Is It Ready Yet? Roasting a Whole Pig

A whole roast pig takes time

A whole roast pig takes time

If you have never roasted a whole pig before, be aware that it is not a quick process. In fact, if your butcher or neighbor gives you an estimate on the time to roast your pig, be prepared for it to take longer than that. Especially if you have a back yard filled with excited guests waiting to taste it. But one thing you should never do is to rush the pig just to placate your ever-rowdier crowds. Plan ahead with some snacks — break out more pretzels and chips. Assure the masses that it will be well worth the wait.

When I was first learning how to roast a whole pig, the guests would be hungry and someone suggested that some parts of the pig were already done. Why not start carving those first. I relinquished and the ensuing half-butchered pig made the grand finish rather anti-climatic. Now I keep the hoards at bay and use that time to socialize, eat chips and snacks, and theatrically build excitement for the grand moment when the meat thermometer declares the pig is at the perfect temperature!

No one can tell you exactly how long it will take your pig to be done. There are estimates that can help but plan on what happens when it is ready a few hours earlier or a few hours later than you think it will be. A rule of thumb is that a 100 lb (that’s live weight) pig on a spit may take 8-10 hours while the same size over slow coals can take over twice as long. A pig roasted in the ground, Hawaiian or Kalua style, can take 12 hours if done right and if it is filled with fruits and vegetables it can take 16 hours or longer. 

Waiting For The Roasted Pig

The Crowd Waits For The Pig

I typically roast a pig as slowly as possible on a grill over a smokey bed of coals for maximum flavor, juiciness, and tenderness. I use at least 160 lb pig (live weight) and I start it around 5 pm the day before the pig roast. It will slowly cook all night long under the watchful eye of a couple of eager neighbor kids plied with chips and Skittles and sodas that their parents normally restrict. The next morning my wife & I stumble out of bed and relieve the kids (who dubbed themselves, “The Pig Sitters”) of their overnight duty and we take over for the whole day. By 2 or 3 pm guests start arriving and by 4 or 5 pm, the pig is ready to be served — 24 hours after starting it cooking it! The first year we did it this way, the pig wasn’t ready until after 6pm. I’ve gotten better at regulating the coals now to get very close to my target time of 4:30 or 5pm. It takes some experience to do that but I still plan on some flexibility in my schedule in case I don’t hit my target time.

The best investment I made was a good digital meat thermometer. I got a nice one with a wireless remote sensor. (I also kept my manual roasting thermometer handy after one year when the new batteries in my wireless one prematurely died.) With my wireless marvel, I can be on the other side of the yard when someone asks me how the pig is doing. I can take out my wireless thermometer and sagely let them look at the temperature of 120 degrees and tell them it will be ready at 160 degrees.

Depending on how the pig is being cooked and how big the pig is, will determine the time it takes to roast it. But if the meat thermometer shows the temperature is lower than 150 degrees any place on the pig, let the pig continue to cook. If most of the pig is over 160 but there is a place in the center of a ham that is just 150-155 and the guest vultures are circling, I start the serving process. The USDA is now stating that a roasted pig over 145 degrees is safe to serve with at least 3 minutes rest time after that. However, if you serve it at 145 degrees, there will be enough pink to make your guests uneasy. On the other hand, cooking it too much over 160 will start it drying out. Fortunately, a pig is large enough that some of it can be 150 (my favorite temperature) while most of it will be 160 degrees or over which is what most of your guests want to see.

And don’t forget to take into consideration that when you remove the pig from the spit or grill, it will continue to cook as you march it over to the serving table. So don’t rush the setup after removing the pig from the fire. A few extra minutes while putting an apple in the mouth or putting a few decorations around it will give it time for the juices to settle and the meat to become even more tender! And it won’t hurt to let the crowd’s excitement grow for a few more minutes.

Leave a comment ?

