I like pigs.
Pork chops, ham, bacon, hog jowl, ham hock, pulled pork, pig’s feet…even pig’s tongue. But there is one part of the pig I had never tried…
…until I took a recent business trip to Jackson, Mississippi.
Yep. With an hour to kill before my flight home, I ventured up Farish St., past the burned out blocks, crumbling buildings, boarded up store fronts and broken sidewalks sprouting weeds, all the way to the old black business district of Jackson where the only legal business still being conducted is at the Big Apple Inn.
The business over at Big Apple Inn is pig ear sandwiches—since the 1930s.
And on a random Tuesday afternoon in March, that business was good.
As I pulled open the battered front door, a line of people leaning against the wall stared at me as my eyes adjusted from the midday sunshine to the dim lighting inside.
I must have looked a little lost.
Did I mention this was a business trip for me — and I was wearing a suit?
If the regulars were surprised to find a white guy in a suit lining up for a pig ear sandwich, they were kind enough not to let on.
“Is this the line to order?”
“No. You order at the grill,” the first lady in line said, pointing me to the right side of the narrow entranceway.
I could see one lady taking orders while another lady worked the grill, performing a well-rehearsed choreography of slapping pig ears and fiery little sausages (which the locals call “smokes”) onto buns, splashing them with hot sauce, coleslaw, then wrapping them up in wax paper before tossing them in white sacks.
The dilapidated room was filled with the intoxicating aroma of sizzling pork fat and pepper.
“Two ears mild, three smokes spicy,” said the man in front of me. I was listening intently hoping to get the lingo down before it was my turn to order.
The lady’s hands at the grill were moving quickly, but demand was vastly outstripping supply.
It took me 45 minutes of leaning against that wall with all my fellow pig ear eaters before my white sack was finally ready.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that the Big Apple isn’t really a “dine in” kind of place.
Which was my next challenge. With my sack of pig ears and smokes in hand, now where do I go?
I mean the momentousness of this experience was not lost upon me. As a world-famous travel writer, I needed some place to savor this new culinary experience so I can properly share it with my loyal readers.
Where in Jackson, Mississippi can a business traveler be alone for a few minutes with his pig ear sandwich?
The driver’s seat of my Nissan Sentra rental car parked at the Hinds County Courthouse and Jail seemed suitable for the occasion.
As I unwrapped the wax paper and examined my sandwich, I saw two ears smothered in hot sauce and coleslaw—and bluish-green veins still readily apparent.
Sometimes it’s wiser to just eat the darn sandwich instead of investigating it first. This was definitely one of those times.
I went ahead and took my first bite.
Porky and REALLY salty—those were the dominant flavors.
And the texture was a bit off-putting. Kind of like a really salty, sticky, slimy piece of country ham.
No question, the little smoked sausage sandwiches were far more appetizing.
But I was proud of myself for being adventurous and expanding my culinary horizons.
I immediately texted pictures of my half eaten, teeth-indented pig ears to every friend in my contacts list I knew would appreciate it…
…and of course the vegan friends I knew wouldn’t!
The immediate responses were high lunchtime entertainment for me as I polished off the last bites of my pig ears and smokes.
While pig ears may not be my preferred way to eat “high on the hog,” I’m glad the tradition continues at one lonely outpost in Jackson, Mississippi.
Call me a culinary traditionalist.
Although, the tradition of eating pig ears actually goes back centuries when poor southerners couldn’t afford to let any part of the pig go to waste.
Now the tradition lives on not because southerners HAVE to eat pig ears, but because southerners still want to.
Well, maybe not all southerners.
But obviously just enough to keep the line up against the wall at the Big Apple Inn moving.