Pig pickins, luaus, and hot roasts. No matter what people call the cooking of an entire pig, the delicious tradition goes back thousands of years and is found in many cultures around the world.
Today, diners at Chicago’s Frontier restaurant can order not only smoked pigs, but also a menagerie of mammals, birds, and even reptiles. Cooking entire animals fits neatly into Frontier’s ideology of eating outside of one’s comfort zone at the “edge of civilization.” The restaurant’s whole animal service, or what the staff calls “large format meal service,” is typically served family style for anywhere from 10 to 25 people, depending on the animal, and will set a group back anywhere from about $400 to $600.
Of course, free-range pigs are on the menu. Due to being smoked instead of roasted, the skin isn’t edible, but Chef Brian Jupiter says that because the “skin acts as a blanket, the meat is “way juicier.”
Prepared similarly to the pigs, wild boars are also served. Caught in Texas, the boars are a gamier alternative to pork, and they’re rubbed with brown sugar and seasonings before being smoked.
Lambs, goats, and even antelope legs are also on the menu, and for people who prefer surf over turf, they can order either a shrimp boil or a whole salmon. Caught sustainably in Vancouver, the salmon is stuffed with lemons, herbs, and fennel and then coated with a salt crust.
Perhaps the most show-stopping animal on the menu is a wild-caught alligator from Louisiana. Stuffed with whole chickens before being slathered in a house-made marinade and then smoked and roasted, it’s an exciting Turducken-like meal for adventurous eaters.
Jupiter says that “everyone is excited” by Frontier’s whole animal service. Although some people get off on the shock factor, most people, says Jupiter, view the meals as a “celebration” and some push their culinary boundaries by trying parts of the animals such as eyeballs and cheeks.
Whole animal service is also a way to discuss a variety of cultural traditions. “My wife is Lithuanian,” says Jupiter, “and some people there also cook the entire hog.” He adds, laughing, “I get a lot of suggestions [from diners] who want to tell me about how they’ve cooked pigs.”
Although whole animal service dining sounds like a fun novelty, the argument for eating the whole animal—from snout to tail—veers into the territory of ethics. In 2015, researchers at the University of Missouri found that food waste from meat has a much greater negative environmental impact than wasted plant-based foods. Although there’s much less overall meat food waste than vegetable food waste, the resources and energy used to raise animals has a much greater impact on the environment. This means that even if less meat is being wasted, more resources are still being consumed.
While eating meat isn’t really the best choice for the environment, if people are going to eat it, devouring the whole animal is probably the way to go. It’s not only a more ethical choice than ordering a steak, but Jupiter says that it helps “local farmers to move whole animals.” In addition, seeing the entire animal sparks conversations between diners and Jupiter that might not otherwise happen, and he says that he gets a lot of questions about where the animals are sourced and how they’re raised.
Although most people head to Frontier to order whole animals, people who forego meat entirely won’t be disappointed at Frontier. The mac and cheese is a signature dish inspired by Jupiter’s mom’s recipe. Depending on the meal, other sides include a variety of seasonal vegetables, boiled potatoes, and green beans with lemon and candied pistachios.
No matter what your reason for heading to Frontier, most people are sent home with leftovers. Although Jupiter says that he’s seen groups of men devour an entire pig, more often than not, he sends diners home with suggestions for what to do with leftovers. Anyone up for a delicious chili made with leftover pork?
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.