Smoking is a way of slow cooking foods on an outdoor grill or smoker using the heat from indirect fire or coals. Slow cooking the meat, such as a whole pig leg, makes the meat tender enough to pull it off the bone using a fork. A whole pig leg, also called fresh ham, weighs between 10 and 25 lbs., making it a good choice for feeding a large group. Smoking a whole pig leg is an intricate process that takes days of work in order to get tender, good-tasting meat.
Thaw the pig leg completely before smoking. Defrosting meat helps it cook evenly and prevents the growth of bacteria, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. Thaw the meat for a day or two in the refrigerator or wrap the meat in an airtight package and completely submerge it in cold water. Thaw in water if you are cooking it the same day.
Prepare the brine to marinate your whole pig leg in a large bowl or 2- to 4-gallon bucket. A brine consists of at least 4 cups of hot water, salt, seasonings and herbs. For a spicy brine, use black pepper and/or cayenne pepper, or whatever seasonings you like. As you stir the mixture, taste it and add more seasonings or water until you like the flavor.
Clean and skin the whole pork leg. Run the meat under cold water and remove loose skin and excess fat from the meat. You can leave the bone in or debone it. The bone adds flavor during the grilling process.
Submerge the whole pig leg in the brine, making sure it is completely covered. If the brine does not cover the leg, add more water. Cover the container and place in the refrigerator for one to three days to make sure all seasonings are absorbed into the meat.
Remove the pork leg from the brine and dry with paper towels. Scoop the seasonings out of the liquid and rub on the meat. Press the seasonings onto the leg to make sure they stick to the meat.
Heat the grill or smoker to 225 F to 300 F. Use a thermometer to check the temperature if the grill does not have a built-in gauge. If you are using a charcoal grill, wait until the charcoal pieces turn ashen and pile them in the corners of the grill before adding the pig leg. Add soaked wood chips to the grill or smoker to give the meat a smoky flavor.
Place the meat on the grill or smoker. Put the meat on a rack on the side of the grill that doesn't have coals. Put a pan underneath the meat to catch drippings. Close the lid over the meat. Add charcoal and wood chips every 30 to 45 minutes to keep the temperature in the proper range. Stick a thermometer into slats on the grill or smoker to monitor temperature.
Check the meat temperature after approximately two hours of cooking. Insert a different kitchen thermometer into the meat to see if it's done. You need to closely monitor the grill and food temperatures. It takes four to eight hours to cook. Pork should be cooked to a minimal temperature of 145 F.
Apply sauces 15 to 20 minutes before the whole pig leg is done. Adding barbecue sauce at the end of the cooking process prevents it from burning.
Remove the pork leg and let stand for about 15 minutes before carving it. Set out side dishes, condiments and drinks while the meat cools.
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Based in Tucson, Ariz., Cicely A. Richard has been writing since 1996. Her articles have been published in the “Arizona Daily Star” newspaper and “ForeWord Magazine.” Richard earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and journalism from Louisiana State University. .