68 Steps to Killing a Pig

Zabijacka
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February 14, 2011
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By Allan Stevo
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Zabijacka – literally “the slaughter” or “the killing” is a fundamental part of Slovak culture. Fundamental, because even in this era, so many urban dwelling Slovaks maintain a connection to their rural roots. With an almost ritualistic rhythm to it, many Slovaks will once or several times per year, engage in this event commonly translated into English as “a pig killing.”
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Some will find this gruesome, some will find this fascinating. Nonetheless, it is a significant part of Slovak culture. Merely seeing a zabijacka is often hard to arrange.  Having such detailed photos like this is even more difficult to come by.  For those who do not find this overly gruesome and who take an interest in the step-by-step of such a complicated process, I’m sure the process below will be of interest, but if you think this will be too much for you, please do stop reading and please do stop back next week.

 

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I tried to remove some of the more graphic images that might be especially startling.  When you are involved in the process from sun-up to sun-down, the process feels gradual and even, perhaps, natural.  Simply scrolling down to get from beginning to end in five or ten minutes will feel less natural and might be more likely to feel startling.

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While it’s easy to say that a person who raises a pig might be but a simple farmer, there’s nothing simple about having a crew of 10 or 20 people each working on their own vital step of the process, and often doing so simultaneously.  It’s really very complicated when you think about all the knowledge that goes into doing every step of the process right, knowledge never studied in school or read about in an article like this, but rather passed down from one generation to the next.
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This sixty-eight step guide to killing a pig has been developed after participating in the slaughter of approximately one dozen pigs on a total of nine occasions.  It is common for a Slovak family (even one living in big cities like Bratislava or Kosice) to have close connections to family in villages. It is fairly common to kill a pig once or even several times each year as a source of meat, as a time to make homemade sausages, and even as an excuse for a family gathering (since it is necessary to have many hands to help with this process).
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Initially, the idea of voluntarily killing a pig seemed to me a brutal act that only a violent person would want to be involved in.  Why be gruesome when you can just buy your meat wrapped in paper from the local butcher?
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Eventually, I came to appreciate this Slovak ritual.  Many Chicagoans see meat as a commodity that might as well have originated in the grocery store.  The life cycle of the pig, the quality of the meat, the way it was raised are all largely irrelevant where I come from.
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The captive bolt stunner or "puska" was invented in 1903 as a more humane alternative to the previously popular device used for knocking out a pig before the slaughter.

