The Washington Post

How to butcher a pig’s head

The head of a pig before the butchering starts. (The Washington Post)

Before you even begin butchering your first pig’s head, you need to confront some primal aversion to dissecting a mammal cranium, especially one that may come with a peaceful smile. My advice? Use the opportunity to say a short grace over your animal head and embrace your carnivorous habit that’s often allowed to skate on anonymous little packages of meat.

Adam Brick, the sous-chef at Graffiato who comes from a family of butchers, guided my hand via phone. The first thing he suggested was to place my pig’s head on a cutting board covered with a damp towel, which keeps the skull from sliding around during the slicing process.

With a sharp boning knife – and I mean really sharp, because a pig’s skin is thick and resistant to the actions of a dull instrument — make an incision from the top of the head all the way down the middle of the skull until you cut through the bottom of the snout. You should have a neat incision that essentially divides the head in half.

At this point, you must decide which side of the skull to butcher, depending on which hand you use to hold the knife. If you’re a righty, butcher the left side of the head (the left side as the pig head faces you). Starting at the top of the skull, insert your fingertips into the initial incision and separate the flesh enough to insert the knife and start making long, easy cuts. With each cut, allow your fingers to separate the flesh, fat and skin away from the skull.

Work your way straight down the skull and all the way forward across the jowl, following the same method: Making long, easy knife cuts and separating the flesh from the bone. You’ll hit only a couple of obstacles on your way to the jowl: a bone near the ear that juts out from the skull and the eyeballs. Simply maneuver the knife a little farther away from the skull, and the meat should come off in one long, rubbery layer, which you can then cut and grind finely, skin and all, to use in Brick’s “pig snout” ragu. Once you repeat the butchering process on the other half of the head, you’ll have plenty of leftover meat to use for other purposes, including guanciale.

Tim Carman serves as the full-time writer for the Post's Food section and as the $20 Diner for the Weekend section, a double duty that requires he ingest more calories than a draft horse.
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