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!