Category Archives: About Roasting Pigs

Hey, The Pig’s On Fire!

July 28, 2013 — Here are words you never want to hear when you have been cooking a whole pig over a bed of embers or on a Caja China Roasting Box for 20 hours and you have a back yard filling up with hungry friends and neighbors… “Yer pig’s on fire!!”. But it happened.

It was a nice warm July weekend for the party. Guests were nibbling on chips and snacks, eagerly awaiting for the time that the pig would be done. I was on the other side of the yard, visiting with some folks when the shouting began. I figured they mistook the billowing hickory logs smoking, for a fire. But when I looked over, panic set in! Ten foot flames were leaping out of the normally docile slow smoking pit that had been so gently feeding smoke to our pig of honor! The entire pit and pig were engulfed in flames!

I dashed over to grab the hose and started dousing down the surrounding trees first before quickly wetting the pit and the pig that had been so slowly roasting just a short time before. As the fire was brought under control, thoughts of a ruined afternoon loomed in my mind. The entire pig was black and peeling. It was nasty looking! The foil cover for the fire pit was completely burned to oblivion.

In trying to find out what happened to my low glowing embers, I discovered that one of the back hams on the 170 lb pig had become so tender that it fell off; it came out of the wire harness that I had made for it and slid down two-foot below right onto the hot embers. And that huge ham, covered with grease and greasy skin, ignited a grease fire that I will never forget!

I tried to extract the ham from the now smoldering remainder of a fire but every time I got a grip on it with the giant tongs, it was so tender it would break apart and slip back into the fire. I finally took the shovel that I used to transport coals to the pit, rinsed it with the hose, and unceremoniously scooped the ham up out of the fire. And with some help, we hosed the ashes off the ham and carefully place it back up on the grill in a spot I knew it could not shift from.

After recovering from the trauma, I assessed the damage and realized that if that ham I had resurrected from the coals was so tender and tasty after scraping off the surface (yes, I had to sample it!), the rest of the pig should be fine as well, other than the burned skin.

We pulled the pig off the grill for carving after another hour or so and the crowd loved the fact that a nasty blacked charred cover was hiding the most tender and delicious pig I or others had ever tasted! We all had a good laugh about the cajun-style blackened pig but no one complained about that sweet juicy treat inside!

I’ve been involved in many pig roasts and enjoyed a variety of smoked meats. But that pig was by far the juiciest, most flavorful pig I’ve ever had. If it wasn’t such an out of control experience, I’d be tempted to turn it into a normal routine for future pig roasts. But I think I’ll skip that step next time!

Of course I learned to make sure my pigs are not just resting on top of a series of crossed angle iron, but rather well secured on an iron screen for future roasts. And more importantly, I confirmed what I tell people… it is hard to really screw up a pig roast!

So, have a pig roast and have fun with it. If the absolute terrible thing happens and the whole thing goes up in smoke, hose it off, laugh about it, make a few jokes about how you were just giving the outside a nice crust, and carve it up and eat up! It’s hard to screw up a pig roast! But it is easy to have fun with one!

More Than One Way To Skin a Pig

a skinned pig for a pig roast

Presenting a skinned pig

A reader here mentioned she and her husband were looking forward to their first pig roast. Then she said that the butcher was going to skin a pig for them. Now that got my attention. I’ve never had, or been to a pig roast where the pig was skinned. I asked her for a report including photos to share when it was done. She did so and here are some photos and her notes. Click any photo to enlarge it.

We got a whole pig, skin off and then my husband and a friend of my father-in-law butchered it. They then wrapped each section in heavy duty aluminum foil and put them in the smoker. 

They put the meat on around 7:00 am and it was finished cooking around 4:00 pm, turning all the meat once every hour. 

We only used salt & pepper this time and the meat was so tender and juicy!  

Was it a success? You bet! She suggested that they are even going to try to make it a twice a year event!

Checking the pigRoasted Pig The guest of honor arrivesChecking the roasted pigThe pig arrives

Spit Roast Hire

I had an email from an Australian reader asking about a “spit roast hire”. A spit roast is a term used for a roasted pig or other meat on a spit or rotisserie and a spit roast hire is the rental of a spit and possibly a caterer as well.  Just to clarify, in the US, the term is “spit roast rental” rather than “spit roast hire”, but either way you say it, here are some tips.