20 Comments.

  1. Hi, I am have.g my first pig roast for family in 4 weeks. We have a wood burning toaster we r using. I am serving 50 people, and ordered a 100 lb. Dressed pig. I am planning.g on eating at 2:00 p.m how long will I need to roast my pig, and when would you suggest I start the pig? Thank you, Maggie

    • Maggie, congratulations on the upcoming feast!

      It is difficult to tell for certain how long it will take depending on how hot the heat is, how much (if any) air currents, etc. If it were me, I’d plan on putting the pig on the heat around 6 a.m. and assume it will take around 6-8 hours to cook it. Be sure you have a meat thermometer to keep checking it.

      If it is getting close to done by 11am or noon, start radically backing off on the heat so it slowly finishes. As I also mentioned, make sure you have a secret plan to pull out some snacks (and maybe games for the kids) if you see that you are going to go over your 2pm mark. That way they will think it is all part of the planned activities while you increase the heat on the pig instead of the party!

      Have fun and stop by and let us know how it went.

  2. Elizabeth Potter

    Thanks for the info it was good and helpfull. Any lua awe dancers for my lua awe party :)

    • Elizabeth, glad you found the article helpful… but I’m not sharing any of my pig roast dancers :). Have fun!

  3. This will be my first pig roast. I am wondering how I should prepare the meat.
    Should I just salt the meat side of the pig and then cook it?
    Or, would it be good to inject some spices or butter, etc. under the skin to add flavor.

    thanks

    • Dan, I’ve never did any injections for our pigs. Generally I rub some salt & pepper in and out and then slowly cook it. I brush it with a marinade periodically as well to give the skin a dark amber color and to give it some more flavor. Either way should be fine though. Let me know how it works out!
      Jim

  4. What kind of marinade?

  5. We are doing our first pig roast this coming weekend for our Annual Memorial Day party. My husband believes that the pig is going to be skin-off and the pig will be in halves. This is approximately a 200 lb pig and I want to make sure we cook him thoroughly. I was thinking originally that it would take about 12-14 hours to cook the big guy but now I’m wondering because he said its going to be skin-off. Any suggestions/thoughts/concerns/ideas?

    • Angel, that sounds like a fun weekend! I’m not sure about cooking the pig with the skin off… to me, the cracklin’ is a tasty part of the pig :) — and the pig skin helps keep it moist. I’ll be interested in hearing how it worked out.

      Your 200 lb pig may take a bit more than 12-14 hours depending on how hot the fire is and how you are cooking the critter. When I cooked a pig on a spit, I was amazed at how much faster it was than when I slow-smoke it. But however you are cooking it, start out with a good fire and an eagle eye to make sure you don’t have any flare-ups. As the day moves along, keep an eye on the thermometer. If the temp is climbing quickly, back off on the fire. Once the pig gets near 150-160 degrees you should be getting close to serving time. Check the temp in several places — find thick meaty spots without touching a bone with the probe. It’s an adventure to have a massive pig done at just the right time that the crowds are getting rowdy for their pork fix! Have a wonderful time!
      - Jim

      • Thanks so much Jim! We are really looking forward to making this a part of our annual party. I’m hoping the butcher will leave the skin on but we won’t know until we pick him up Friday. I think we’re planning on slow-smoking him so that helps me quite a bit knowing that the process will be longer than spit-roasting. I’d love to send you a pic of our guy when he’s finished, is that possible???

        • I’m sure you will have a ball Angel! I’d love a picture or two of the pig and a report on how it worked out and any suggestions you’d like me to pass along to others. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!
          - Jim

  6. Richard McKibbin

    Jim, Cooking a 200 pound dressed Pig yummy! This will be 3rd pig I have been around my whole life I am 36 years old. This pig Is for my wedding on June 29 2013 , I have been told that in a spit it should take about 12 hours i know from the past to start a little early but my BIG Thought is that if this PIG gets done early will it dry out if pig has to sit for around a hour or hour and a half? trying to time a pig just right is hard even if your just cooking it for friends but a wedding ooo wow! I will take pics and share them on here so all can see I also am going to burn and clean every inch of the pig ill have all pictures to show every step. Any thought on the time of a spit and if it would dry out if it has to sit for about a hour or so?

