A competitive barbecuer, a structural engineer, and an oncology researcher walked into a meat lab.

As they struggled back to their cars with dozens of pounds of ribs, chops, roasts, and tenderloins, their smiles validated Kory Anderson’s hunch why the Whole Hog Break Down – a DIY butchering workshop at UW–Madison – is such a hit: In this “farm-to-fork” era, everybody wants to know where their food comes from.

“It’s really cool for people to be able to eat what they cut,” says Anderson, a junior food science major and president of the Badger Meat Science Club. “We’re bridging the gap between the producer and consumer.”

At campus’ Meat Science and Muscle Biology Lab this past Thursday evening, about a dozen participants received a short lesson on pig anatomy and the techniques used to transform an entire side of pork into its various primal cuts. Then, with saws and knives, they got to work, separating their own hog halves into shoulders, bellies, loins, and legs.

Charlie Connolly, center, a microbiology major and member of the Badger Meat Science Club, helps participants Amy and Bruce Moser butcher their side of pork during the Whole Hog Break Down workshop at the Meat Science and Muscle Biology Lab, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Photo by Michael P. King/UW–Madison CALS.

The hands-on experience is a recurring fundraiser for the student club, helping cover travel and registration costs for national conventions like the Reciprocal Meat Conference and the American Association of Meat Processors. Students have also used the funds to cover the cost of local field trips such as taking a tour of Usinger’s in Milwaukee.

For the workshop participants, growing more in touch with pork’s provenance was the real draw.

Wes Ray, a Kansas native now from Waunakee, has his master’s degree in social work from UW–Madison. He proudly wore his BBQ competition t-shirt emblazoned with his team’s name: “WaunaQue.” The Q, of course, is a caricatured pig’s tail.

Amy Moser admits she’s more accustomed to working with mice than pigs. The professor and researcher of human oncology attended with her husband, Bruce, and enthusiastically dictated the thickness of the pork chops she would later take home. They enjoy cooking together, normally buy their meat from the local farmer’s market, and wanted to try something new.

As a lecturer at the School of Veterinary Medicine, Heidi Clark teaches large animal anatomy. She took the opportunity to study while she sliced, knowing she’ll be better equipped to answer her students’ inevitable questions about where specific cuts of meat come from.

Justin Rademacher works at a small engineering firm on Madison’s west side. Going whole hog seemed like a logical progression for the 2013 grad after constructing his own meat smoker and taking a sausage-making class.

Anderson says the club tries to hold the workshop each semester. The $175 registration fee covered instruction, reading materials, and a side of a hog. Participants could choose to have bacon and ham processing done for them for an additional $25 fee.

Watch eCALS for future workshop dates as space is limited. See photos from the event at the CALS Flickr page here: