Pig Roast Spectacular: Help me roast a pig in spectacular fashion.
May 6, 2011 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Help me roast a pig spectacularly.

I've never attempted to roast a pig before, and my understanding is it's a large and complicated undertaking.

I've read The Definitive Spitroast Whole Pig AskMe and it had some good info, such as the fact that I'd be a fool to try to roast a 120-150lb hog, but it sounds like ninazer0 (the OP) is considerably further ahead than me. Not only that, my goals are more "I'd like a spectacle of a pig roast" rather than "I'd like a well-prepared meal" though naturally, both is better than one or the other.

Some of my questions are:

1) I've established that 100lbs is too much. How much should I get? I'm thinking 60lbs is sufficiently impressive and I can probably find 60lbs worth of hungry people. Am I right? How many people is 60lbs worth of hungry?

2) Presumably I need to rent some equipment. Are all pig roasters the same? Do I need to be asking questions at the rental company about the size of pig we can roast in their equipment?*

3) Where can I find a 60lb (or whatever size you say) pig? Can a good butcher* just order this for me? Should I order deboned? It is entirely likely I only perform this roast once in my life, so if deboned is the sissy way out, I'll take the spectacular route.

4) Transportation. I'll need to drive this uncooked carcass about 50 miles. I wouldn't expect the temperature to be a problem, but can I just toss him in the back of a pickup? Will he be wrapped in paper?

5) What sort of time investment am I talking about? I've heard estimates that I'll be starting to roast the pig as early as Thursday night for a Sunday party. Is this right? (I understand BBQ, "low-and-slow" is better. Just trying to get a feel for timing.)

* I'm in the Madison, WI area, so any local recommendations or advice would be incredible.
posted by pmed to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
How many people is 60lbs worth of hungry?

This place suggests 1lb of pig per guest (pre-cooked weight, mind). This may seem like a lot, but remember that a whole pig has a significant amount of its weight tied up in bones and connective tissue. You could go a little easier on the weight if you added more side dishes. So can you scrounge up 60 people?

Where can I find a 60lb (or whatever size you say) pig?

Judging by places that sell them online, 60lbs is not a problem, though it's smaller than the usual size they're slaughtered at. A good butcher should be able to order it. Alternatively you could call around to local hog farms and see what they have available. You could even go in person and pick out the pig. Depending on the kind of spectacle you're going for you could get a nice picture of the pig printed up and give it a thankful toast before the meal. Really I would recommend going to a farm so you can make sure the pig lived a happy, healthy life in humane conditions.

Deboned seems like a bad idea. The pig will lose its structure, decreasing the spectacle. From a practical point of view, bones make nice handles for eating. From a culinary point of view, the bones (technically the marrow and connective tissue) add significant flavor and texture as the pig is roasted. Plus if there are going to be dogs present it'll give them something to gnaw on.
posted by jedicus at 10:20 AM on May 6, 2011

I don't have any actual advice, but I will say I don't think this is as hard as you are thinking it is. We roasted one every year in college. If a bunch of drunk frat boys could do it every year at homecoming, how hard could it be? Nobody got sick, nobody died, and I don't remember us having leftovers, so I'm thinking we did ok!
posted by COD at 10:22 AM on May 6, 2011

2) Depends what you want to do with it. I've roasted a whole pig, butterflied using charcoal, cinderblocks, wire, and surplus shelving from a home depot
3)Butcher should be able to order it
4)Car will be fine, 50 miles not so far you need to keep it iced. Just cover it well and its got enough mass to it to stay cool
5) All day for a 60 lber. Start it up nice an early in the AM.
posted by JPD at 10:26 AM on May 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our old farmer (from our CSA) did pig roasts a few times. He rigged a half of a 55 gallon drum as a charcoal firepit and used a cementer mixer motor (with drum lids as gears, actually) to rotate the spit. Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to make something like that work.

All of the advice above is good based on my experience. I only want to disagree with one point:

From what I've been told by multiple vets- do NOT give pig bones to dogs. Apparently, something about pig bones is not very healthy for dogs, and fire roasted bones are prone to splintering, meaning you risk serious injury or death to the dogs. Perhaps a MeFi vet will tell me I've been misled, but I wanted to make that point. Otherwise, enjoy, and remember that low and slow cooking really works nicely.
posted by JMOZ at 10:37 AM on May 6, 2011

From what I've been told by multiple vets- do NOT give pig bones to dogs

Ah, I'm not really a dog person, and indeed giving dogs actual bones is a bad idea. My apologies for the error.
posted by jedicus at 10:43 AM on May 6, 2011

I am pondering a similar endeavor for my 40th birthday bash and have narrowed down my approach to the 3 Guys From Miami instructions, as I like the idea of the marinade and crispy skin over a buried/steamed approach. There are lots of detailed instructions there I plan on following and 'testimonials' from folks that have successfully followed their instructions. Good luck!
posted by Zimmy at 10:59 AM on May 6, 2011