Unlike Chicagoans, many Slovaks (even those who live in dense urban areas) seem to understand how to go from raising a newly birthed pig to slaughtering it for meat and breaking down the meat into manageable, storable pieces.
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That is Slovakia – a connection to nature, a connection to life and death, a more brutal connection to reality than I knew in people before I came here, a connection to the village. It is  a resourcefulness, a sense of responsibility for oneself and ones family.
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At the first pig killing I attended, something happened that reinforced the brutality of the event.  Done right, the pig is knocked out and killed in 30 to 60 seconds.  This was not the case that day; something had gone wrong.  A mistake was made and it took 20 minutes for the pig to die.  It was horrifying to hear the pig scream a scream over and over that was almost indecipherable from that of a human.  It was a very large pig, over 600 pounds, and the device used to knock the pig out was simply not strong enough to do the job.  I learned that day that that was a mistake I must never make.  No creature deserves to go through that unnecessary pain.
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Despite that shocking start to my first experience, the rest of the day taught me that the process was not “barbaric,” as I had first assumed it to be.  There was much more to it and a great deal of respect for the pig.  A great deal of care and intricacy went into preparing the various pork products over the next two days at that pig killing.  The entire process, it was clear to me, took great skill and the way the day had started was an accident that others there also felt bad about.  I continued to be invited to and attend pig killings.
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In time, I actually even developed an appreciation for pig killings.  The festiveness of the event, the teamwork and bonding, the fresh food, delicious products, the plentiful drinks and jokes, the fun conversations, the feeling of doing a hard and long day of work.  Most importantly though, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the life cycle, for those living things that must die so that we can eat, so that we can live.  The meat eater who will not kill the pig with his own hands is a hypocrite, unwilling to deal with the reality of the life and death that was needed to put that meat in front of him.
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By merely living here as a curious observer of culture, Slovakia has caused me to confront that fact.  If you want to eat meat, then it’s part of life to do the dirty work.  The idea that our survival depends on the death of other creatures tends to make me feel a greater sense of responsibility in my life that goes something like this – you better make your life matter, because if not, all you are doing is taking up space and killing a lot of creatures to sustain yourself along the way.
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Despite years of communist attempts to centralize almost everything, Slovak culture is very decentralized.  This is true from the fact that from village to village and household to household, a very common dish may be prepared differently, to the fact that from one valley to just the next valley over the local dialect may be almost unintelligible.  Even when speaking standard Slovak, you don’t have to drive more than one hour to find a significant variation in the accent between once place and another.  This is not when using a dialect, mind you, but just when speaking standard Slovak (studied by every Slovak in school).  Villages all have their own folk costumes, which are likely to be very different than a folk costume used by the next village over.  In much the same way, if there are one million families in Slovakia, there can be one million different ways to go through each of these steps for having a zabijacka.  Nonetheless, despite the differences from village to village, it can be hard to say that lines on a map are clear indicators of anything in Central Europe. The photograph below is taken in southern Hungary in the year 2007. You’ll notice however that the pig, the man, his son, and the backdrop look like it might have occurred in Slovakia. Though the photo was taken in Hungary, nothing about the photo betrays that fact. It could just as well have been Slovakia or any other place in this region. The steps I’ve written have been common steps and techniques that I personally have seen in a variety of families from different parts of Slovakia.
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February feels like both a late and early time to write about zabijacka (or “zakalacka” as it is also sometimes called), because it does not feel like a common time for holding the event. Weather is a consideration for many on when to have a zabijacka – dusty and windy is bad because the meat may end up dusty.  Very hot is bad, because the meat will spend a large amount of time unrefrigerated.  Very cold is bad because the pig will spend time outdoors and may freeze and be hard to work with. An ideal time is 1. when you need meat and 2. when the weather is cool and damp.  While some may say that a pig killing season exists, I have found no standard time for families to kill their pigs.  Just before Christmas seems to be a popular traditional time so that the meat is available and for the Christmas celebration.  The weather is ideal, too.
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For many, pig killings take place regardless of season. I’ve heard of pig killings on very cold days and very hot days alike, because well, when trying to determine when to have a pig killing – rule #1 takes precedence over rule #2.
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These 67 common steps of the pig killing were compiled on visit after visit to families throughout Slovakia.  A key part of any zabijacka is the interplay between the sexes. As one observer from the Slovak town of Dudince put it “There are two teams, the outside team and the inside team.  The inside team is always telling the outside team – ‘come in and eat before the food gets cold, you need a rest.’  The outside team is always saying, ‘okay we’ll come in soon, we’ll come in soon. Just a little longer.’” Often the men are outside killing the pig and butchering the meat while the women are inside preparing meals and processing the freshly butchered meat, but that too may not always be the case. There are few hard and fast rules that are true for all of Slovakia, so I am reluctant to say that one is always a woman’s work and the other the work of a man.
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By accident of birth, this list of 68 steps that I’ve been exposed to takes place among the outside team.  The inside team surely has its own 68 steps, or maybe even 136 steps, that some resourceful female traveler to the Slovak lands will one day commit to writing.  As I reflect on what it would be like to organize a pig killing of my own, I am certain that I could not do it, because while I know and have done virtually every outside step in the process repeatedly, I have such little knowledge of what happens behind the scenes in the kitchen.
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There are many interesting websites out there that offer classes in the United States on the process of slaughtering and butchering a pig and that sound fantastic, but they seem to miss the importance of this event being a family event. It requires two teams to ensure that the entire process is finished within one day.  An interesting part of the pig killing is that it is not just some beastly I AM A MAN!! I KILL THINGS!! ritual.  It is not meant to scare away women. It is the male and female components of the teams together that make this day the special day that it is.
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While researching this article, I came across this website, that demonstrated the wrong way to kill a pig (its photos are way more graphic than anything on this page). It didn’t intend to demonstrate the wrong way to kill a pig, but it did just that. Example 1 – I’ve never seen a Slovak woman who was as terrified of her 400 lbs. pig as these guys are of a 150 lbs. pig, which automatically makes me lose some respect for what is happening. Example 2 – As a result of how far they are from the pig, they are unable to effectively kill the pig (3 gunshots before they would climb into the pig pen, 2 of which were point blank and missed terribly). Example 3 – The process is wasteful (it’s done over a garbage can, so they can easily throw anything slightly undesirable away). Example 4 – The process is lazy (they don’t even bother to deal with cleaning the skin). Example 5 – Then, the most telling of the photos is the last photo. The most telling photo is a photo of the role of their wives in this process..far away huddled around the cars. A zabijacka that has no place for a woman, is no zabijacka at all. It’s just a bunch of low-brow brutes giving a unnecessarily hard time to a defenseless creature. When compared to the great respect I’ve seen for the pig and the process in Slovakia, it’s hard to feel anything but contempt for the guys on the website.
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There’s a tremendous amount of preparation, skill, organization, and cooperation required in the process. There’s much respect for the pig that you and your children raised from the time it was a piglet. There’s distaste for causing the pig pain. There a disappreciation for anything resembling waste – from the way the muscles of the pig are broken down, to the many recipes that allow all parts of the pig to be used, there’s very little waste in the process. Not wasting is another way to respect the pig.
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Again, these pictures are graphic, please use discretion when viewing them or sharing them.  I did not think words alone would do the process justice.  If you want to participate in a zabijacka the next time you are in Slovakia, let me know, and I’ll see what I can do to organize that for you. Or, if you want an extra pair of hands the next time you have a zabijacka, send me an email. I’d love to help out.
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Below are 68 steps I’ve been taught, by family after family on how to kill and butcher a pig in the Slovak style.
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Note: SCROLL OVER PHOTOS TO READ THE CAPTIONS.  CLICK on Photos to enlarge.

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The 68 Step Guide to Killing a Pig

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Step #1. Raise a pig (more common) or buy a pig from the local pig farmer.  Pigs in Central Europe are popularly raised to be larger and fattier than in the U.S.  There is more of a demand here for the pig lard.
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Step #2. Put the pig in a pen, or some other enclosed space, so that you do not have to chase it around.
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Step #3. Calm the pig down.
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Step #4. Knock the pig unconscious. There are a variety of techniques for this. Most common is to shoot the pig in the head, a little higher than directly below the eyes because the skull is thinner and more sensitive there, using a spring-loaded device that fires a bolt that penetrates the skull, or using a small caliber rifle like a .22 or using the device show above, which just knocks a pig on the head in the right spot pretty good and renders it unconscious.  Its official English name for this device is a “captive bolt pistol.”  The process of rendering a pig unconscious before bleeding is considered a vital part of reducing the suffering of the pig.
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If the details of this topic interest you here is a diagram of proper captive bolt pistol placement for various animals and here is a white paper on proper livestock stunning techniques.

