How To Remove The Flesh From A Pig Skull – Part 1

I wonder sometimes what people think I mean when I say I’m an artist. I mean, that’s my actual job, not a statement about my creative superiority or general flakiness or deity-endowed specialness that make me the most specialest special person in every conversation. But I suspect that when I answer questions about my job, the other person is harboring suspicions about the aforementioned arty qualities, or, I am fairly certain – they assume I have the Dumb.

The reason I am pretty darn sure it’s at least 90% Dumbs in their mental pie chart of Artist Job Requirements is because when it is discovered that I went to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy for high school (and graduated! yay!), they generally say something devastatingly awesome like, “And you turned out to be an ‘artist’? Ha *chuckle* ha! How did that happen?” Obviously, sir, the macaroni and glue sculptures you are currently imagining as my metier are far more intellectual than you supposed.

But I digress. Or rather, now I will digress into the actual topic of this post. Art is actually very sciency, especially the traditional parts, and especially the realist parts. Before the 20th century, artists were frikkin geniuses: chemists, biologists, inventors, physicians… The scientific method of inquiry, testing, investigation etc fits the desire of an artist to create a way of reliably making works of art that do what they are intended to do.

OK, I digressed again. Or rather, NOW I for sure will digress into taking apart a pig skull. Here we go!

I want a pig skull to paint as still life etc. I have a few others, but they are missing lower jaws and stuff, and I thought it would be neat to do this myself. Blessed with curiosity and a convenient bit of OCD, I was pretty sure I could do it. It turned out pretty OK. You can do it too, probably. Go for it. You will need:

  1. A pig head (I betcha this would work with other mammals! Let’s try it!)
  2. A big pot
  3. Large tongs, and little tongs, like needlenose pliers
  4. Sheeting, like a garbage bag or something
  5. Toothpicks, chopsticks etc, for poking and crevice cleaning
  6. Dish Soap and scrubbie pad
  7. Bleach cleaning spray
  8. Glue! (for step 2)

I got a head from a pig roast. It had already been roasted (i.e. cooked) completely, then given to me from a freezer. So, it was not any grosser than any other cooked and frozen head. If one of these is not available, try the local small grocery store. We have them here at the Mexican grocery, though they are much larger than the one I got.

Cooked then boiled. Ah! Lunch!

The Interwebs suggest boiling to remove the flesh. Sounded like a plan so I stuffed the head into a pot and brought it to a boil, then simmered for 5 hours. I was pretty damn sure that would do it, and it did. You can see his little snout sticking out!

I let him cool for a bit and then set upon removing the flesh, and let me tell you, it wasn’t hard at all! Heads come apart easy: let that be a lesson to you.

Starting at the back of the head, I used the tongs and large knife to slide the flesh off the bone. Almost everything came off easily, and what got stuck in tiny holes and crevices generally came out with tongs or needlenose pliers. Um, at this time, anyway. Later.. well. Stay tuned.

See? easy.

The lower jaw was fairly clean, but had lost several teeth, so I decided to remove whatever would be removable, and glue them back in later. I figured anything soft enough to give way was also soft enough to rot, then eventually STINK.

The needlenose pliers + the chopstick for leverage got almost all the teeth out.


The top of the skull had lots of nooks and crannies, muscles, and nerves threading through this way and that.


Oh, and eyelashes! Did I mention that? Oh boy! And right behind that… Yes, even an artist knows there’s a cooked eyeball in there. Well, you’ll be glad to know they pop right out.


See? Told you. That’s a boiled pig eyeball and nerves.


The worst part for me was the sinuses and brains. The sinuses I wasn’t entirely sure what was goo and what was bone (and so opted for a let-god-sort-em-out mentality). The brain had to be poked into pieces and then coaxed and shaken out through the back. Oh my goodness that was not fun. And, it smells TERRIBLE. Wowzers.


And then… uhoh. Everything fell apart. It was a pretty young pig, as evidenced by the size and teeth, and the bones were pretty soft. Also, maybe being exposed to both the roasting and boiling process softened it up further, but it sorta fell into chunks. No matter! I press on.

I took everything and scrubbed it with a scrubbie pad and dishsoap, then sprayed with bleach cleaning solution and left them to dry. Tomorrow, I’ll have to glue it back together. That should be fun! Please stay tuned.

Here’s the pile of flesh, interior stuff like brains and sinus and soft palate, and all that good stuff. Smells awful. Total time – 1 hr 45 minutes after 5 hrs boiling time. Not bad!

It’s going to make some awesome art! Kinda fun.

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