With a menacing snarl and a spikey head of hair that would make a young Billy Idol jealous, wild boars are the invasive pig that you should be eating. —INGRAIN, Spring 2019
STORY / Jesse Valenciana
There is a seemingly unspoken, underlying guilt associated with eating pork. Pigs are these pink, cute animals with impressively developed brains. They’re unlike the idiot chicken, and one can’t help but feel that bacon once had feelings and emotions. One look at a gnarly wild boar, and all that guilt is gone.
THIS LITTLE PIGGY
Domestic pigs and wild boars may be the same species, and both may be cognitively complex animals, but that’s where the similarities end.
Pigs are as social as they are intelligent; they’re known for being lovable companions with a wide range of play behaviors. Wild boars use their intelligence to escape capture, hunt for meals, and survive. A pig is like the jolly uncle who hands out big, warm hugs to everyone and is fine with whatever you give him for dinner. A wild boar is the guy who invites himself over, eats everything in your pantry, and might just charge at you unexpectedly.
When considering which you’d rather invite over (and possibly have) for dinner, be aware that domestic pigs are bred to be heavier so that more meat can be harvested from the animal. Pigs typically weigh between 200 and 700 pounds, while wild boars can be as small as the 20-pound, 9-inch-tall pygmy hog or as large as the 600-pound giant forest hogs found throughout Africa. (Most feral hogs are between 100 and 400 pounds; the largest are considered outliers more closely related to domesticated hogs.)
BUT HOW DOES IT TASTE?
As with all meat products, how an animal tastes depends on the environment in which it was raised. Ultimately it’s a subjective thing, but no person with a decent palate will argue that meat from a grain-fed animal will taste better than one that was grass-fed. Though both wild boars and domestic pigs are omnivores, commercially raised pigs tend to be fed a less expensive diet of corn, beef, soy, and barley. (Smaller farms are able to feed their pigs vegetables, fruits, and other leftover foods.)
Wild boars don’t have the luxury of being fed like a farm pet, so they have to scavenge for themselves. A wild boar’s diet will vary from berries, nuts, grass, and vegetables to small animals, depending on the habitat and season (available vegetation is obviously different throughout the year). Wild boars from Texas (home to the largest population of feral pigs in the United States) don’t have access to the same food as the feral hogs that can occasionally be seen swimming between the Aegean Islands. All of that foraging results in lean and tender meat. Boar meat is also darker due to a high (and healthy) iron content.
It’s a common misconception that large boars don’t have the same fantastic taste as smaller boars. That’s simply not true. It is, however, very important that your wild boar is processed by someone with experience handling feral hogs. And if you’re breaking down the animal yourself, you’d better YouTube the hell out of how to do it! One cut into a scent gland will taint your meat and leave you “enjoying” the stinkiest, most unpleasant-tasting piece of meat.
Which cuts to choose? The backstrap is great if you want to slice up some medallions. If tender meat is your thing, the loin is your piece. Boar butts and shoulders make excellent meat for sausages. Ask your local butcher to special order a few cuts, or try online meat purveyors like D’Artagnan, which sells wild-caught Texas boar.
So now that you’ve got wild boar in the house, what do you do with it? The easiest place to start is to substitute wild boar in any of your favorite pork recipes. The taste is where you’ll notice the biggest difference between pig and wild boar. You will be treated to rich and nutty flavors in meat that tastes like a cross between pork and beef, leaving all those little piggies envious.
Tame that craving with a recipe for Honey-Roasted Wild Boar Tenderloin & Puréed Peas.