Introduction: Austrian Seam Butchery at Home

About: I helped start Instructables, previously worked in biotech and academic research labs, and have a degree in biology from MIT. Currently head of Product helping young startups at Alchemist Accelerator, previous…

Austrian Seam Butchery of a Mangalitsa pig at home, or, how I butchered an entire pig with a paring knife.

Here's the abbreviated version of my fun home-butchery experience. It was a raging success: we produced lots of delicious pig, fabulous lard, and excellent pig stock. Of course, we didn't do much documentation, so here's the Photo treatment along with all my notes.

I got a whole split 237-pound Mangalitsa hog delivered from Shane Petersen of Suisun Valley Farms. Mangalitsa are a lard-style breed of pig, featuring a ridiculously furry coat and a delicious flavor. You can find more info about Mangalitsa on producer Heath Putnam Farms' very thorough website, including some ridiculously endearing piglet videos.

Shane showed up with the pig just as I was attaching the plastic sheeting to the second folding table, so deposited both pig halves on the first table. (Quote of the day: "That's the first time I've carried a pig up stairs!") Unfortunately, the slaughterhouse didn't save us the organs - I was really looking forward to using those, but perhaps next time. After Shane left, Eric and I hauled one of the pig halves two feet over to the next table. Of course, 100+ pounds of (literal) dead weight becomes pretty challenging when you're handling a (literal) greased pig, and we dropped it on the floor on the first try. It eventually made it to the table, but be warned - lard is quite slick.

My pig-butchering co-conspirators included Jess, Dave, and Dave's friend. The plan: two people to a carcass for butchering, then I'd keep one half of the pig, and Jess and Dave would split the other half. We printed up instructions for Austrian Seam Butchery (a method for jointing and following the natural muscle separations instead of just bandsawing the thing to death) and checked out these demo videos (kind of difficult to follow) courtesy of the folks at woolypigs. I made a home version of the rib stripper with a couple inches of PVC pipe and some wire, and did the rest of the butchery with a paring knife. (The bigger knives you see were for slicing the chops into individual pieces.)

- We bagged chops and the larger roasts in vacuum-seal bags, presalted so I could dump them directly into our sous vide machine. (This was a fabulous thing to do - I highly recommend it.)
- All of the excess fat was rendered to lard. (Instructable forthcoming.)
- The belly was covered in cure and vacuum bagged to make bacon. (longer story to be told here about overcuring, soaking, and smoking. But it's the most delicious bacon I've ever eaten.)
- The bones were frozen, and used later for fabulous pork stock.
- The head was boiled and turned into head cheese.

Total waste: one ramekin of glands and silverskin. Wow.

That was last June, and I've finally cleared my chest freezer (of salmon, halibut, venison, and wild boar - not just the Mangalitsa) so I can order another! This time we'll document the process properly.

UPDATE: you can see a more thorough Instructable from a pig we broke down at Pier 9 here - Maria Finn (an artist in residence) helped write up the process, and it comes with an excellent time-lapse video. I've also attached the PDF instructions to the Instructable, since the link above is down.

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