This article was written in direct response as to how to deal with a pig. Other animals can be tackled in more or less the same way. My way isn't the only way, and other people are likely to have other ideas. But if you've never skinned anything before, the description below can get you started.

Pigs aren't the easiest animals in the world to skin.

You could say that there are two types of skinning. One is to get the skin off, and one is to get the meat out. When I'm in 'meat out' mode it means I am not trying to save a perfect skin.... I just want the meat and maybe bits of the skin. I'd say that it is best to attack the job of skinning a pig in 'meat out' mode. But of course it is possible, if you are careful, to get a good skin and have the meat looking presentable.

Things can be kept cleaner if the pig has not been gutted before skinning commences. But this isn't always possible, so you just have to do your best in the circumstances.

Whenever possible, I like to hang game animals up for the skinning operation. This keeps the operation at a comfortable height, and it minimises the contamination of the meat. If you have to, a pig can be skinned on the ground but you have to take extra care to keep the carcase clean. By hanging the animal from something strong, you can pull hard at the skin to remove it.... and this can speed things up. Before hanging it, however, it is best to do a few things to the carcase while it is still on the ground.

Here's how I do it. For a start I try to brush or scrape off all the mud or loose dirt etc off the outside of the animal. I then generally push a couple of fingers into the lower belly at the crotch back up into the pelvic cavity. This might force out any faeces that are in the end of the colon - or 'chutney tube' as I've heard it called. Naturally it is best to have the animal lying in such a way that if anything does come out, it doesn't stick to the skin.

I then roll the pig on to its back and cut around the two back legs just above (or below seeing the pig is upside down) the hoof. The cut is maybe two inches above the hoof and is just deep enough to go through the skin...I try to avoid cutting any deeper. I then cut through the skin down the back of each leg with each cut finishing somewhere near the anus. Once again, only the skin should be cut. If you cut the meat it doesn't really matter, but it keeps things neater (and possibly easier later) if just the skin is cut. I generally hold my knife with the cutting edge facing away from the meat and force it under the skin to make these cuts.

The next job is to cut around the front hocks. If I were wanting to save the skin I would probably then cut the skin down the front of each leg with the cuts joining under the throat somewhere. Just lately I've been in 'meat out' mode, and I have cut down the back of the front legs of some small pigs because it seems that the skin may be easier to get at to pull off this way.

The preceeding cuts can be done while the animal is hanging, but I find it easier to manouver everything with the pig on the ground.

I then hang the pig by the back legs. If you don't have a gimbrel (or gambel or whatever you might call it), you can use two bits of strong cord. Actually tying the hooves may be better than using a gimbrel hook because it is easy for the carcase to fall off a gimbrel sometimes.

You can simply hang the animal by just one leg, but it tends to swing around a bit.

The next cut goes down the belly joining the two sets of cuts between the back and front legs. If you go too deep you could easily penetrate the guts and this is undesirable (but not the end of the world). Just cut the skin.

You now have to pull the skin off. I start at the hind legs. You grab a cut edge of skin and pull at it whatever way you can, and only use your knife to cut the connective tissue between the skin and the meat if it is too hard to pull off, or if the meat starts to tear off with the skin. Once you start you will see what needs to be done. If your hog is a big one and it tied to a sturdy tree, you can pull hard. With some smaller pigs you might find that the lower leg joints pull apart. Be careful cutting around the anus to keep things clean. You may choose to skin the tail on some animals, but I generally cut the tail right off with the skin on a pig.

On big hogs you might find that they have a really thick bit of skin around the front shoulders. We call this the 'shield'. It makes the skin hard to bend while skinning. You just have to persist. You may find that it helps to make a cut through the skin down the backbone so that the skin comes off in two halves.

When I have the skin off down to the head, I cut into the flesh around the neck. Quite often this cut seems to happily meet with a major joint in the neck. So when I reach the vertebra, it is sometimes a simple matter to twist the head and it falls from the body. With bigger pigs further surgery is often required to make this happen.

You can throw the head away, or you might like to rescue the tongue and small bits of meat on it to eat....perhaps the brain too if you feel so inclined. If you want to remove the lower jaw to save the tusks, remember that the tusks go a long way back inside the jaw and it would be a pity to cut through the tusks if you saw or chop the jaw too far forward. You can use a knife to remove the whole bottom jaw at the joints, but I have never found this to be easy.

Anyway...I've digressed. You now have a pig carcase without a skin. If the guts are still inside, now is the time to make a careful cut down the belly from the crotch to the diaphragm without cutting the intestines. I generally make a small cut at the crotch, then insert two fingers of my left hand between the belly flap and the guts. I carefully place the knife blade between the two fingers and make the cut with my fingers creating a gap between the guts and what needs to be cut.... so my fingers move down with the knife. You can use a knife with a fancy gut-hook for this job, but it isn't necessary. As you cut lower, the guts may start to fall out...but this won't be a problem generally unless you've nicked the guts or gut-shot the animal. Then things can get messy. Just lately I've experimented with opening the belly upwards from the brisket to the crotch. The guts tend to come out through the cut, but at least this way they are falling out below your knife hand instead of over it (thus making the job harder). See what works for you.

Before you pull the guts completely out, you should carefully stick your knife into the pelvic cavity alongside the anus and cut around it. This means that the chutney tube , and maybe the bladder, should pull out fairly neatly from below. Actually I'd probably make this cut before I cut the belly open. When you come to the stage of pulling out the colon and bladder, be sure to pinch the tube above the bladder and the colon tightly to stop the contents leaking out over the meat. Pull these things well clear of the carcase and let them dangle at a low enough point where anything that does trickle out doesn’t land on what you are going to eat.

Get your hand behind the guts and look to see what is holding them in. There will be strips of connective tissue which might pull free, or you may have to use your knife for the job. You will eventually see the diaphragm - the membrane separating the guts from the lung cavity. I cut right around the diaphragm against the ribs. The guts should drop to the ground at around this stage. Pull out the heart and lungs (but maybe keep the heart because it is good to eat).

You can now butcher the carcase. You can follow the text book, or you can simply get the meat off the bones. It doesn't really matter unless you want to impress somebody knowledgable or pass a butchery examination. In the end you just chew it up anyhow. I will sometimes cut all the meat off the bones in the field and carry it home in plastic bags in my backpack. This saves me having to dump the bones and unwanted bits at home, and it means I am carrying a whole lot less.

Keep the meat as cool as possible at all times.

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