure it wasn’t hot enough to set the hair. next we would lift the pig out and lower it on the platform and scrape it. The next step was lifting it using the chainfall. We would remove the head saving it for saucemeat. We would carefully cut around the rectum and urinary implement, wrap them in a clean cloth then tie them off and then split the belly from between the hams down through the neck making sure not to cut an intestine or gaul bladder. We would catch the entrails in clean tub and carefully remove the liverfrom the gaul bladder so Mom could make Livermush. We would cut any excess fat for rendering into lard. Using a meat saw we would saw down down the backbone halving the pig then carry each half to the smoke house and hang them to chill overnight, the following day we would cut up the halves into shoulders, middlings and hams and render all excess fat into lard and cracklings (which with a little salt was my favorite meat). We had large shelves in the smokehouse where we would lay out the different cuts and apply our own mix of salt and sugar cure, using a meat needle we would inject cure around the bones in the shoulders and hams. After allowing to meat to absorb the cure we would hang the meat and keep a Hickory Smoke going for a few weeks to impart a wonderful Hickory flavor. Mom would make wonderful sausage and can it with a bit of lard poured over it and livermush better than I”ve ever been able to find since then. We always sold the Cured Hickory Smoked Hams but has the cured smoked Middlings & Shoulders ate very well. We would also process meat for other people for shares , this plus the ten to twenty hog of our own guaranteed we always had plenty of pork to eat.

  • Reply
    Kathy Poteet Dubree
    November 28, 2018 at 7:26 pm

    My Grandparents had a farm in Murphy Nc I remember as a kid my Dad,Grandpa, and who ever else would kill a hog. I hated the whole process but I sure loved that streak o lean,tenderloin, and sausage that we had as a result of it.

  • Reply
    O P Holder
    December 1, 2017 at 10:50 am

    At hog killing time, my uncle would be the one who shot the hog. I did not like pulling hair or scraping.
    We gave a mess of meat to 2 or 3 neighbors, who would return the favor. This practice assured a longer season for fresh meat.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    November 21, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    When I was a child, I remember us killing hogs in the fall, but not necessarily on Thanksgiving. I remember grinding the sausage and playing with the water-filled bladder. Just about everyone up the holler had pigs to slaughter.

  • Reply
    Pat Young
    November 20, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    From eastern NC, perhaps my experience was a bit different. At my Grandparents house the kids were kept out of the way. But when my family moved to “town” (3 miles from city limits), we raised and butchered one or two hogs a year.
    After the killing, bleeding and scraping were done and the pig was cut into manageable parts, us kids had the job of stirring the lard pot and pulling out the cracklins. We had a press that we put them in and pressed them into cakes. They were quite good as a crunchy side dish all winter, of course with plenty of salt added. The intestines were cleaned for sausage making and we had to pump the grinder for the grown women to fill the guts. Our meaty parts (hams, shoulders, etc.) were placed in a huge barrel and covered with salt for about a week. After all the blood was drawn out, they were covered with black pepper and hung in a smokehouse (actually a lean-to built on the side of daddy’s workshop) and smoked with hickory wood. My job everyday after school was to run and check the smoke and adjust it. Guess I was 10 or 11 at that time. The lights, liver, head, feet and other parts were given to those who helped us. We never added sugar and to this day I dislike sugar/salt cured hams. Once we had a pig (a Yorkshire) that was crazy in the head. All he did was run in circles all day long. He was so lean that my parents had no option but to turn him into BBQ. Those were fun times and I miss them.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Fascinating! I’ve heard the phrases and understand them but never used them. We always had chickens we slaughtered (no particular season) for eating but never any other livestock. Do hear about folks hunting the feral hogs and combining their meat with other hog meat or maybe deer meet to make sausage and have participated in tamale making where the whole head is cooked before all the meat is pulled off and ground to make the filling for tamales .

