The Anatomy of Rosebud’s Asian Barbecue Hog Head

John Delpha joins the growing movement of chefs braving that final frontier of the nose-to-tail movement: whole heads.


Rosebud’s Asian BBQ Hog Head. Photo by Kristin Teig

In this adventurous nose-to-tail era when it seems like every other chef has a tattoo of butcher’s diagram on their forearm and star culinary counselors like Anthony Bourdain are preaching about the virtues of fish heads, it’s hard to find too many diners who are still squeamish about consuming bone marrow, chicken feet, or variety meats. Still, its one thing to bite into a lengua taco or a braised pork cheek ragu, and quite another to have a swine skull eyeballing you as you eat.

Rosebud Kitchen‘s John Delpha, though, would like to join chefs like Craigie on Main’s Tony Maws in changing all that.

As a 30-time award winner on the barbecue circuit, Delpha is hardly a newcomer to the concept of whole animal presentations. But after serving hulking portions of porchetta at his former restaurant, The Belted Cow in Essex Junction, Vermont, the chef decided to explore other pig parts conducive to larger parties.

“I used to make Porchetta Trevigiana at my restaurant in Vermont, where I would take 25-pound whole pigs that had been de-boned, and roast them in the oven all day,” Delpha says. “People would always want on a lesson on what to do with the heads and I’d tell them, ‘You go for the meat on the cheeks and around the jaws, and you definitely eat the ears.’ I figured, instead of just trying to sell a whole porchetta to a table of 10 or 12, why not do a dish like this which would perfect for two to four people.”

Delpha receives a split pig’s head every morning from Savenor’s Market in Cambridge and soaks each half for a full day in a straight sugar, salt, bay leaf, and peppercorn brine. After patting it dry, he coats the hog’s head in his signature barbecue rub, which includes smoked paprika, demerara sugar, cinnamon, and a blend of secret spices.

“I put them in the Rosebud Little Red Smokehouse smoker at 250 degrees with some local hardwoods like apple, maple, and cherry,” Delpha says. “Depending on how much each head weighs, I’ll typically leave them in there for four or five hours. When that’s finished I throw it in a 500 degree oven for about a minute-and-a-half to crisp up the skin and puff up the ears, then I glaze it with an Asian-style barbecue sauce—a mixture of gochujang, agave nectar, and soy sauce.”

Each barbecue hog-head tray comes with a pile of Martin’s potato slider rolls and a selection of accoutrements: house-made kimchi with Napa cabbage, carrots, and green onions; a kimchi mayo; and a ginger and garlic relish. Diners then crack the glistening skin like a soft boiled egg and attack the meat for the ultimate DIY sandwich building experience.

“We’re doing two a halves a night and sometimes I’ll put a third in the smoker,” Delpha says. “If we continue to sell out, maybe I’ll bump it up to four a night, but I definitely don’t want to do more than that because I want to serve the product at its optimum freshness. People are loving the whole novelty of it; like I had a guy in on our opening night who saw it on the menu, and reserved one for his whole family three nights later. It just makes a statement on the table.”

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