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In 1903 Hugo Heiss was credited with the invention of the captive bolt pistol, as part of a more humane way of killing an animal, according to Animal Revolution by Richard Ryder (available here online for free and here online for purchase).  The larger a pig is, the larger its sinus cavities are.  The same captive bolt pistol that will knock out a 100 lbs. pig may be ineffective on a 600 lbs. pig, as was the case in the story of my first zabijacka above. Something stronger is needed in that situation.  A pig that has been properly knocked out will have dropped to the ground immediately, will no longer have its blinking reflexes, and will not vocalize when the next step takes place.  It will be unconscious.

Step #5. To remove blood from the pig and to kill the pig quickly, the pig should be stuck with a very sharp knife at a specific spot in the throat or a little lower in the chest.  Properly doing this is believed to cause the pig less suffering.  It also maintains a higher quality of meat. Causing the pig stress before its death will damage the meat. A good butcher will be able to tell if a pig was stressed before slaughter based on the pooling of water inside the pig’s body.

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Step #6. Hold the pig down and allow the pig to bleed and die.  Then  steer clear of its back legs as it kicks powerfully. It’s said that a pig can break your leg if it lands one of its kicks on you.  Its back legs kick so mightily that I believe this.  Allow the blood to drain; “pumping” its front leg by extending it and contracting it fully may help it bleed more quickly.  Some families collect the blood for soup (done in cultures north of here), blood sausage (krvavnicka), to add it to jaternica (a type of white sausage), or other dishes.
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Step #7. Now the pig needs to be moved.  Moving dead weight can be very difficult and may require the help of everyone around.  Drag the dead pig out from its pen by ropes around its legs and a rope around its snout or a hook in its mouth.
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Step #8. Roll it onto a board.  Lift the board and place it on sawhorses to make it easier to work with without having to bend over.
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Step #9. A pig has lots of bristly hair all over its body.  This needs to be removed.  Pour boiling water on the pig to clean the skin and scald the skin.  The hot water makes the hair easier to remove.
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Scalding water is poured over the pig to help clean its skin and to help remove its hair.

The water is hot. It helps to scald the skin and makes it easier to scrape off and clean the top layers of skin.

Step #10. Scrape the pig’s skin with a scraping device.   Some use knives at this point, essentially shaving the hair off the pig.  It is common to use a scraping device that is especially made for this purpose.  It is in the form of a metal cone and shown above.  One side is for scraping, the other, hooked, side is for removing the toe nails from the pig’s trotters.  It is referred to in English as a “bell scraper.”
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Step #11. Flip the pig over and repeat this process on the other side.
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Step #12. At this point the skin is generally quite clean and free of most hair.  Use fire to singe off the remaining hair.  Some people use a large blow torch and others will use dry straw set afire placed around and under the pig.  While burning, the dry straw can easily be moved around with a metal shovel.
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Flip the pig over and do the same to the other side.

Step #13. It is important to burn the nails of the pig to make them easier to remove.  After the nails are heated, remove the nails with the hook on the bell scraper or with your bare hands.
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Step #14. The pig skin will likely be at least a little dirty again with perhaps a little blood, a little dirt, and some soot from the fire. Clean the pig off with water and brush off the top layers of burnt skin with a strong scrub brush.  You want the pig skin to be very clean when you bring the pig inside to work with, since you will likely be keeping the meat for a long time and do not want to introduce the presence of any unecessary outside contaminants to the meat.  The process is hardly as hygienic as an operating room, but a great deal of care is still taken to avoid contaminating the meat with dirt, crumbs, blood, bile, or other items that might spoil the meat.
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Step #15. Flip the pig to the other side.  Repeat.
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Step #16. Cut the skin on back of legs and hook the pig by the tendons on the back of its legs.
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Step #17. Carry the pig on the board to a tree or a stand and hoist it up into the air legs first.
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Step #18. The belly of the pig will be used for bacon.  If you have a female pig, there is the issue of nipples to deal with.  Since the nipples don’t taste good and generally a person does not want to see nipples on his or her bacon, the nipples should be removed with a knife.
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Step #19. Cut off the head by cutting through it with a big knife while someone holds the body still and someone else holds the pig head. The person holding the head must be ready to break the neck and twist it off when the flesh has been cut away. The head should be soaked it in water to be dealt with later on.
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Step #20. Using a knife, cut the pig across its belly from anus (in the back under the tail) to the place where its head used to be.
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Step #21. Cut the skin of the pig in the same way across the back, straight down the middle in preparation for the pig to be cut in two a bit later.
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Step #22. The digestive tract contains many bacteria that are beneficial to the digestive process.  This is true in pigs just as it is true in humans.  Bacteria contained in the colon, in addition to other waste from the body should not be eaten, because they can make a person sick.  In order to prevent the contamination of the meat with these waste products, the anus must be removed and the colon behind it tied off with a string so that it does not empty onto the meat, which is likely if it is not tied off.  Allow the tied off colon and anus to hang freely until it is time to remove the other organs.
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Step #23. The urinary bladder still contains some waste as well, so in order to prevent that waste (urine) from spilling on the meat, the urethra must be removed and then tied with a string in the same way to prevent leakage.
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Step #24. With the those two organs from the excretory system secured, the belly can now be cut through all the way to its sternum (chest bone) with a knife.
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Step #25. The inner organs of the pig are surrounded by a thin membrane. With someone standing by holding a wooden trough, the first person with one arm, goes along the back of the cavity and scoops the organs into the big wooden container.  Some sort of plated metal surface is probably better to prevent transmission of bacteria, but in almost every family I’ve been in, older wooden vessels are commonly used.
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Grandma (Stara Mama), is sorting through the organs, taking them to the different people who will be responsible for the different processes that are necessary to make the organs edible and tasty.

