Chefs always want their food to be memorable. Sometimes that desire leads to off-the-wall flavor pairings or complicated presentations. But sometimes simplicity makes a deeper impression; just ask Brian Jupiter, executive chef at Frontier, who specializes in cooking whole animals for feasts, which he describes as “nouveau family style.” His whole-animal options range from the familiar—pig and lamb—to the exotic. “Right now we have camel, turtle, elk, rabbit, and alpaca,” Jupiter says. “Yak is coming.” Pig is the most popular, though. “We do 20 [whole pigs] a week on average,” he says. “For the Fourth [of July], several people have booked big pigs—100 pounders.”
One of Executive Chef Jupiter’s whole pigs: injected with brine, smoked, and ready for the table
Part of the fun of eating a whole pig is learning the names and tastes of its various cuts. “People grow up eating bacon and ham, but they may not know exactly where it comes from,” he says. “We tell them ‘this is the belly—you’re eating bacon.’ They are interested to learn.” Jupiter’s own favorite cut is the shoulder. “I like the juiciness of it, and it tends to shred up once it cooks. To me, it’s the most flavorful part.”
Frontier sources its pigs from Halsted Packing House, where butchers slaughter pigs onsite, and from Slagel Family Farm, where farmers carefully curate a genetic line that melds berkshire, duroc, and yorkshire breeds. Chef Jupiter prepares the pork by injecting it with a briny blend of spices, garlic, herbs, and vinegar. “We don’t rub the outside, because it won’t penetrate the skin,” he explains. Then, the whole pig gets smoked over apple, cherry, and sometimes sugar-maple wood. “Sugar maple is more seasonal,” he says. “Normally we use that for the bacon that we cure in-house.”
Some people get squeamish when Jupiter and his team lay out the smoked animal and start carving. Others get adventurous, sampling not only traditional cuts, but offal. “We carve the cheeks, the tongue, the brain … [those parts are] smoked with the animal, and we just pull them out once we start carving,” Jupiter says. When groups order whole-animal service to celebrate a birthday, Frontier makes a special recommendation for the birthday-haver. “We make them eat the eyeball,” he says.
Email email@example.com to schedule your own whole-animal feast, or check out our calendar of upcoming pig roasts around Chicago.
Do312 3 Year Birthday Bash at Double Door (1572 North Milwaukee Avenue) on Thursday, June 20
Do312, Chicago’s nightlife (and daylife) calendar, is celebrating its third birthday at Double Door with Red Bull cocktails and a whole pig from Frontier. The party starts at 8 p.m. Mucca Pazza, Deal’s Gone Bad, and Bully in the Hallway will play, and a GlitterGuts photo booth will document the night.
Pork N’ Beans Pig Roast & Roots Rock at Reggies (2105 South State Street) on Sunday, June 23
Reggies is throwing a party, too: the Pork N’ Beans Pig Roast & Roots Rock event, which pairs succulent pork with tunes by White Trash Blues Revival, Kentucky Knife Fight, Left Lane Cruiser, and garage rock-blues outfit Gun.
Serbfest at Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral (5701 North Redwood Drive) from Friday, August 9, through Sunday, August 11
Spit-roasted pig and lamb is served alongside authentic dishes, such as raznjici—Serbian-style kebabs. The fest also features live entertainment, dancing, and bounce houses for children or astronauts experiencing gravity sickness.
Taste of Romania at Little Bucharest Bistro (3661 North Elston Avenue) on Saturday, August 24
The scent of succulent roasted pork wafts through the air at Taste of Romania, an annual celebration with dance performances and live Romanian, Polish, Serbian, and Greek folk music. There’s also outdoor seating and a playground for wee ones.
Urban Pig Roast at the Aberdeen Tap (440 North Aberdeen Street) on Saturday, September 7
Slow and low are key terms at the Urban Pig Roast, where for 12 hours chefs roast whole pigs and lambs over smoldering charcoal. The celebration, now in its 20th year, started out as a house party on the Fourth of July in 1992. This time around, it’s being held at the Aberdeen Tap, a pub whose large sidewalk patio offers views of Chicago’s skyline.
Festiv-Ale at Carmichael's Chicago Steak House (1052 West Monroe Street) on Friday, September 20
General admission to Festiv-Ale gets you craft-beer tastings and appetizers from local restaurants, but if you opt for the $100 VIP tickets, you also get access to a whole-pig roast from Frontier and a special beer from Solemn Oath Brewery. The event also features live music and a silent auction and raffles to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The VIP reception starts at 6 p.m.
Suckling Pig Roast at Carnivale (702 West Fulton Market) every Thursday throughout the summer
Chef Rodolfo Cuadros roasts suckling pigs and carves the flesh for mouthwatering tacos. The tacos are just $3 each, but the chef has been known to hand them out to patrons buying drinks. Stick around for a complimentary bachata dance class from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.