James Anderson is quick to admit that he’s a cook first and farmer second.
The pitmaster behind Columbus’s Ray Ray’s Hog Pit has been making barbecue for twenty years, but for the last five, he’s also been raising his own pigs on fifteen acres in Licking County, Ohio.
Anderson keeps a dozen different heritage breeds on his farm and has experimented with crossing them for marbling and flavor. At any given time, he and his family have up to a couple hundred head on their fifteen acres. Each pig spends fourteen months on pasture, which is more than twice as much time as conventional pork spends on a feedlot. The project is an experiment in vertical integration and farm-to-fork barbecue, but it can’t produce enough for the four Ray Ray’s locations around Columbus. The restaurants serve so much meat that Anderson Farms can only supply about 10%.
If you want to be sure you’re eating heritage hog, go for the hot links, proudly local and studded with cheddar and hatch chiles.
Anderson isn’t planning to grow the farm to meet customers’ demand. “I just want to maintain what I have,” he says. His passion project lets him push the boundaries of barbecue, but it doesn’t make money, per his accounting. In the past, the family has hosted whole-hog cooks on the farm, but if he were to scale the pig business up, redesigning the business around whole animals would be expensive and risky, he says. He would have to buy new smokers, retrain staff, and rewrite menus to accommodate different cuts of meat. Would diners be as interested in smoked pig feet?
You can get a taste of Anderson’s homegrown pork while social distancing by visiting the Ray Ray’s food truck at Land-Grant Brewing Company. If you get ribs, you might be eating the pitmaster’s pigs. If you want to be sure you’re eating heritage hog, go for the hot links, proudly local and studded with cheddar and hatch chiles. On a hot summer night, they pair well with Land Grant’s fruited cream ale, Blackberry Jamble.