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 20, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Well, it’s late and I’ve posted once this morning but ….. we had our first frost here at the house last night. I picked maybe 50-60 green tomatoes, 10-12 or so bell pepper, maybe 30 Mammoth Jalpeno and the last picking of Mountain White Half Runner. We gave nearly all of it away, though I thought about your green tomato relish. The frost we had was not really a hard one, just dipped to freezing about daylight I think. Be interesting to see just how much damage it did. I think the potato tops are probably history also the green beans and the tomatoes. Not sure about the peppers.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    I can remember one hog we had and I think Daddy got as attached to it as we did cause after he had it butchered we never had another one, he just always bought the meat from then on.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 20, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    My Mother loved pickled pigs feet…my Dad couldn’t stand to look at them…He was from a family that thru generations raised their own hogs and of course chickens for meat…Beef not so much!
    My Mother-in-law could can the “prettiest” sausage you ever did see! As a new bride, when we went camping, I had my first taste of her sausage for breakfast! I proclaimed…”This is the best sausage I ever tasted, what kind is it and where did you buy it?” She then took the jar out of the cooler to show me…and someone said Mom cans her own! When they killed a hog and she got on a roll, she could pat out, pack, fill with hot lard, turn upside-down and slide many a jar of beautiful sausage down the kitchen counter. All the patties shaped the same size fitting in the jars just perfect…My husband still craves her homemade canned sausage today…mixed together with just the right amount of spices…and a lot of love that made it taste so good!
    Dad said his Mom canned sausage too, but I never saw hers…Most of their hog went to the smoke house.
    I kill my hogs, turkeys, and hens in the meat section of Kroger’s! Ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS….loved all the comments….I only observed one “hog killing time” at my Grandmothers in Mars Hill….Everybody had their job to do…a’liken to well-oiled machines…I wanted to watch more but us kids where shooed out to play…to tell the truth…it was a bit bloody and didn’t smell like bacon frying…if you know what I mean.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2017 at 12:28 pm

    We always had at least two hogs to slaughter when it became cold enough. My daddy would take a .22 single shot and shoot ’em right between the eyes. He had two Black Guys to do the slaughtering cause they were professional at this. Puriel Miller and his friend worked up the hogs and brought them to the house. Me and Harold stayed in the house and watched thru the living room window. Puriel brought us the hog bladder and told us to go down to the footlog, wash this thing real good, put our mouths on it and blow it up just like a balloon. That was the best ball we ever had. (Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t put my mouth over that thing.) We had plenty of meat for the winter and those tenderloin biscuits, cooked with Lard, were Great.
    At the viewing, I saw Puriel Miller’s Family and both girls hugged me and wanted me to tell
    them how I knew their dad. I told them that everyone loved and knew Puriel, and he was known all over several counties. One was a Psychiatrist and the other girl was a Doctor too. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 20, 2017 at 11:59 am

    My experience with hog killing was just a little bit different. My daddy killed and butchered his own hogs. The neighbors weren’t invited but were afforded a mess of meat when it was all over. Daddy helped other people with their own but rarely brought any meat home. Daddy was strict about how the butchery was done. He tried to follow biblical principles in handling the animals. For instance, the blood was drained completely from the animal and left to soak into the ground. The animal was left to hang until all the blood was drained and the flesh was cold. Any meat found with blood in it when it was cut up was discarded.
    Daddy wouldn’t let us eat the meat until the “animal heat” was gone which meant overnight. We would try to sneak a little piece of tenderloin to roast over the dying coals of the fire. If he caught us he would just shake his head without a word. That made the meat taste a little odd.
    Daddy never saved the fat in the hog that most people treasure. The kidney fat and caul fat were discarded. Caul fat is the net looking stuff surrounding the internal organs and is prized by chefs. Any fat that came out when the hog was gutted was left for the dogs. Only the liver was saved from the internal organs. The lights and sweetbreads were given away if any neighbors wanted them. The head was given away too but only after Daddy trimmed off the jowls to cure and to make souse. The kidneys were thrown away.
    I don’t understand why Daddy followed the Judaic laws concerning the slaughter of animals but applied them to an animal considered “unclean”. I didn’t question him then and I wouldn’t question his judgement now if he were still among us. I have never raised and killed an animal on my own but if I did I would try to adhere to my Daddy’s principles.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 20, 2017 at 10:34 am

    We raised hogs for killing a few times when I was a boy. I remember it was always on a cold day and also it being an all day process. We froze the meat in the big freezer that was kept on the porch. I know they used about every part of the hog that was edible too. I remember dad saying about the only thing you throw away is the squeal! I remember the tenderloin mom fried up in the pan to go with hot biscuits and gravy. That’s still one of my favorite meals. I also remember trying hog brains and eggs. That’s still my least favorite meal!!
    I just couldn’t get past the brain part.
    I wasn’t a big fan of the souse meat either. I left it for my big brother who would eat just about anything that didn’t eat him first. I still use the terms hog killing weather and cold enough to hang meat.
    I’m sure some people have no idea what I’m talking about but that’s ok. There’s still some of us who know exactly what it means.