Step #26. Find the gallbladder inside the liver, and cut it out. Throw away the gallbladder, so that the bitter fluid inside will not ruin the meat or the other organs.
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Step #27. Kidneys and eggs are a popular breakfast in some families during zabijacka, brain and eggs in others. Fried liver with onions and spices is also popular. These are often tasty snacks served on bread, so now is the time to separate the favored organs and to send them inside to be cooked up.
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Brunch is a spread made of the fresh pig brains, fried together with eggs with a few homemade pickles sliced on top. It's really unbelievably delicious.

Seved along with the brains was this (once full) bowl of liver and onions. They were delicious and went quickly.

Brunch on the plate. The women of the family inside made such delicious food throughout the day.

Step #28. The lungs with trachea attached and heart remain.  Remove both organs, leaving the inside of the pig empty.
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Step #29. Cut open the heart and dispose of the clotted blood inside the heart.  Having chickens around will make the process of cleanup easier.  If you are in a barnyard, you can simply throw any of these undesirable items onto the ground and the chickens will gladly hurry for them, fight over them, and eat them.
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Step #30. After the organs are removed, clean the cavity a little with water especially where a little stray blood might have been left.  There is very little blood left in the pig at this point.  Be sure to clean the area where the head was.  It will be the area with the most blood left on it, since all blood from the pig has flown down to it.  The blood will cause the meat to spoil more quickly than meat that does not contain blood.  Also, be sure to take a moment to make sure that no feces accidentally dropped on the meat, perhaps with careless handling of some of the inner organs.
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Step #31. Use an ax or saw to cut through the sternum of the pig.
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Step #32. Separate the backbone from the ribs on each side, leaving the backbone intact, or slice down the middle of the backbone with an ax, saw, clever etc.
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Step #33. Finish separating the two halves of the pig, all the way down to the neck.  If you have decided to leave the backbone intact, the back bone will need to be separated first and brought inside.
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Step #34. Two strong people of approximately the same height and with good backs should squat down under half of the pig and while standing, should drape half of the pig over a shoulder in a way that the pig can balance over each person’s shoulder.
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Step #35. With both halves of the pig supported, two other people should each take a sturdy and sharp knife and simultaneously cut the tendons that are supporting the weight of the pig from the hooks on the crossbeam, allowing the half carcass to fall onto the other person’s shoulder.
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Step #36. Bring each half inside, lay it onto a wooden board.  4 people are needed for this process of moving the pig halves  (5 or 6 are even better, to allow for support staff).  It is necessary that the pig not be allowed to fall into the mud or dirt.  This makes these dozen or so footsteps so vitally important.
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Carrying the two halves of the pig inside, being sure not to let it get off balance and fall into the mud - a bad situation for meat that you want to keep for months.

Back inside - a leg is being cut into a ham hock, with a very sharp knife.

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Step #37. Sharpen your knife and be prepared to resharpen it regularly.
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Inside - the pig, having been mostly drained of its blood (the blood will spoil more quickly than the meat without the blood will), is being broken down.

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Step #38. Cutting very close to the bone, remove the ribs from the half of the pig.
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Step #39. Remove the sviecka (loin).
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Step #40. Remove the legs, cutting them into pieces with a saw
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Step #41. Remove the feet to keep for later.
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Here, the man of the house is separating the meat from the layer of fat that is under the skin.

A stack of pig skin.

Step #42. Remove the skin and adjacent fat from the meat. Those who have visited a butcher in Slovakia and a butcher in the U.S. will notice that butchers in the two countries tend to have a different style of butchering meat. The style popular in Slovakia and throughout Central Europe is referred to as “seam butchery” and seeks to take the natural divisions of muscles in the pig into consideration. This style saves meat by cutting through connective tissue instead of cutting through muscle. Much of the butchering can be done with a knife. To learn more about this style of butchering, click on this PDF article on seam butchering
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Bacon. Some of it will be salted and smoked. Some of it will be boiled and seasoned.

Other bacon slabs. The skin left on these will make it easier for them to be hung in the smokehouse without the string ripping through the heavy meat.

Salting down the bacon. This meat will be smoked.

Salting down the pigs feet.

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Step #43. Cut some of the skin, fat, and meat into slabs of bacon,
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Step #44. Salt the bacon, rubbing each piece generously with salt, to prepare for smoking later today or tomorrow.
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Step #45. Salt the feet too.  There’s a short, interesting article on the Internet about salting down pork meat in North Carolina.
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Step #46. On other pieces that are almost all fat and no meat, separate the fat from the skin with a knife. Save the skin.
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Step #47. Cut the fat into cubes.
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The fat is being cubed so that it can be cooked later. The next six or more hours will be spent by the men, mostly in this room, working on the two pigs that were killed.

