Luke Clayton column

Deryl Markgraf with some cured, sliced ham from a wild hog he harvested. Markgraf is a big proponent of putting wild pork to good use and he removes all the wild porkers he can. What he and his family can’t eat, he gives to folks that will.

It’s great to have friends that share your interests, friends you can bounce ideas off of and discover and perfect new ways of doing things. I have such a friend in Deryl Markgraf.  

Deryl and I met a few years ago and became instant friends. The love of hunting wild hogs and then transforming the meat into tasty meals created the bond and lots of time together hunting and fishing strengthened it. 

My friend is not a person that delves lightly into anything. He is an engineer with a degree, and like most engineers, he has a way of looking at a topic past the superficial and into the core. There is either a concise, clear answer or there is not. If the answer is questionable, Deryl begins researching until he is satisfied he has the correct solution.  

I spent a career as a surveyor and had many civil engineers as bosses. Most were great guys/gals but many were so analytical they lost me in casual conservation. I would tell them about a fish I might have caught that was close to being a new record, and they would want to know all the pertinent details. Which lake? What was the previous record? What exactly did my fish weigh? Was it weighed on certified scales? 

Well, Deryl is about as analytical as a person can be, but it just so happens that Deryl’s interest and mine coincide when it comes to hunting and cooking wild game. The big difference is his innovative way of thinking often leads to solutions I would never discover on my own. We have lots of fun exploring new hog hunting and cooking techniques, and I’ve learned a lot from him. Curing and smoking whole, bone-in wild hogs hams is a good case in point. 

Several years ago, I began curing and smoking chunks of wild pork. This smoked sugar cured ham became a big hit with Deryl and many of my other friends. Deryl was quick to pick up on the simple technique and began making his own ham. We discussed it but I was always hesitant because I was afraid the center of the hams would not cure and my efforts and ham would be wasted. Enter my engineer buddy to continue with the research, and just this past week, we put his first wild hog ham on his SmokinTex smoker! 

Working with domestic pork is different than the meat from wild hogs. Wild porkers have to work for a living as opposed to living in a pen where they simply walk up to the feeding trough and pig out. Their muscles are used constantly. Long, slow cooking with moisture will get even the toughest wild pork tender but when curing and smoking ham, the trick is to impart the smoked flavor to the cured meat by slowly increasing the temperatures. 

Deryl began by injecting a mixture of Morton’s Tender Quick and water throughout the ham and allowing the meat to cure in the refrigerator for six days. The curing process causes pork to take on that beautiful pink-ish color. Deryl’s goal was to have a fully cooked, whole wild hog ham, and this requires making sure the meat is heated to a minimum of 140 degrees. 

It’s virtually impossible to heat a solid chunk of meat weighing 6 or 7 pounds so the entire piece heats at the same rate. Obviously the shank end will get warmer quicker than the center next to the bone. Keep in mind, there is little fat on the outside of a wild pork ham, thus it’s necessary to baste occasionally to keep the exterior from drying out. A mixture of brown sugar and water can be used, and when smoking smaller chunks of cured ham, I’ve often used honey. 

Deryl set the temperature of his SmokinTex at 140 degrees and let the ham slow smoke for a couple hours, gradually increased the temperature up to 180 degrees. An internal probe thermometer set close to the bone will let you know when the ham is thoroughly cooked. Cooking time depends on many factors, so it’s important to keep a constant read on the internal temperature. 

Guys like Deryl and myself understand the wild porkers do damage to fields, crops and do harm to ground nesting birds and other native wildlife. So, our mantra is kill all of them we can and turn all that good pork into tasty meals. We eat what we can and give the rest to others to enjoy. 

I am currently on a quest for a wild porker, and I think I know just the feeder to hunt to find one. I have just about depleted my supply of fresh pork in the freezer. I plan to use a maple sugar cure blend from Butcher Packer Supply on my first whole wild hog ham. Deryl and I will compare the finished product with the cure he used. We are always in experiment and learning mode. 

Listen to “Outdoors with Luke Clayton and Friends” weekends on radio stations from Nebraska to Texas or anytime online at www.catfishradio.org  

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