630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, NC
Hours: Mon-Thu 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
BBQ Jew’s Grade: A- (but it’s complicated)
Porky Says: “Wholly different whole hog.”
Pondering the Meaning of Whole Hog BBQ
The Pig’s website proclaims–in large lettering–”Serving whole hog barbeque.” But chef/owner Sam Suchoff’s definition of whole hog barbecue extends beyond that used in Eastern North Carolina tradition. Indeed, many old school pitmasters and barbecue eaters alike will cringe, roll their eyes, feel their blood pressure spike and mumble a few choice words when they find out what “whole hog barbeque” means at The Pig.
In Eastern North Carolina, “whole hog barbecue” typically–okay, always–refers to chopped pork made from a whole hog, with hams, shoulders, loin, skin and so on chopped together into a glorious mess. (In other parts of North Carolina, joints tend to rely on shoulders and sometimes hams, rather than whole hog.) The Pig’s chopped barbecue sticks with the whole hog tradition by using multiple parts of the hog. However, the “whole hog barbeque” served at The Pig includes quite a bit more than chopped and sauced whole hog. In fact, their menu would not fly in most parts of the state and may well be a criminal offense in Salisbury, Lexington, Goldsboro, Ayden and other barbecue meccas. But The Pig is located in Chapel Hill, a strange southern town where folks have a little more linguistic freedom, even when talking about barbecue, and where many diners are, to put it politely, not from ’round here. (Yankees.)
At The Pig, “whole hog barbeque” seems to refer to using every part of the pig but the oink–as folks from
’round here often say–but not just in one dish called barbecue. Rather than simply chopping the whole hog up to make traditional ‘cue, Suchoff and his team take diners on a menu-wide culinary trip from snout to tail and back again. I’d challenge anyone to name a restaurant, barbecue or otherwise, in North Carolina that uses as much of one animal to such great effect. For example, on a recent and ever-so-slightly overindulgent visit to The Pig, I sampled the following kinds of divine swine:
delicious fresh ham shaved thin like prosciutto; “tongue-n-cheek” (not just a clever name) mortadella that tasted much better than it
looked; a juicy country fried pork chop; a delicate but hearty handmade tamale with head meat; a homemade hot dog with real snap to it; fresh fried pork skins that were still crackling when they arrived at the table; tender, well seasoned dry ribs; flavorful baked beans and collards enhanced by pig’s feet and other pig bits; smoky gumbo that included Andouille sausage made on the premises; and, oh yeah, plain old chopped barbecue too. The variety of hog products served at The Pig would be overwhelming if they didn’t all taste so damn good. It’s definitely a new twist on whole hog barbecue from the North Carolina tradition.
I didn’t have room to try The Pig’s other hog offerings, such as fried bologna and pork belly sandwiches, but I will be back to do so soon because I was blown away by my meal. Even the pork-free offerings–e.g., pickled cucumber, pickled eggs, and brussel sprouts–were outstanding. The same was true for the banana pudding and dense, dark chocolate cake. Unlike most good North Carolina barbecue joints, where the ‘cue is divine and most everything else is an afterthought (and too often canned, mediocre or both), The Pig is a well-rounded, terrific restaurant. The care put into securing quality ingredients–starting with locally-sourced, humanely raised hogs–and preparing them in interesting ways sets The Pig apart from typical barbecue joints.
What About the Regular Old North Carolina Pork Barbecue, Slaw and Hush Puppies?
Notice that I have yet to saying anything in this review about The Pig’s barbecue (and by “barbecue” I mean that chopped stuff that those of us from ’round here like to eat from time to time). The Pig’s barbecue is cooked using an electric-heated rotisserie convection smoker that uses hickorychips. The smoker allows The Pig’s cooks to carefully control temperature and prepare the wide variety of cuts they serve. As impressed as I was with most of their menu, I have to honestly say that The Pig’s barbecue is only so-so. It is moist and has a delicate smoke taste, but it’s lacking that special flavor that typically comes from cooking meat over real wood coals in a pit without the aid of gas or elecricity.
On my first visit to The Pig, I found the ‘cue quite gristly (I counted more than six marble-size pieces of fat in my large plate) and I am not someone who demands “clean” ‘cue. Thankfully that was not an issue on my return visit and may well have been a fluke. Such things happen when you make barbecue. The sauce The Pig offers is a thin apple cider vinegar concoction with hot pepper flakes and other simple spices; a classic Eastern NC sauce. Sauce aside, the rest of The Pig’s barbecue plate departs from North Carolina barbecue tradition. The slaw is bright yellow but does not taste mustardy; honestly, I am not sure what the taste is but it is unlike anything I’ve had before. There seems to be no mayo in the slaw and it isn’t overly vinegary either. Without either of those slaw signposts, I am lost in trying to describe it. Yet the slaw is enjoyable. The same goes for the hush puppies, which are moist, fluffy and fried perfectly. They are delicious in their own right but like no hush puppies I’ve ever tasted.
A Peculiar Pig Indeed
The Pig is without a doubt the most difficult barbecue joint I’ve attempted to review. I’m not even sure I’d call it a barbecue restaurant, at least not in the sense of most BBQ joints I’ve visited, but I’m not sure what else to call it. My typical focus is on judging BBQ joints based on the holy trinity of NC barbecue–chopped pork, slaw and hush puppies–but The Pig’s versions of these traditional offerings are distinct enough from every other restaurant I’ve visited that I am at a loss to evaluate them. Clearly though, The Pig’s remarkable array of non-barbecue offerings–from pickled eggs to fine deli meats to fried pork chops to vegetable sides–make The Pig worth repeat visits. I wholeheartedly suggest you try out this beautifully unique BBQ joint, just be sure to leave your preconceptions of “whole hog barbeque” at the door.
Filed under: Restaurants & Reviews Tagged: | Chapel Hill, Gas/electric-cooked, Grade A, Orange County