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Step #48. Cook the cubed fat a long time, stirring constantly to render. This is where the lard comes from that will be kept in the kitchen and used for months in cooking. The fat will be reduced to small crunchy pieces called “oskvarky,” often called “cracklings” in English.
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Grandpa (Stary otec), inside the kitchen, stirring the fat that is cooking - it will make a liquid (lard or "mast" in Slovak) and some will stay solid and turn brown (oskvarky in Slovak, or "crackling" in English). When cooled, the liquid pig fat will turn solid and can be easily stored for cooking, whenever a solid fat is called for, or for using in place of butter on bread.

The fat rendering. It boils for hours and needs to be stirred constantly so that it does not burn.

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Step #49. Cut apart the other slices of meat, leaving them in large cuts that can be frozen or otherwise processed at another time.
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Pieces of meat (for sausages) are being separated from pieces of fat and separated from the skin.

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Step #50. Boil all organs in water.
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Bacon, organs, small cuts of meat from the head, and other pieces of the pig boiling. The rice will be placed in a cheese clothe and cooked in this water, which will leave it with a delicious flavor better than any bouillon cube.

The meat's done. Grandma is pulling the boiled meat out of the cauldron.

These scraps of meat are delicious, but will be used later in a dish that will make them even more delicious.

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Step #51. Clean out the small intestines (to be used for sausage casing later). The most common way to do this is with a shoot or twig bent in half or by taking a piece of wood with a good edge on it.
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Inside, one of the aunts ("teta") is using a piece of wood to clean the intestines. This is a very time consuming process.

Step #52. All this time the head has been soaking in water. Remove it from the water and remove the following parts that humans are not likely to eat – the eyeball and tissue behind it and the inner ear.  With a knife cut through the skin and meat near the jaw bone and then with an ax, break through the jaw bone on both sides.

Cutting close to the bone with a  sharp knife, carefully remove the fleshy chin area from the bone, cut the tongue away from the sinews holding it in place.  It will be added to the boiling organs.  Through away the jaw bone. Cut the head in half with an ax, remove the brain, send it inside to be fried with eggs to make a spread that can be eaten on fresh bread. Alternately, try the same with the kidneys.

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Back outside, Jano is removing the parts of the pig that won't be used - such as the eye and inner ear and throwing them to the chickens, which will eat anything. Here he is breaking apart the jawbone to get to the tongue, and eventually to the brain, which will be used immediately for breakfast.

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Step #53. Grind sausage meat and fat into a long shallow wooden tub.
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There are two ways that I've seen people spice sausage - one way is like this, mixing the spice into the not yet ground meat and then grinding.

Grinding the spiced meat for sausage.

The other way is like this - ground a large mass of meat, place it in the center of the table and start seasoning it - here the man of the house is starting to salt his ground meat that will be used for sausage.

Adding some black pepper to the sausage meat.

Adding crushed garlic and paprika (both hot and sweet) to the sausage meat.

A secret family ingredient - adding homemade wine to the sausage meat.

Time to mix the sausage, by squeezing it over and over again through your hands, for 15 or 20 minutes. Then it will be time to taste the raw meat and correct the seasoning.

Making balls from the meat makes it easier to move the meat around in increments and to conveniently load the machine..

The meat grinder doubles as the sausage stuffer. Here a pork loin is being stuffed with sausage meat.

The finished casing is ready to be put to use. This is the cleaned pig intestines.

Stuffing sausage casing to make sausage.

A lot of sausage.

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Step #54. Add lots of spices, especially rasca (carraway seed), paprika (both “sladka” sweet and “stiplava” spicy) garlic, salt, and black pepper (and “majoranka” – marjoram for jaternica later)
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Step #55. Mix well.  This step takes many hands and more strength than you might expect.
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Step #56.. Taste the raw meat.  Correct seasoning.
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Step #57. Taste again, correct seasoning, repeat as needed.
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Step #58. Make into balls about the size of a large snowball.
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Step #59. Pack into casing and hang sausage. Smoke 10 days.
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Step #60. After some of the slanina (bacon) has finished boiling bacon, cover with paprika, garlic, black pepper, and salt.
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Here the still steaming bacon, fresh out of the water, is being covered in ground caraway, salt, garlic, hot and sweet paprika, and allowed to cool.

The cooked bacon covered in garlic.

The finished product. This will be stored like this and can be kept for a few weeks. It will be sliced and then eaten cold on a piece of bread.

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Step #61. Make jaternica (a type of white sausage) – grind boiled innards, including lungs. Mix that with meat and rice, and lots of majoranka, black pepper, and salt, add a little cooked blood that has been ground (optional).
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Outside Grandma is washing the rice, which will be used later in the day.

Washing the rice, in order to remove some of the starch.

 

The sausage is done, time to move on to the next step - with those delicious boiled scraps, the organ meat, the skin, and the rice that Stara Mama was working on.

It's getting late, which means that everyone gets called in to return to slicing the meat, and the second shift even comes in to start working.

Cooked meat, raw meat, and onions end up in the grinder this time around.

One of the raw livers has been waiting a long time to be put to use, 3-4 pounds of liver are shown here next to the salt, a glass of wine, a bunch of knives, and the top of an old broom.

Everything in sight is being ground up now.

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Step #62. Taste the raw meat mixture.  Correct seasoning.
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And seasoned and mixed...