  • Reply
    November 20, 2017 at 10:34 am

    My job was usually to keep the wash pot full of water and the fire going under it. I wasn’t allowed to carry the hot water until I was 12 or 13 years old. Then I had both jobs. Only one time did Dad allow me to shoot the hog before he slit the throat. We had a table for salt curing and a chest for sugar curing. I was never attached to any of the hogs but the calves was a different story until they were bigger, so I never had a problem with the butchering of any of them. Once we got a freezer we switched more to beef. We killed, skinned and gutted the steer and took the carcass to town to be cut, wrapped and “flash frozen” for the freezer.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    November 20, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I remember my daddy using the phrase “Hog Killing Weather.” About 20 years ago, I bought a set of the Foxfire books as a present for my parents. Daddy loved those books and remarked many times “that’s just how we did it.” There were five boys in his family and they all worked together with their parents and other family members to prepare the hogs and they salted them and hung the meat in the smoke house. Just seeing the heading of your blog brought back some wonderful conversations with my daddy and mother.

  • Reply
    Eleanor Loos. Columbia Station OH
    November 20, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Having been “born and bred” in the city, it was a shock to me to experience “hog killin” time in the country. My husband (born in Hungary and lived in Germany) had done this for the greater part of his life. When we moved to Columbia Station in Ohio it became a regular event at this time of year …. All the experiences that the other readers have written about were part of the work and fun. I got to cut up the lard and cook up the cracklings. They were often used for biscuit making These are all memories from long ago. Thanks, Tipper!
    Eleanor Loos

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    November 20, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Tipper, Thanks for the memories. I could for sure wax longwinded on hog killin’ time. We kept hogs and killed 4 for our family every year. My granny would have tenderloin and gravy and biscuits on thd table before the first hog was cold. There was always great deliberation in scalding the hogs just sufficiently for the hair to be scraped off. I can almost hear my dad’s cousins’ admonishing the group that they were going to leave the hog in the scalding water too long and “Set the hair” on them. Larry Proffitt.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 20, 2017 at 8:23 am

    My Dad butchered hogs when I was a boy. The weather got right about Thanksgiving. It was an all day process. For some reason we never smoked any, maybe because we had electricity and a chest freezer. Then in later years he gave it up because it interfered with deer hunting.
    Store bought pork is a pale shadow of home-grown. It was firm and very white. Back then we ate hearty at breakfast and one of my favorite things was pork tenderloin biscuit. That was alongside a couple of fried eggs with the edges of the white brown and crinkely. Makes me hungry to remember.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    November 20, 2017 at 8:15 am

