Local food historian Clarissa Lynch was excited to return home after spending her Memorial Day weekend in South Carolina, where she attended a class on the process of cooking a whole hog, taught by Dr. Howard Conyers. The oldest form of BBQ in the United States, whole-hog barbeque involves the time- and labor-intensive process of cooking an entire hog in one piece over a pit in the ground, rooted in the traditions of enslaved African-Americans in the South.
Dr. Conyers, who works as a rocket scientist with NASA, has inherited the skill of whole-hog cooking passed through generations in his family, and he’s passionate about preserving the legacy of African-American pitmasters and the history of their culinary art. With a deep interest in the history of Southern food, especially Southern poverty food, Lynch paid the $650 fee and enrolled in Dr. Conyers’ class, eager to learn more about a tradition she’d rarely experienced in person.
“I had seen (a whole hog cooked) during a family reunion when I was 4 or 5, so I didn’t remember any family members who were alive with the skills for it,” she said. “After coming home from the class — which was amazing — I mentioned it to my Uncle Bobby, and he said, ‘I know how to do that.’
“Needless to say, I looked at him crazy, since I had spent a chunk of change to see it. So, we made plans (for him to) do it overnight in October.”
And so began A Whole Hog Family, which specializes in cooking entire hogs, in the ground or with cinder blocks. Beyond a delicious meal to be enjoyed, Lynch’s family is proud to share an important piece of food history with the next generation.
“Whole hog cooking is based on … careful management of cooking and shoveling wood coals under the hog to cook it over several hours,” she said. “We learned from our enslaved ancestors, who passed the skills from one generation to the next.”
A Whole Hog Family doesn’t use modern injection-style marinades, common in the BBQ circuit today. Instead, they hold true to the traditional use of herbs and spices with vinegar to season their hogs, then cook them low and slow for hours, overnight or throughout the day.
“And we have no problems having an audience to learn the skill, either,” she said.
For more information about A Whole Hog Family, contact Bobby Robinson (912) 618-0366 or Curtis Clifton at (912) 623-7749.