And tasted.

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Step #63. Taste again, correct seasoning, repeat as needed.
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In enters the rice.

Adding ground meat.

Grinding cooked blood, which will be added as well.

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Step #64. Make into balls, pack into casing, send inside to be cooked or stored.
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The rice, meat, and cooked blood have been mixed, and seasoning added, and now it is time to start mixing. It will be put in sausage casing too.

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Step #65.. Make krvavnicka (blood sausage) by mixing, blood, spices, and torn up rolls.  Blood sausage is sometimes put into casing, sometimes cooked on its own in an oven, spread
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Step #66. Make tlacenka (head cheese) by boiling skin, heart, and tongue along with the fatty and tender meat scraps from around the head (thus the name head cheese). After boiling, cut the meat, tongue, and heart into thin slices.   Slice skin.  Mix the tlacenka ingredients and place into large plastic casing made for this purpose (or into the cleaned stomach) with seasoning and soup made from skin.  Tie at both ends, press weight on top and chill.
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This bag will have this meat put into it, some sliced organs added, and a thick soup of the boiled skins will be added. It will then be cooled under a weight and when finished, will be "tlacenka" or "head cheese" in Slovak. Delicious homemade, sliced thin, with onions and vinegar on top. As strange as it sounds, done right it is a fantastic delicacy.

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Step #67. Make pasteta (pate) with all of the above, adding mustard, some raw pieces of meat and some liver, horseraddish and spices.  Spoon into cans. Seal and then boil the cans for two hours.
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Next door - this is the mix that will be turned into "pasteta," also shown, on the right of the photo is the canning machine and a not yet canned can of pasteta.

This is the pasteta canned. It will be boiled in these cans to finish the process and then labelled with a grease pen.

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A finished product - two gigantic bowls of oskvarky, lightly salted, this fried pig fat is delicious.

The boiled bacon and the tlacenka.

There's sausage hanging everywhere.

Some of it will be smoked, some of it will be saved for grilling or for the oven.

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Step #68. Take note of what you have done since sunrise, store everything in its place safely for the night, cleanup so that everything is spotless for the next time around. With that, you can call it a day. Go inside to the kitchen for some food and for communal camaraderie between the inside and outside group.
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A good warm meal awaits us inside - a sour soup with onions and some bread is where we start..

Pagace are at the table as well.

Freshly made sausage, roasted.

And after we've had our fill of the fresh meat and the many delicious specialties that the lady of house made us, we were all happy to move on to her dessert.

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Allan Stevo is a writer living in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Amy M. Wicks is the photographer of the photos on today’s posting and edits all articles at 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

Questions:  Does anyone outside of Slovakia still do this?  Is it or was it ever a popular tradition in your family?  Do you remember doing this as a child?  If you did it as a child what made you discontinue the tradition – too much work, too much cleanup, too much hassle, too much food leftover once it was all said and done, too much organizing?  If you’re from the U.S. and can answer this, how big of a difference is there in experience in the year 2011 with – city boy from Chicago and country boy from, let’s say Collinsville, Illinois.

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Comments

  • This is awesome, Allan! Thank you for documenting this tradition. it’s pretty funny how your photo of making sausages looks very similar to how it looks when my grandma makes them. I guess the inside of all Slovak grandma’s houses looks very similar to each other…

  • Donna Benko

    Feb 27th, 2011

    What a wonderful job you did , the story and pictures are great. I was lucky enough to be in Slovakia for a “Zabijacka” – they even let me stir the pot with the cracklings in it over a big fire – to eat the fresh with rye bread was like near being in heaven.

  • [...] in Rio. This is also when a pig got slaughtered (also check out Allan Stevo’s great post on 68 ways of killing a pig on his blog). And of course, this was also the time for making various Easter Slovak [...]

  • Phil Schmidt

    Mar 2nd, 2011

    Allan – this is amazing. I’ve eaten many of these delicacies including home-smoked slanina (smoked in an old locker from one of the Orava metal works) and tlačenka, but I never experience a real “pig killing.” Perhaps the next time in Slovakia.

  • Phil Schmidt

    Mar 2nd, 2011

    Allan – this is amazing. I’ve eaten many of these delicacies , including home-smoked slanina (smoked in an old locker from one of the Orava metalworks) and tlačenka, but I never experience a real “pig killing.” Perhaps the next time in Slovakia.

  • Mary Ann Dzurec

    Mar 2nd, 2011

    I remember as a young girl growing up on a farm with Slovak parents and grandparents the pig butchering process. It took all day and was a really big job but we had plenty to eat as a result. My dad and brothers loved the jellied pigs feet (kocenina) and I remember all the sausage and horka (made with liver, rice, majoram, garlic and onion and probably similar to jaternica) that we had as a result of the butchering. I loved our horka and to this day, I cannot find horka such as my family’s at any of the meat markets in Cleveland. My oldest brother and I as adults made horka several times as a result of his raising pigs on his farm but obtaining the organ meat is problematic today from butchers (my brother did not do his own butchering but took his animals to a butcher) as there are a number of organ-borne illnesses that can result from consumption of contaminated organs and laws may prevent the owner of the animals from obtaining organ meat. Also, raising hogs was no longer a profitable business for my brother’s small farm and so he stopped this aspect of farming. We had just talked recently about trying to get the organs to make the sausage so maybe we’ll try it again soon. I think that in today’s world, few if any can appreciate the butchering process as a means to feed a family. Having grown up on a farm with pigs, ducks and chickens, butchering was a regular thing. Today I suspect that even those living in the country probably butcher very little. There are folks who will butcher animals for you if you raise the animal here in Ohio. I can tell you that there is nothing like fresh sausage or a fresh-butchered fried chicken. Forget Colonel Sanders!