If you are looking for a spit roast for hire, here are three things to consider.

  • Do you prefer a charcoal spit or a gas spit?
  • Do you want to hire a caterer as well as hiring a spit?
  • Are you planning on roasting a whole pig or hog? Or a boneless pork roast or even a Greek-style lamb or goat?

Charcoal or Gas

Charcoal made from hardwood like oak or mesquite will be much more flavorful. But gas is easier to use and control. Of course if you hire an experienced caterer who offers a choice of gas or charcoal, I would recommend charcoal anytime.

Hire a Spit And a Caterer

I’ve roasted many pigs and other meats so it doesn’t worry me to take care of the roasting. But if you are hiring a spit for the first time, unless you are very adventuresome, it might be wise to hire a caterer and spit to take care of everything so you can enjoy your party.

What To Roast On The Spit

If this is a refined event such as a wedding, a pig roast can be fun but might be a bit messy for the occasion. A steamship round of beef might be a better selection while still providing a spectacular show. On the other hand, if the event is less formal, roasting a whole pig on a spit can be an event that your guests talk about for a long time after. Consider the sensitivities of your guests if you decide to roast a whole goat or lamb (or even a pig). It would be too bad to do all that work only to find that many key guests are offended or grossed out by seeing a whole animal being cooked on a skewer. But for most, the event will be  a wonderful time and one that will be remembered for a long time to come.

So whether you hire a spit roast or include a catering company, plan on having a lot of fun. Decide how you will approach the event and look forward to a wonderful extravaganza!

Spit Roast BBQ

By Jim Smith

Having a spit roast barbeque is a spectacle for your guests. Even though I am partial to roasted pigs, one of my favorite spit roast BBQ’s was a steamship round. Some neighbors invited us to the backyard event and we could see the massive beef from afar. It was slowly cooking and the designated roaster stood by with tools ready. He would mop the beef with a “secret sauce” to keep it moist and flavorful.

Every so often he would declare a layer of beef was ready and he would slice off large slabs of beef — from rare to medium well done — to meet everyone’s desire. He had a sharp chef knife for that task and a cutting board below to cut it into serving size chunks.

The sharp knife was primarily used to slice the steamship round roast but from time to time it was used as a deterrent to a hungry group of guest contemplating how to distract the roaster while they grabbed at the massive roast before it was ready to be served. But overall, a spit-roast BBQ is a great way to entertain a large group at a backyard picnic or family reunion.

I also used that spit one year to roast a pig. The slowly rotating pig dripping fat into a bed of hot embers is a traditional look that is somehow awe-inspiring and impressive to everyone attending. Fortunately the spit was turned by a motor, otherwise someone needs to tend the BBQ roast while slowly rotating it by hand — not my idea of the way to spend a party day! But a spit-roast barbeque is a fun event regardless. There is something wonderfully primitive about seeing a skewered mass of meat slowly roasting over a bed of hot coals. Try it and watch the reaction from the crowd!

Spit Roast Catering Events

Spit roast catered event

Spit Roast Catering Event’s Rewards!

A pig roast is a lot of work so hiring a spit roast catering company can be an attractive alternative. A pig cooked on a spit can be a spectacular sight for guests and having the event catered makes it appealing to the host as well as the guests.

Of course for us do-it-yourself kinds, farming the chore of cooking the pig seems like it is cheating. But every year, as our event gets bigger and bigger, there is a great temptation of having a caterer come in with a shining stainless steel pig spit (rotisserie), cook the pig, serve it, and then clean up the mess after the guest have had their fill. We haven’t done that yet, but it might happen some year.

Of course if you are not experienced in roasting pigs — whether the pig is on a spit, a grill, or the pig is buried in the ground, it might be worth the trouble just to see what the experience is like. After that first time, either you will be hooked on roasting a pig yourself, or you will feel overwhelmed with the level of work and detail and opt to call a caterer familiar with pig roasts, and let them handle it. Which ever you decide, the important thing is to enjoy yourselves and have fun at the event. That’s what a pig roast is all about!

