Food Karma’s Communications Director, Dylan Heuer recently talked with Tank Jackson about his Heritage breed hogs, why he considers himself a “hippie farmer,” and what he’ll be making at Pig Island NYC!
Photo by Jonathan Boncek, Charleston City Paper
Dylan Heuer: When did you start cooking and how did you get into barbecue?
Tank Jackson: It was a family tradition. We didn’t own a restaurant or anything, just my dad always taught [my brother and me] how to cook outside on the fire. Probably when I was about 12, I started cooking. That’s about the age when you can start messing with the fire, before that you’re just finding firewood and picking up sticks. After that, it was probably 1999, 2000 [when] we started talking about doing the Pig Jig (a food festival in Vienna, Georgia). I graduated high school in ’97; I was off at college and it was something me and my dad and my brother could get together and do.
Dylan Heuer: What makes the BBQ scene in Charleston special?
Tank Jackson: The farm to table – the extremely tight-knit relationships your top tier chefs have with local producers and their affinity for having something special. One of my favorite chefs is named Mike Lata. He told me a long time ago – I said Mike why is your food so delicious? And he said Tank, it’s because I take the best ingredients and I don’t mess ’em up.
Dylan Heuer: Tell me more about the Heritage breed hogs you raise.
Tank Jackson: I’ll be bringing a pure-bred Ossabaw Island Pig [to Pig Island NYC]. It came over with the Spanish conquistadors. They’ve been here longer than it’s been the United States. So I’m bringing one of the oldest and tastiest pigs in the world to the competition. I call it ‘Carolina Ibérico’ because I raise them extremely similar to the way they raise Iberian hogs. These pigs have been on Ossabaw Island, Georgia for 400-500 years unchanged by man. The fat on these pigs is unctuous as it gets. It’s like an umami. It coats your mouth like velvet. They would know the difference between my hog and any other hog they taste just by the fat, the way it will taste on their tongue.
Dylan Heuer: What is unique about the living environment and diet of the pigs at Holy City Hogs?
Tank Jackson: At Holy City Hogs, we give all of our animals space to roam – there are no cages, they move around in different sections of woods and pastures. We recycle with – we food-cycle [by using] food that’s never been used [and would otherwise go to waste]. We’re putting it into our pigs instead into the landfill. I’ve worked with a local dairy to reclaim anywhere from 1,200 to 2,000 gallons of milk a week for our hogs, so they are milk fed pigs. They also are fed a diet of local corn and oats. We get seasonal produce from several other farmers. And we get culls. We’ve worked with Vertical Roots which is an organic indoor-lettuce operation, and we basically get the cuttings, the trimmings and the culls that don’t make it to the salad. Not salad quality. Not that pretty but it’s still great for the pigs.
We name and pet out pigs. We like to have a close-knit relationship with our hogs. We treat them like pets until the day that they are gone, We use a humane slaughterhouse that uses CO2 so that out pigs literally fall asleep on an elevator we don’t use a stun bolt nor do we slice their throat. It’s a the happiest way to go down. We’re hippie farmers. My wife and I run the operation entirely with the help of only one volunteer. And we distribute New York, Nashville, and New Orleans, as well as Charleston, our home place.
Dylan Heuer: Rodrigo Duarte also raises Heritage breed hogs, and he is the defending champion of Best Whole Hog at Pig Island. Are you ready to face him as your competition?
Tank Jackson: That’s why I’m coming. We’re excited for the challenge and we look forward to seeing him on the battlefield. I don’t think I’ll have to beat him. I think my hogs are gonna be better than his hog. That’s what I’m gonna rest on, I’m gonna rest it on my pig. He’s probably a hell of a lot better chef than I am. because I’m just a country-ass cook from Charleston, but my hog is what rises my food to the top.
Dylan Heuer: You’ll be joined by Ed Randolph for Pig Island, who is a recent Chopped champion and the owner of New York’s Handsome Devil BBQ. How do you know Ed and what are you looking forward to about this collaboration?
Tank Jackson: I worked with Ed down at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. I had a great time working with him down there and since I needed some help, why not bring in a local boy to help me out with some of these New York attitudes.
Dylan Heuer: Tell me about the dish you’ll be preparing for Pig Island.
Tank Jackson: I will tell you some of the ingredients but I’m not gonna let the whole cat out of the bag. We’re gonna be using whole hog barbecue, 24 month-old ham cured by Dakota hams out of Somerset, Kentucky, ghost pepper cheese infused sausages, and South Carolina collard greens cooked down in Ossabaw Island lard. It’s gonna be a 100+ pound pig, there’s so much fat in the Ossabaw, to render it all down without overheating anything, I’ll be cooking around 211 degrees for 22-24 hours.
Photo of Tank Jackson and Carl Ruiz by Paul Cheney @pecheney