  • Wondrfully done. I am 89. My parents from Svaty Jur butchered much the same way with friends. Cut up work was done on our screened back porch. Wonderful eating.

  • Elizabeth Baran

    Mar 3rd, 2011

    Dad and my brothers made sausage. head cheese and bacon among other things..Mom made cookies using the cracklings…What great eating that was.

  • What a morbid tradition !! I wouldn’t enjoy watching a pig die !!!

    Although I sometimes watched my Moravian grandmother slaughter chickens for meals, she never made a big deal about it, and it she did it quickly. I helped her clean one once, but I don’t think I’d want to do that again.

  • This is just amazing! When I was very young, one of my father’s best friends was a pig farmer in what we thought was a really rural area–around Lombard, Illinois, which is now quite urban. We would visit this farm quite often during the year–I remember well trying to make friends with his flock of geese with very bad results–especially when it was time to butcher a hog. Usually, we were sent home with fresh pork meat that my father’s friend saved for him after killing a pig, and my mother would work well into the night preparing the various pieces. Refrigerators during this era were considered quite “modern” and had very small storage capacities compared to what we have today, so all of the salting and preserving had to be done as fast as possible. Thank you so much for this excellent report. I had no idea that the tradition of zabijacka still existed in Slovakia.

  • Mary Wavrusa

    Mar 10th, 2011

    My in-laws went to Czech Republic several years back and were able to take part in this tradition and they video taped it for the family to view. However, here in Ennis, Texas we still take part in making klobase and jaternica. Last month we all got together and made 300 pounds of both klobase sausage and jaternica. Yummy stuff. FYI yummy tip: we fry our jaternica and put it on our biscuits with milk gravy.

  • You have it! really good footage and article. Even that I come from Slovakian city (village) from Dolna Zem (Voivodina, Yugoslavia), I have very good experience with this tradition, but also some very grave fact – one of “black” fact is, that many people loss health in this event. It is cold, it is wet, it is hard work, and lot of alcohol is in use in process! many of involved lose fingers, legs and other part, because some kind mistake are made. And when is talking how to kill pig – many are still using simple knife, not pistol or other mean – just in the case that pig are too big, and dangerously nervous – pistol will come in action.

    Even that in my home, we grove pigs, killed pigs, I never, but never killed one – reason was, probably in my head, that I can not swallow “smell” of fresh burning hair, meat, fat!

    In any way – thanks for this article.

    best regards
    Milco
    http://picasaweb.google.com/balkanstamp

  • Miloje,
    I have only good memories of my trips to Vojvodina. Every single Slovak I met was so darn nice and seems to have a natural talent for making the best klobasa out there. I love a smoked sausage from Slovakia, but the best, in my opinion, comes from the Slovaks living in Vojvodina (note: Vojvodina is a Slovak region in the north of Serbia). Thank you for writing about these dangerous and ugly sides to the pig killing. The Slovak poet Milan Rufus perhaps shared some of your feelings for the killing of a pig. He wrote in his final book about the strong experience of death associated with zabijacka. You have a fantastic stamp collection. Thank you for sharing the link.
    Allan

  • Mary,
    300 LBS!! Wow. That’s a lot of sausage. I never thought of jaternica for biscuits and gravy. I’m going to have to try it out. Thanks for the tip.
    Allan

  • BJ,
    How about that? Lombard was farmland and zabijacka was the norm at your family friend’s house. Now that I think about how some of the meat is preserved, I think your point about refrigeration still rings true in a way in Slovakia. Surely you can go out to the store and buy as many refrigerators as you want, but chilly pantries, balconies, cellars, and other unheated areas all seem to be common places to store food without refrigeration.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Allan

  • Cynthia,
    That’s what I used to think. I’m telling you, the tradition can grow on you.
    Allan

  • Elizabeth,
    Sounds really good. Anything fresh baked with those crackling in it doesn’t feel healthy to eat, but tastes so darn delicious.
    Allan

  • John Kaufman,
    What a nice little town Svaty Jur is, so many of the people I’ve met who lived there are proud of their German roots just as much as their Slovak roots, and they make such tasty wine in those hills. I bet you have some fantastic stories to tell – born in the 1920′s in Svaty Jur. I’ve never seen a screened in back porch used, but I can imagine that that was probably the perfect place for doing the dirty work.
    Thanks for leaving the comment.
    Allan

  • Mary Ann Dzurec,
    I have to say with at least a little jealousy that I have never tried a fresh-butchered fried chicken, but I agree with you, that there’s nothing like a fresh sausage. It’s hard to even imagine that a hot dog and fresh sausage even have anything in common. I don’t know how to use words to describe it, but one simply tastes like meat and the other doesn’t. And when I buy meat in Slovakia, I can barely stand to smell the “fresh” meat from the store. Often enough it’s on its last leg and it’s definitely nothing like the wholesome fresh meat from zabijacka. One really seems like it was meant to be consumed by a human being, the other doesn’t.