A Whole Pig Roasted In The Ground

My pig roast events generally are a variation on slowly smoking and roasting the pig for 20-24 hours laid out on a grill over oak wood. It entails tending the fire all night and all the next day — a major task for all involved. I had a bright idea of how much easier it would be to dig a hole start a massive fire for coals, wrap the pig in burlap bags, and dump the pig in the hole and cover him with dirt. Then I can stop worrying about it until 20 hours or so later when we simply dig the pig up and serve it!

It is a variation on the Hawaiian traditional “Kalua Pig”.  To the right is a YouTube video of clear steps needed to do a pig in the ground “correctly”. If you are interested in trying this and don’t have banana plants growing around you, most Asian stores sell banana leaves. As you can see from the video, you need a lot of them so you may need to visit more than one shop. As I watched the process, I found it was much more complex than I gave it credit. So much for digging a hole and dumping some coals and a pig in it!

Ok, I also realized that digging up the ground in Hawaii seems much easier than digging a hole in the ground in rocky Connecticut. I actually saw a couple of video’s where a backhoe is brought in to dig the hole, cover it up, and excavate the cooked pig at the end. That seemed like quite a production and the only way I’d be able to dig through all the rocks and tough roots that abound right below the surface.

I saw another video (on the left) of a family affair — an in-ground pig roast possibly more suited to our crowd. Skip past the first 30 seconds or so of family photos and you will see what needs to happen if you don’t have a backhoe handy. There is a lot of digging involved. I don’t think I have many friends that dedicated to helping! I don’t even think I’m that dedicated!

Based upon countless videos and websites of in-ground pigs, I decided that perhaps that is not as appealing to me as I first thought it would be. I’ve tried to give you some details on how others do it in case you are interested it giving it a try. I’d love to hear of your results!

Another consideration is that putting a pig in paper bags and/or wrapping it in burlap, then sealing it in foil to keep the dirt out, seems like that would keep most of the smoke flavor out as well. I like the idea of slowly smoking the pig over embers of oak or hickory. I can’t say I’ve been able to compare them but it seems like sealing the pig and burying it would just steam the pig. Very tasty I’m sure. But not the same as smoked pork.

So I’ll be back to smoking my pig on a grill for now. Let me know if you get an opportunity to try burying a pig in the ground to cook it.

“A pig roast is a pig roast whether rain or shine”

Each time we have a pig roast, I put a statement in the invitation that it will be held “rain or shine”. For this summer’s pig roast (2012), it was put to the test. It was raining the night before while we were starting the cooking process. And it poured just as we finished serving when everyone was sitting down to eat. I’ll share some tips we’ve learned over time on how to prepare for that “just in case” chance of rain.

First, why not have a rain date? A large pig can take 20-24 hours to cook. By time the rain is certain, the pig is already cooking. Too late to postpone it then! Plus you will drive yourself crazy trying to decide whether it should be a go or no-go. Nothing worse than putting plans on hold only to discover the weather forecast was wrong (and around here, they are wrong a lot!). So just prepare for that possibility of rain and hope for sunshine!

Pig Roast tents

Tents for a Pig Roast

We have accumulated 10×10 foot and 12×12 foot tents from our local discount store over the years for less than $100 each. We put them up each year for the pig roast whether rain is forecast or not. They are good shady places on hot sunny days and work well for a passing shower. And as we found out this year, they work well for downpours as well. This year we saw some cheap tents at the local pharmacy store for $40 each. We got 3 of them. Two of those were the only casualty of the downpour. The water gathered on the top which made them sag. Guests kept punching the tents to dump the water out of them but after a while two of them collapsed from the weight of the water. Other tents were fine.

Our neighbor had a party the same day as ours. In comparing notes later, I found out that they empty their two car garage out before their parties just in case they need to head for shelter. I hadn’t thought of that but perhaps next year I’ll add that to my plans.

We had people inside, under all the tents, and under a tarp over our deck. In spite of the pouring rain for two hours, everyone made the best of it and many commented on how much fun they had even with the rain. Just try to make the best of it and others will do the same.

