When I was a kid in Memphis, there were a few dads on our block who got together one year to cook a whole hog for the 4th of July. This was the single most exciting thing that had ever happened in our neighborhood. They dug a pit in someone's front yard, filled it with sand, and then built an oven with cinder blocks, rebar, and corrugated-steel paneling. Every step of the process was an event, from the arrival of the hog to the all-night fire tending to the party the next day. Red T-shirts were made, people brought potato salad and peach cobbler, and we had a ramshackle parade with banana seat bikes and Big Wheel trikes decorated with streamers. It's one of my favorite memories of summer.
Recently, a few dads in my neighborhood tried to do something similar, and the technology hasn't changed much. We built a pit out of cinder blocks and rebar, stayed up all night cooking a 180-pound Alabama hog (and playing about 50 rounds of corn hole), and invited all our friends over for a backyard party, complete with a mechanical bull I'd rather forget. Our friend Pat Martin, proprietor of Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nashville, coached us through the process by phone, and the barbecue was exactly what we'd hoped for: fall-off-the-bone tender, smoky, and just a little bit crunchy on the edges. We served it with a peppery coleslaw, buns, and some barbecue potato chips, though a lot of people just stood around the pit picking meat right off the bones. The entire pig was gone within two hours.
WATCH: BBQ Cracker Country-Fried Ribs
I'm not going to suggest that you cook a whole hog this summer, because it's not for everyone. There are reasons the neighborhood pig-outs of my childhood lasted for only two or three years, starting with the cleanup. But summer in the South is all about cooking in the backyard, and there's nothing more fun to cook outside than a rack of ribs. You don't need a cinder block pit or even a grill to get these on the table. All you need is a little inspiration, a few neighborhood friends, and the right recipes. Enjoy.