    As for the fried chicken, since Ash Wednesday was here, this past week I fried donuts (sisky) on the stovetop for the first time, so who knows, maybe I’ll try the fresh-butchered fried chicken you speak of. I suppose the cooking process is very similar – buy a ridiculous amount of lard, heat it up, make the batter, drop it into the lard.

    If you and your brother have success in getting the organs to make sausage, I’d be very interested in hearing about how it goes for you.

    Thanks for the note : )

    Allan

  • Phil Schmidt,
    A locker!! That’s fantastic. I can’t even imagine how cleverly rigged that old locker must be, and what made someone say “I’m gonna turn this old locker into a smoke house”? Necessity is the mother of invention I guess. Thank you for the note and for the smile it put on my face. I look forward on hearing about that pig killing on your next visit to Orava. : )
    Allan

  • Donna Benko,
    That’s a tough job they gave you. If you slack off even for a minute the lard starts to burn. I don’t know what it is, but that fresh lard on fresh rye bread is really so tasty.
    Thanks for the note.
    Allan

  • Lubos,
    I like that theory : ) I think you might be right, the inside of lots of Slovak grandma’s houses to look the same.
    Allan

  • Thank you so much for describing it in such detail. I have butchered many animals and birds but never a pig, I am going to buy one already raised and butcher it. I was born and raised a cheapskate. So thanks again for making it so simple to follow.

  • Cher,
    Thank you. My most important piece of advice is to make sure the animal is stunned properly and to make sure that you let the blood properly in the right spot with a sharp knife. There’s no reason to make the creature suffer. From all your experience though, you probably know that better than I do. Good luck with your first “zabijacka.” I’d be interested in hearing how it goes.
    Allan

  • Nyakenda Deus

    Oct 13th, 2011

    This is a wonderful exprience to have more than 60 steps of pig cutting..Job well done, but interestingly in Africa….where am born…these steps are less than ten..The pig is killed,smooked,cut and meat is either separated from the fat or together with the fat and prepered ..wooo!!!It is aslo ready to eat.
    But overall thanks for that exhustive, detailed assay in Job

  • Nyakenda Deus

    Oct 13th, 2011

    This is a wonderful to have more than 60 steps of pig cutting..Job well done, but interestingly in Africa….where am born…these steps are less than ten..The pig is killed,smooked,cut and meat is either separated from the fat or together with the fat and prepered ..wooo!!!It is aslo ready to eat.
    But overall thanks for that exhustive, detailed assay in Job

  • Nyakenda Deus

    Oct 13th, 2011

    Someone over there should help me,is PORK white meat or RED meat

  • re : You’ll notice however that the pig, the man, his son, and the backdrop look like it might have occurred in Slovakia. Though the photo was taken in Hungary, nothing about the photo betrays that fact. It could just as well have been Slovakia or any other place in this region.

    well, partly because post-Turkish invasion to Hungary 17c, the said land was left mostly barren. All living either slaughtered, or taken into slavery. As a consequence, whole Slovak villages were moved southwards to repopulate the region. That may be the reason for shared ‘culinary’ traditions. Also, this part of Europe used to be a pretty busy ‘crossroads’. Frequent wars, uprisings, raids, disputes, name it. We even have Swedish blood running here and there according to a DNA screening ;) That all contributed to many local customs and traditions.

  • When rendering your lard, start it out with an equal amount of water. Bring the pot to a boil and then cook over medium heat until most of the water is gone and the fat begins to bubble. Then turn the heat down until the fat turns clear and the ‘cracklins brown up. You should need to stir this only occasionally throughout the whole process while freeing you up to work on other stuff. This also works well with duck, goose and chicken fat. Keep in mind this is hot dangerous work and while you won’t have to mind it as much you must still watch it closely. By the way, what happened to all of the caul fat and body cavity fat (leaf lard)? Great site great story . Thanks E

  • Adam Takac

    Dec 25th, 2012

    Great post. Pig slaughtering is unfortunately becoming a lost art in many parts of the world, especially the US. It’s good to see it is still practiced by some. My father was born in Slovakia and experienced zabijacka every year throughout his childhood. He would often tell me stories of the killing/processing method of his family. A few years ago I had the opportunity to raise a pig and was looking forward to slaughtering it in the traditional way. My father recounted from memory many of the same steps you list here. It was truly a family experience as everyone was required to participate in order to get all the work done. I hope your article will inspire people to raise/process their own meat and enjoy the satisfaction and good food that it brings.

  • I still work in Slovakia. I teach the subject meat proccesing not only Slovak but also foreign students, and everyone is looking forward to preparing fermented sausages (klobásy), breakfast sausages, paté……I think that everyone wants to know the process of producing this kinds of products which seems to be dangerous. It’s an experience for everyone because in “zabijacka” get to know people.

  • What a great description – I enjoyed it so much! Thank you, Allan, for the pics and detailed description.
    Yes, it’s still being done in the US. We are raising 2 pigs now, raised and butchered hogs for years in the 1980s and 1990s. We wanted to know how, loved learning about it, but food was cheap, so we gave it up. Now food is becoming very expensive, we are living on social security, and also we are increasingly aware of objectionable production practices. We’re looking forward to the fresh meat, bacon, sausage, lard, and cracklings again. Our hogs have happy lives and never know what hit them. A far cry from how pork is produced now. Google it.
    Our kids, neighbor kids, neighbors have enjoyed and learned from the process. It’s an experience I would not trade for anything. Also looking forward to learning some of the things your page has intrigued me with. Thank you!

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