    • First, congrats on your upcoming wedding! And WOW… you are having a pig roast too? How cool is that!! Your 200 pounder should not dry out in an hour or two of slow cooking. Just keep an eye on the temperature. If it is cooking too fast, keep backing the heat off so it coasts to a perfect finish. Same if it is cooking too slowly — crank the heat up a bit. As another buffer for a pig that is done before you are ready, you can pull the finished pig off the heat, loosely cover it with foil, and let it sit for another half-hour or so… much like you would with a nice roast to let it finish cooking while off the heat.

      And make sure you have some trusted buddies who can share in the pig-watching task so you can enjoy some fun time with your blushing bride and friends and family. After all, that’s what its all about, right?

      I’m looking forward to a full report and any tips to share with others!

      Jim

  7. Richard McKibbin

    thank you and I will share. And I have a few trusted to watch the pig it just has me a little scared the pig will be done way to soon or not soon enough.

  8. We are roasting a 240 pound skin on hog Saturday and was just wondering approximately how many hours it would take to roast it.

    • Carla,
      Sounds like you are going to have a fun weekend!! Wow, 240 pounder is a whole hog fer sure! As you can tell from the above article, there are a lot of variables in that question. So, I’m sorry I won’t give you an easy cut & dry answer but we can start with a estimate of 24 hours. So to clarify, if you slow cook the hog at a steady 225 degrees (F.), you can plan on 24 to 30 hours cooking time. If you let the fire get hotter from time to time, it will take a shorter time. But try not to let the fire get too high nor below 200 degrees. If you put the hog on a spit (for a 240 pounder that’s a challenge but not impossible), the cooking time will be a little bit shorter than if you cook it on a grill. But either way, use the rule of thumb, 10 pound = 1 hour (240 lbs = 24 hours) and just watch your meat thermometer carefully. And have a fun weekend!
      - Jim

  9. Hello,

    I am cooking a pig thi weekend on a pit. It will be 70-100 lbs. I will be told this afternoon. I am using the method I was taught years ago with placing four small piles of coals in the corners. My question is in the past with a pig over 150 if I remember correctly we cooked it for almost 20 hours at about 200-225 degrees. Do you have any idea about the time change for a smaller hog. I know you can cook one faster, but I prefer the long and slow method. However I seem to be getting CRS disease as I get older and am having issues with remembering the times.

    Thank you ,

    Ben Davis

    • Ben,
      Sorry I didn’t see your question earlier. My reply is probably too late for your feast but I’ll respond in case others wonder as well. Using the 10lb = 1 hour rule of thumb, plan on it taking around 7-10 hours. I would tend to push it to the 10 hour time since you like your pig the same way I do, very low heat and longer cooking time. I hope your event went well. Let me know if you have any other questions or want to share any lessons learned from your pig roast.

      Regards,

      Jim

  10. Steele Ballew

    Jim,

    We’re roasting a pig for the first time for approx. 70 people. At least 10 of them will be children. Considering we won’t eat the head or feet, how big of a dressed pig should I get and how long should it cook (whole and covered in a pit)?
    Shouldn’t it be in a pan, wrapped and wired, so the juices don’t catch or put out the fire? Should I have a grate over the coals?
    I have a lot of pine wood. Will that suffice for coals? Approx. how many hours will it take to burn how much wood?
    When people say to burn down the wood to coals, does that mean down to just red burning embers and no structure resembling the wood?
    I live in SoCal. What can I use instead of banana leaves?
    Where should I insert the thermometer and do I leave it visible or just remember where it is under the dirt and leaves?
    How do I “crank up” the heat if dirt covers the entire pit, which it should, right?
    Thanks for your cool website and taking the time to address my questions.

    Best regards,

    Steele

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