If you want to partially wimp out, I've oven-roasted a suckling pig to indoor-spectacular results. Lots of advice on the web about this. It's great because you can brine in a cooler or something, and you can be inside making sides while doing the roasting.
posted by Mngo at 11:01 AM on May 6, 2011

I'm pretty sure in college we had a 25lb suckling pig for about 25 people, and it was about right. We also used found construction equipment on which to place a purchased long ass metal rod about 3/4" diameter, and some creative wiring to keep it from spinning on the rod, and just a pile of charcoal underneath it. Took a long time to cook, but totally worth it, and totally not a big deal, except in awesomeness.
posted by Grither at 11:04 AM on May 6, 2011

I have no roasting tips to share, but having just had way too much cochon de lait in New Orleans, I recommend you try and make something like that. I think the marinade is key, especially the part about inserting cloves of garlic. Other than the marinade, it seems like you roast it slowly as per any pig recipe.
posted by cabingirl at 11:53 AM on May 6, 2011

30 years ago, a friend of mine would have a big party once every summer where he'd roast two pigs. (It was a big party.)

They'd wrap the pigs with chickenwire, to make sure they didn't fall off the spit. And they roasted it the entire night before the party, probably 18 hours or more, just to make sure the meat was done. They were roasted on spits over big piles of burning charcoal on the ground. There was a motor to do the turning. And that was pretty much all. The main job of the people who volunteered for pig babysitting was to pour more charcoal on every hour or so.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:18 PM on May 6, 2011

I come from the North Carolina pig picking school of thought. We roast a whole hog in a cooker over charcoal or hickory. Baste the meat with a vinegar based sauce, and I love eating the meat right off the grill. I pull as much meat off the bone and then serve. I much prefer the Piedmont style sauce for basting. It is an acquired taste, so have some regular sweet stuff on hand.

This shows how we do it.

1. Figure on a pound of whole hog per person.

2. I used a grill that was a 250 gallon oil tank cut in half. I would tell them what you are planning and ask them if the surface will be big enough.

3. A butcher or a grocery store should be able to order it for you. Call around some shops in your area and ask. I doubt you would be able to find it deboned, and it wouldn't look as good. You want a whole hog. It will look awesome.

4. Mine came wrapped in a plastic sheet. We put bags of ice on and in it, and transfered it to the bathtub. Keep it on ice until you are ready to cook. Don't make 60+ people sick.

5. No way, figure on 6-7 hours for a 60-75lb pig. I started mine at about 10am and it was ready around 4p.

-I would recommend inviting some friends over to help you watch the pig and drink beer all day. You will need a friend to help you turn it.
-I used charcoal with hickory or mesquite chips already in it for more flavor. You can get the wood chip separately and soak them to give a pleasant smoke.
-Encourage people to pick the meat right off the pig when it is ready. The tenderloin is the best. It never gets to the table because I eat it.
posted by wrnealis at 12:23 PM on May 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Most of the spit-roasting I've done was lamb rather than pork, but here's some advice:

Should I order deboned?

Definitely not - you won't be able to stabilize it on the spit without the bones. Make sure it is firmly tied to the spit, because it's going to shrink and become greasy as it cooks - if it slips, it won't turn evenly and will not cook properly. A good spit comes with spikes and things to help stabilize the animal, but tying it with wire along its length can be enough: tie off the hind legs, two or three places along the spine piercing through the flesh, and then tie the forelegs in front off the head. Have two people hold the beast stretched along the spit as you are doing this: sagging can be bad, it may tear the pig apart as it cooks and the meat becomes tender.

Presumably I need to rent some equipment.

Not necessarily. The only thing you really need to buy (or make yourself, if you have any metalworking skills and access to equipment) is the spit: Half of a big drum (or a pit in the ground) will do for the fire, and you can improvise on the supports for the spit.

used a cementer mixer motor (with drum lids as gears, actually) to rotate the spit

Roast lamb on a spit is somewhat of a national sport around here, so you can get these dedicated spit-turning motors for something like 30-40 euros. Definitely worth the investment if you can get one, as it will minimize the time you have to stand next to the fire and free up the time for important beer-drinking activities - this is the closest thing google turns up on an english-language page.

I wouldn't expect the temperature to be a problem, but can I just toss him in the back of a pickup?

IANA food safety expert, but if it was I would probably be dead by now - just keep it covered, don't leave it in the sun and make sure you cook it thoroughly.

What sort of time investment am I talking about?

Spit-roast timing is a notoriously difficult subject, but something on the order of half a day should be enough for most cases. Start the fire early in the morning, put the pig on about an hour later, then spend the rest of the day with your buddies sitting around the fire drinking beer and looking at the beast rotate.

You also need to get some sausages, pork chops and other assorted stuff to throw on the fire while the pig is roasting - sitting around drinking beer can be hard work.