    One of the most exciting days of late fall or early winter, usually on Thanksgiving or shortly after , the big day that everyone looked forward to every year was called “hog killing time.” This would mean that there would be a big feast of fresh cooked meat on the dining table for several days following the hog killing.
    You never killed your hogs on a warm day. The weather had to be near the freezing point to consider it the perfect time. As with all other customs and the way that everything had to be done by the people in the mountains of western North Carolina, killing of hogs was a ritual. The hogs had been feeding and getting their winter’s supply of nutrition for a full year, and the people were not going to chance the possibility of loosing any of this meat. This would be their supply of meat until the next hog killing..
    There were a lot of preparations before the day that the killing took place. The location had to be near a good supply of water. For my family, this was always near the creek where my brother and I took our weekly bath. There was the hanging pole to make. This was for hoisting the hog up to a vertical position with his head hanging down. Next there was the fire place with the dipping vat. This was made from a large metal drum cut in half lengthwise. The fireplace was made from field stone stacked together to hold the dipping vat. It was usually a couple of feet off the ground to allow for the wood that was used for the fire. A table was made from any lumber that was available. It was used for laying the hog on for removing its hair.
    We would get up very early on the day of hog killing. There was a still lot of work to do before killing the hog. We built a roaring fire under the dipping vat in which water was placed the day before. With the fire going real good, we would head back to the house for some breakfast. It would be a long day, and we didn’t know when we would be in a position to stop long enough to eat again. This was a job that you could not stop and start when you wanted to. Every step of the ritual had you moving according to plans.
    Then we would we go to the hog pen with a hammer, a 22 caliber gun, and a long, sharp butcher’s knife. Dad would remove some of the boards from the back of the hog pen, shoot the hog between the eyes, pull him out of the pen, and cut his throat with the butchers knife. This seemed gruesome, but the hog had to be bled this way for the meat to be of first quality for our table this winter.
    Next the hog was loaded on a one horse sled and taken to the dressing area. After scalding the hog in the boiling water and removing its hair, a one horse singletree was used to prepare for hoisting to a vertical position and the beginning of butchering.
    The one doing the cutting had to be very careful not to cut the intestines. The intestines were caught in a large wash tub and sent to the house where the women could remove the fat for rendering for the grease to make lard shorting and lye soap. When everything was removed from the inside of the carcass and it was washed real clean with water that my brother and I carried from the creek, the body was laid on the table that had also been cleaned. Next was the removal of the ribs, back-bones, and tenderloin. The rough blocking (cutting) was done, and the pieces were sent to the house where they would be placed for cooling until the next day.
    Now the work for the men was nearly through for the day. They only had the cleaning up of the cleaning area and putting everything back to its storage place. The big part of hog killing was about to begin with the women doing the bigger part of saving the meat. In addition to rendering the lard, there was sausage to make and can, livermush to make from the liver, canning the tenderloin, ribs, and backbones. They would be in the kitchen where it was very warm from the heat of the wood cook stove.
    The children also had to quit their playing and help with grinding the sausage with the hand turned grinder that was fastened to the kitchen table. They didn’t want to leave the ball game they were having with the hog bladder. They had washed the bladder real clean, inserted a hollow piece of grape vine and filled it with air by blowing through the hollow of the vine wood and tying it with a string to keep the air in. This was a football, a basketball, and a dodge ball until it became dry and shrank.
    The work in the kitchen would go on for about three days. The following morning the final trimming of the hams shoulders and middles was done, and then they were placed on a table that was covered with salt in the smokehouse. When all the pieces were in place they were completely covered with salt. The first stage of curing was complete. Later they would be removed from the salt, cleaned, and rubbed with brown sugar and black pepper. Next they were put in cloth sacks and hung from a pole that was the length of the smokehouse and six foot from the floor. In a few weeks they would be ready for eating.
    Back to the kitchen. The sausage, livermush, and cracklings were ready for eating. The best eating was the fried tenderloin along with crackling bread and a glass of cold milk. The livermush and sausage would be eaten later.
    Soon all the work that goes with hog killing was finished. We all were filled with good fresh meat from the hog and were ready to get back to our normal routines. This was setting by a fire in the fireplace, popping corn in the wire corn popper and listening to a story told by one of the grown folks. Hog killing was over until about this time next year.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    November 20, 2017 at 7:50 am

    The first weaner pig I raised in Colorado was named “Meat” because I wanted to keep the end goal clearly in mind – and I was 23. There was a fellow who would come to the farm to do the slaughtering – I stayed in the house but afterwards couldn’t even tell he’d been there! – then take the carcass to the butchery where if I remember correctly you could rent a freezer/locker to store all your wrapped cuts of meat if you didn’t have a freezer at home which I did.
    I’d raise a hog or two here if there was an on-farm service like that…it’s taking an animal to a slaughterhouse that I can’t get easy with. I’d also have to sell or trade a lot of the meat, because I can’t eat that much meat on a year. But I bet your gang could, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 20, 2017 at 7:28 am

    My grandmother raised a hog every year but she had someone else do the butchering. Then I married into a family that raised and butchered a hog or two each year. I was so excited to get to see the process. I had my warm clothes and was ready to get out there in the thick of it. To my great disappointment they would not let me help with the slaughter and processing of the meat. You see, I am a woman! The women stayed in the house till the meat was cut up and brought in in great tubs. They were not allowed out amongst the blood and guts!
    The men did the killing, scalding, and cutting of the meat and the women cooked a big lunch, that included fresh pork tenderloin, then they processed the meat as it was brought in.
    The processing took two days. The first day included cutting the meat and freezing some and canning some. There was also meat prepared to be made into sausage. The sausage was canned on the second day after all the spices were well mixed into the ground pork.
    The hams and shoulders and fat were put in the smoke house for curing….I wasn’t allowed to take part in that curing process either.
    I have wished that the Deer Hunter would raise a hog so I could be a part of the “out door” part of the process!

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