As the food blogger of the house, I’m generally the one in charge of planning and preparing meals. But when we decided to host a pig roast for Memorial Day, I was demoted by not only my husband, but all the men of the neighborhood. There’s something primeval, caveman-like even about roasting an entire hog, and it turns men into little boys, giddy with excitement. I couldn’t possibly compete against such enthusiasm, so I embraced my role of sauce maker and chronicler.
|After 4 hours of cooking, the pig was golden and crispy.|
My husband had been dreaming of hosting a pig roast for over two years, ever since we’d gone to one at a friend’s house. It was high time to indulge his fantasy, and ended up being a bonding event the neighborhood will be talking about for a long time.
This video showing the first time we opened the box, perfectly captures the spirit of the day.
So how do you go about planning a pig roast? Especially when you’ve never hosted one? Carefully. Very carefully.
Step 1: BUY A PIG ROASTING DEVICE
First we ordered a Caja China, a massive pine box lined with metal to cook the hog in. It came unassembled, and my husband who normally runs away from an Ikea project, put it together in less than an hour, drilling happily in the backyard. We had ordered the large Caja China, large enough for a 100 pound pig, 18 whole chickens, 6 turkeys or any other large animal or group of animals in need of roasting. It’s also a very effective threat device for unruly children.
|A gruesome sight, but represents what you’re in for if you undertake this journey!|
The pig (or lamb, side of cow, chickens, turkeys, or any other animal you wish to cook) is spatchcocked and pinned between two racks that go into the Caja China. The lid is then closed over the animal and the charcoal goes on top of the box. Once the charcoal is lit, you leave the animal in the box for three hours undisturbed, without peeking. At the three hour mark, you flip the beast, score the back fat, and glaze the skin during the last hour of cooking. Caja Chinas are apparently very popular in Florida.
Step 2: FIND A PIG
When we first talked about hosting a pig roast, I imagined finding a local farm that raised pigs on acorns that we could travel to and pick out our pig. But as the date got closer, I gave up that fantasy and simply hit the phone calling local butchers and farmers, desperate to find anyone willing to sell us an appropriately prepared hog for Memorial Day weekend.
These were my requirements:
- Many hogs are over 100 pounds. I didn’t want a small suckling pig, but I didn’t want a monster either. Ideally, an animal between 50 and 70 pounds would do the trick, to yield about half its weight in edible meat.
- There are limits to my appetite for butchering thrills. The animal needed to be gutted and de-haired through scalding.
- Long term storage would be a problem. I needed to pick it up 24 hours before the roast.
We ended up purchasing the pig from Casey’s Market in Western Springs. The cost was much lower than anticipated, at $2.20 a pound, our 65 pound hog cost $170. A helpful stock boy walked it out to our car, elegantly stuffed in a shiny black garbage bag. To retain the pig’s dignity, he made sure the snout was poking up before slamming the trunk closed.
Step 3: BRINING THE PIG
The decision to brine the hog was not an easy one. Some websites, like Chicago foodie Steve Dolinksy, swore by it,others warned that the skin and flesh of a brined hog would have unappetizing pink streaks that would make our guests worry the meat was raw. We finally decided to go for it, voting for enhanced flavor, but as we poured our brining solution onto the pig, we still had misgivings.
We brined for 12 hours instead of 24 as a compromise, and saw no ugly pink streaks on the cooked meat. The skin crisped up beautifully and the meat was juicy and tender.
Pig Roast Brining Solution Recipe
We brined our 65 pound hog in 15 gallons of brining solution, mixing it in batches of 3 gallons of water.
5 cups of Kosher salt
10 cups of sugar
15 tablespoons of peppercorns
1 2/3 gallons of cider
6 1/2 cups of cider vinegar
5 tablespoons of cumin
30 garlic cloves
- Combine all ingredients in manageable batches of liquid and pour over hog until covered in liquid.
- Then place the hog in some sort of brining container. We had the pig and the liquid in some ultra thick garbage bags, then in a new garbage can, covered with bags of ice.
Step 4: ROASTING THE PIG
Our party was scheduled to begin at 4:30, so we began roasting at noon, just to leave a little extra time. Before placing the pig in the Caja China, we rubbed it thoroughly with a spice rub, to give it extra flavor. Then we strapped it into the Caja China grilling rack, and set it to cook, backside down.
|Lovingly massaging an aromatic sage rub into the pig before cooking.|
Pig Roast Spice Rub
2 cups of sage leaves, fresh
24 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup of fennel seeds
6 tablespoons of Kosher salt
3 Tablespoons of black pepper
1/2 cup of olive oil
- Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it is a paste.
- Rub all over both sides of the pig, both inside the chest cavity and all over the skin.
A 65 pound pig is not easy to maneuver, especially with a pregnant wife, but we were incredibly lucky to have neighbors who were as excited about the project as my husband. It would have been a crime to drop such a lovingly brined and rubbed pig on the dirty ground.
Once the pig was lowered into the Caja China, Steve closed the lid and placed the charcoal ash tray on top. He then poured charcoal over the top and lit it on fire. Then for the next three hours, he monitored the coals, adding more as needed to keep the grill hot. It was a relatively low-maintenance activity, especially compared to the labor involved with cooking a pig on a spit.
At the three hour mark, the charcoal tray was carefully lifted and placed on the ground so the pig could be flipped onto its stomach. With a sharp knife, Steve cut Xs into the back fat so that it would crisp up nicely. We finished the crisping prep by brushing a glaze all over the skin. He also covered the ears with aluminum foil to keep them from burning.
An hour later, the pig was ready to serve.
Asian Pig Roast Glaze
1 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup of mirin
1/3 cups of whisky
1/3 cup of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of ancho chili powder
- Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
- Heat on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until reduce by a quarter.
- Brush onto the pig liberally.
Step 5: SERVING
|Cutting up the pig turned out to be unexpectedly daunting.|
Once the pig was cooked, and the pictures were taken with our now beautiful piece, the tough work began of cutting it up into small pieces for the crowd to enjoy. Our neighbor was a master here, expertly slicing the different parts of the pig and mixing them in large serving platters for a good blend of more and less tender cuts. We poured some of the grease tray contents on top of the meat to really make sure it was moist. The drippings were filled with the sage and garlic rub we had put on the pig and smelled wonderful.
We served the pig with small sweet Hawaiian rolls, cole slaw, and a pineapple relish. The sandwiches were a huge hit, both tangy and sweet, with hot, tender pig bites at the center. Kids and adults alike had seconds, amazed at how good the pig tasted. Unsurprisingly, little boys and big men were the biggest fans.
|The pig meat paired beautifully with a pineapple relish and homemade cole slaw.|
1 whole Pineapple, Cored and Cut into coarse chunks
1/3 cups of Whisky
1/3 cups of brown sugar
1/3 cups of soy sauce
- Place the pineapple into a food processor and pulse until the fruit is in fine chunks.
- Pour the pineapple into a small saucepan. Add the remaining ingredients. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes at a low simmer, stirring occasionally, to let the flavors meld together and the alcohol boil gently away.
- Serve at room temperature with the roast pig.