Whole Hog as Performance Art

Daniel Vaughn • Dallas, TX

Daniel Vaughn is an avid barbecue sojourner whose adventures are documented on his Full Custom Gospel BBQ website. He is an architect by day, but nights and weekends are filled with research and writing for his upcoming book chronicling a Texas-wide search for great BBQ.

It was a performance and I was the star. A nicely crisp smoked pig was all that shared the stage with me in the backyard of a college rental house. Fellow architecture students more familiar with T-squares than T-Bones surrounded this makeshift stage of plywood and sawhorses lit by harsh workshop lamps. Hours had passed from the promised dinner time and the revelers were anxious. Each new slice of my knife allowed muscles to separate and steam to rise. My hands were burning beneath thick gloves and I was sweating, but no one was looking at my face. They stared at my hands as they methodically broke this animal into ever smaller portions of cooked meat.

My mother’s knowledge of butchery from her days working the meat counter at my hometown grocery store had been passed down to me, and my agrarian upbringing was finally becoming useful in my new urban home. Growing up in Ohio, celebrations that didn’t include a whole pig were rare. Here, most of these urban dwellers had never enjoyed a dinner that could stare at them.

The pig’s head came away easily and was quickly mounted to a pole to enjoy the show. As I identified the belly, the hams, the shoulder and the loin and placed them in their separate piles, I was teaching these hungry friends of mine about meat and about myself. That tightly controlled identity that one tries to shape in new surroundings lasts for a while, but honest moments like these are what helps to reveal your true self. The pig’s vulnerability had not been by choice, but it allowed me to share a part of myself that didn’t fit with the image of a promising architecture student. I knew my way around a whole hog, and now a few from the audience did too.

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