For our pig roast, we have a fire pit in which we burn wood and then when they are burned down to hot coals, we shovel them into the pig pit. The pig pit is covered with a wire mesh framework covered with aluminum foil. So the pig pit is protected from the rain but the fire pit is not. A couple of years ago, during an evening rain, my wife suggested we haul out some old scaffolding we had in the basement and set that up around the fire pit and cover it. I did so and covered it with an old sheet of plywood I had. The rain was enough to keep the plywood from catching on fire (we pulled it off when the rain stopped). And the scaffolding was all metal so we didn’t need to worry about it melting or catching on fire. It worked well so we automatically implemented it again this year. You probably don’t have scaffolding laying around your basement but I mentioned it to give you ideas of the kind of things that you might be able to scrounge.

One other thing is to prepare for the worst case scenario. If the rain is accompanied by close thunder and lightning, it is time to get everyone inside… no one should be under a tent if lightning is in the area! And no one should be standing under a tree. Lightning is too serious to ignore.

And finally, my wife once asked me if any weather problem would cause me to consider cancelling. Yes, if I saw a hurricane coming close, I would have enough time to put a last minute halt to the activities and try to contact the guests as to the cancellation or postponement. I lived in Florida where there was plenty of hurricane activity and even now that I’m living in Connecticut we get an occasional one. If it looks inevitable that it is likely coming, be responsible enough to make a change in plans. But never, ever let a little rain shower or storm dampen your spirits for a fine pig roast! Prepare in advance and set the mood for an adventure!

Another Successful Pig Roast – July 2012

July 28, 2012 — Another annual pig roast has come and gone. It was a wonderful success even though we got a major rain storm as guests sat down to eat. To the right is a very brief video someone (thanks Mike!) took of the processional march from the pig cooker to the carving table.

We started the pit fire around 4pm, the day before the event. The skies opened up and it was pouring rain which made it a challenge to get the fire going. I used an old metal scaffolding with a sheet of plywood across the top of it to keep most of the rain off. With enough newspaper, the kindling dried out and the file slowly came to life.

I usually try to get the pig on by 5pm but due to the rain, it was around 8pm when we finally got the pig on. It was a 160 lb pig (live weight) and enough to feed the 75-100 anticipated guests. As soon as the wood in the fire pit burned to coals, we took shovel’s filled with hot coals and put it in the pig pit. The key to cooking the pig evenly is to put the heat in all four corners of the pit to cook the hams. Enough heat will radiate to the other sections that cook much faster.

As the evening progressed, the rain stopped and the pig was on its way to being the center of attention the following afternoon. With 3 helpers tending the pig overnight by the next day, there was a wonderful aroma of smoked pork blanketing the neighborhood (yes, we try to invite any of our neighbors we see!).

By 3pm, the pig was done and guests were happily hors d’oeuvre-ing. But the rain forecast was for a major storm moving in. No scattered showers — a big bad downpour was coming. Normally I cook a pile of chicken breasts that I’ve marinated and I grill some burgers and hotdogs for those not partaking in pig. Because of the impending storm, I quickly cooked half of the chicken, half of the burgers, and a few hotdogs.

We started quickly putting food out on the tables we had set up. No fancy garnish, no pretty arrangements this time. Just a frenzy of putting food out to try to beat the storm. For the most part, the guest didn’t know that we were taking so many short cuts. They were hungry and happy to see the food being set out.

We marched the pig across the lawn (see the video above), and put it on the serving table without the bed of kale that we usually use. My wife and others started ushering folks through the line and I carved the pig and we served the crowds of people while watching the sky.

Just as the last guest got served, the rain began. Not a trickle at first but right from the beginning it was a downpour! Everyone hunkered under tents, inside the house, under the deck, and anywhere they could find to stay out of the rain. And it did rain!

Because we had tents over the food, guests would dash back over to help themselves to more. Brave souls would run from one sheltered area to another to visit with one another. For hours, we got pounded with the hardest rain I’ve seen there. And for hours, people ate, chatted, laughed, and had a wonderful afternoon. And now I know what they mean when it is said that “A pig roast is a pig roast whether rain or shine!” We had a wonderful afternoon in spite of the rain. Of course next year I will much prefer a nice sunny day!