Man this thread is making me hungry.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:56 PM on May 6, 2011

La Caja China is a pit BBQ cooker which puts meat inside a box with charcoal on top.
posted by conrad53 at 7:13 AM on May 7, 2011

I used to do this a couple of times a year; everybody does it a little differently so there is no "right " way; the main thing is to take your time. You want to carefully control the fire so you don't burn the outside and you end up with a good smoky flavor.

First, equipment. I didn't want to spend a lot of money buying or renting a cooker, so I was able to improvise. A friend in construction let me get a bunch of leftover cinderblocks from a grocery store he was building and another friend gave me a piece of expanded metal about 4x5 feet. I laid out the cinderblocks in a rectangle slightly larger than the grate, used rebar across the top to lay the grate on, put another layer of cinderblocks on and used tin roofing material to top it all off; I have seen others use a big piece of cardboard (which gives you an idea of how little heat you want. Since the most expensive items were donated I ended up investing about $20 in the whole setup. I also got two long steel rods (about 6-8 feet if I recall correctly) and cut one end off of each to make a sharp point.

I then went to a butcher and ordered a hog. Most butchers can do this but some seem to specialize in it; the place I went to sends out over a hundred whole hogs on big holiday weekends and was usually 20 cents a pound cheaper than another place; that doesn't sound like much but on a hundred pound pig it adds up to $20. As for the size, you will get a lot of meat; a 60 lb. pig will easily feed 50-100 people or more depending on their appetites and how many sides you have. Be sure you have zip-lock bags for leftovers; fortunately barbecue freezes well. When I cook a pig I am not interested particularly in presentation so I have them cut the head and feet off which makes it easier to fit them on the grill. They are also butterflied to lay flat on the grill. I generally pick them up the night before. If it is less than 40 degrees out I leave them wrapped in plastic bags in the bed of my pickup, otherwise I put them in a kiddie pool with a bunch of ice to keep them cool until time to cook or start cooking them as soon as I get home and cook slowly all night which allows them to be ready for lunch the next day.

I also get about one pound of charcoal for each pound of pig. That might end up being too much but it is best not to run out in the middle. Grills other than my improvised setup tend to be more efficient, so if you rent or borrow something, the person you get it from can give you advice on how much charcoal and other things.

I usually start out with 20 lb.s of charcoal and like many use a separate fire pit and shovel the grills under the pig. You want as little actual smoke as possible because the smoke you see will turn the meat black and bitter. I will throw in a bit of hardwood if I have any around; I have had two hickory trees fall in my yard over the years which was really nice while the wood lasted. While the fire is starting I prepare the pig. I take the two sharpened steel rods I mentioned earlier and hammer them through the length of the body parallel to the spine and through the center of the hams and shoulders; this gives two handles on each end so two people (with gloves on) can easily flip the pig. I also mix up about a gallon of basting sauce consisting of vinegar, salt (sometimes seasoning salt), black pepper and sometimes a few other spices. Vinegar, salt, and pepper are the main things though; this is one of those things where everybody has their own secret recipe, so feel free to vary it a little.

Once the fire is ready I take a shovelful of coals and set them under each corner of the pig (I have the grill arranged in such a way I can remove a couple of cinderblocks to get to the fire). You want to do this because the hams and shoulders are much thicker and will need extra heat to cook completely. I sprinkle a generous portion of the vinegar sauce on the meat and flip the pig so the skin side is up. People will debate which way is better to start and it probably doesn't make a difference, but I once set a 120 lb. pig on fire by having the skin side down and too hot a fire so do it skin up to start. Obviously this is moot if you have a rotating spit setup. The rest of it is all patience and tending the fire carefully. Some people keep the fire so low it takes 24 hours to cook, others do it in 4-6 hours. Some flip the hog every 15 minutes, others only once or twice. I typically flip it every 2-3 hours (basting each time) and allow 10-12 hours of cooking time. It is done when the meat is tender enough that the pig starts to fall off the rods I use to flip it.

Ideally the meat is tender enough that it can be pulled apart with bare hands or forks; around here most people chop it, though. One time someone loaned me a buffalo chopper which made short work of things but it usually involves the biggest cutting boards and knives you have or can borrow and lots of people with strong arms; chopping that much meat is the most physically demanding part. Ideally there is no need for a sauce but most people expect one. I make my own tomato based sauce while the pig is cooking, but this is an area where flamewars get started; some people have their favorite bottled sauces and vinegar and mustard based sauces all have their fans, so I will just leave that to your personal taste.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts based on experience. Good luck to you; there is a lot of information on the internet and good advice in this thread so you should be able to pull it off. One last suggestion is that you might want to practice on a boston butt or pork shoulder to get a feel for how to season the meat and tend the fire.
posted by TedW at 8:03 AM on May 10, 2011

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