 

Pig Marinade — A Mop Recipe

A roast pig can be enhanced by wiping a concoction of goodies over it every hour or two. You will need a lot of it and the nastier it looks, the better it will likely taste. It is called a “mop” because that is literally what you do — you mop it on the pig. I use a small cotton mop and make the mop mix in a large pot from the kitchen. I chop the handle down but you may want to use it with the long handle to reach over the coals with it.

Whole Pig Roast Mop

Mop The Pig Hourly

Ingredients vary depending on what I have at hand and what can be found in the store. I usually use around a gallon of white wine or white wine vinegar, 3-4 lemons cut in half and squeezed in and then the rinds thrown in the mop mix as well (take those pesky stickers off the lemon rind and wash the rinds before using them). I add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, some fresh thyme, and lots of pepper. Toss in a cup of oil to keep it all loose. I break apart 6-12 heads of garlic and smash the cloves and toss those in as well. No need to get all the skin off the garlic — throw some of that in the pot too!

I don’t use any sugar or molasses in it because that tends to burn on the pig but if you have a sweet tooth, toss it in there too!

Sometimes I add some chicken stock to the mix but if you do that, you need to keep the mop mixture chilled so the stock doesn’t spoil. With all the vinegar, I’m not sure it would anyway but when I have 100 people coming, I don’t take any chances!

Stir it all together and throw in a few of your own “secret ingredients” as well. Our pig roasts are lake-side so when guests ask me what is in the mop mix, I just tell them it is just dirty polluted lake water with stuff floating in it. They tend to stop asking after that! Have fun with the pig mop. Make the mop mixture your own and create some tall tales about it to make the event even more of a blast for everyone!

Slowww Roasted Whole Pig — Yum!

If you have the patience, a pig that has been slowly roasted over a low bed of smokey coals is the best way to create an unforgettable event! It requires a rotation of “pig sitters” because this pig will be slowly cooked for about 24 hours. Here’s how we did our slow-roasted pigs.

Whole Roast Pig Ready

Whole Roasted Pig Ready To Serve!

We dug a pig pit in the back yard that was not much bigger in width and 3 foot bigger in length of a good-sized pig (between 150-200 lbs or more live weight will feed lots of folks). Our pig pit was around a foot deep.We lined it with big stones but a row of concrete blocks, while not as natural looking, works just fine (see photo). A grating was needed the size of the pig with a couple of angle iron posts under the grating width-wise and long enough to be able to rest it on the stones and, when done, to pick the pig up and carry it to its carving table.

I used to do the pig roasts in Florida and had unlimited palm fronds that we would use to cover the pig and keep the smoke in. Now I don’t have those so I cover it with aluminum foil over a wire mesh frame. That isn’t as natural and rustic looking as palm fronds but tastes just as wonderful. Fresh Maple leaves work well if you have an abundance of them but, like with palm fronds, get them fresh and keep hosing them down periodically to keep them from drying out and igniting. You may need to rotate in fresh ones from time to time if the ones you use are too dry.

We butterflied the pig which means cleaning it and breaking the backbones so it will lie flat. The pig is splayed out with the skin down toward the fire on the grating. I get a spool of stainless steel wire to tie the pigs hoofs to the grating otherwise it has a tendency to curl up a bit. I always mop some marinade on the roasting pig every hour or two to give it more flavor and keep it moist.

The reason the pig pit is 3 ft longer than the pig is because that is where the fire is. You will toss logs (my favorites are hickory or green oak) into this open area and when they are burned down to hot coals, take a shovel and toss them under the pig’s for hams (legs). No need to put coal in the middle since that will stay hot anyway and will burn easily. Just keep a hose handy in case the pig fat flares up under the pig. Douse that flame quickly or your pig will be dry and burned rather than juicy.

After slowly roasting the whole pig over low coals for 24 hours, double-check it with a meat thermometer to make sure no parts are below 150 degrees. And then get ready to dazzle your guests. A pig that has been slowly roasted over oak or hickory logs may come out looking very blackened and what I like to call “nasty looking”. But wait until the first person gets to taste that flavorful juicy smoked pork. Word will go through the line of hungry guests that it is a heavenly treat they will never forget!