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23 April 2016

How to Roast a Whole Pig

You hear about snout-to-tail on menus around Manhattan, but exactly how do you roast a whole pig yourself? When I go to the farm, I like to live off the land: planting vegetables, canning, jamming, and, in the spring, roasting a pig. As a New Yorker who once ordered everything I needed in a restaurant, learning how to roast a whole pig has been my rite to passage.

I’ve made a few mistakes, and I want to tell you all about them. But before getting to my royal screw ups, let’s get the basics out of the way.

The 5 Ws: How to roast a whole pig

WHO are you going to buy the pig from?
Answer: Your favorite trusted butcher. It will take about a week.

WHAT exactly do you ask him or her for?
Answer: You want two pounds per guest (2 pounds of pig is the equivalent of a half-pound cooked). You want it killed within days of delivery to the butcher, and you want it dressed. Have the butcher cut through the back and breast bone, and crack the hip joints so it will lay flat. If you live in Manhattan, like I do, the fun is about to begin. You’ve bagged it. Now, you’ve got to get it home. Whole-hog carrying is a two-person job and usually involves walking down the city streets until you find a taxi.

WHERE exactly are you going to store it until the roast?
Answer: Now that you’ve signed and paid for the whole beast, you need a place to keep it. Which brings me to the accessories that a pig-roasting woman will need to store, season, and cook a pig.
* Yeti Cooler (unless you have a second refrigerator).
* The La Caja China roast box cooks your pig in half the time, because it gets so hot. It’s also known as a Cajun microwave.
* The 6-inch Fat Boy injector holds two ounces of marinade for marinating the pig.
* The right herbs for a marinade. I mix herbs with rice wine vinegar. Herbs I like are Spanish paprika, Herbes de Provence, Bouquet Garni, and spices from La Boîte à Epice, like Ayala, Mishmish, or Ararat. La Caja China website has other suggestions.
Kingsford original charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid. A lot.

WHEN should you start cooking the pig?
You’ll need to start the marinade a day before you inject it into the pig (it’s better if it sits overnight). As for timing the cooking: A 40-pound pig takes approximately 4 hours in La Caja China. Add an hour for the meat to rest. If you want to serve the roast at 4 p.m., start cooking at 11 a.m.

WHY are you doing this?
To feel like a hunter gatherer. Like a she-woman. Like I’m winning a WOman vs. beast conceit. The truth may be simpler. I can’t exactly roast a whole cow now, can I? A chicken is too wimpy. A fish? Hahahaha. It comes down to a lamb or a pig. A good lamb is hard to find. Then, there’s the pleasure of well roasted pig skin, unsurpassed and achievable only when I cook the pig myself.

Now for the pesky H question (HOW) … While I could certainly write about the details, it’s much more helpful to watch them.

Martha Stewart also has a video with La Caja China embedded on her site with a recipe.

How to roast a whole pig wrong, aka “oh, the mistakes I’ve made!”

None of the videos tell you how to totally screw it up. That’s what I’m here for! I’ve definitely made mistakes. And sometimes it’s helpful to know what not to do before you do it right.

My biggest mistakes when roasting a whole pig:

Using real charcoal. Don’t do that. Never ever use anything but Kingsford original charcoal briquettes. When I used the real deal, I burned the box, the pig, and almost the house down. The fire gets too hot.

Adding too much sugar to the marinade. It burns the skin. And crispy skin is the only reason you may be roasting your own pig. You just don’t get skin like this unless you do it yourself.

Penny-pinching on the injector. Do not count the dollars on this one. Go for the Rolls, or the Tesla. The Fat Boy is your big righteous man. I am not someone who uses the word ‘righteous’ but when it comes to Fat Boy, I’m a changed woman. No better word than that being a righteous injector.

Filtering the marinade sloppily. The injection phase goes downhill fast if there are herbs and chunks still in the marinade. They clog Fat Boy. The bad news is that you are the plumber now. And it’s gonna suck and slow stuff down. Be a good filterer.

Not securing the pig to the La Caja China box securely. Here’s what happens next, the pig falls to the ground and the dogs start licking it. The 20-second rule does not apply here (the one that says if food is on the ground less than 20 seconds, it is still okay to eat; once dogs lick your food, the ship has sailed).

Peeking at the pig aka admiring your work. No. Do not lift the top off of La Caja China, you cheater. Have you heard of a porcine-steam facial? You will, if you open the lid. You will also ruin the cooking process. Just leave the gift wrapped till Christmas morning.

Forgetting to score the skin. The skin is, as I’ve noted at least four times previously, practically the only reason you’re doing this. After turning the pig, score the beast with salt. It will be oh-so-crispy. SKIN TIP: Let the skin really crisp up by letting it roast for a half hour longer than you think it should.

Serving the pig with potato salad. No, no, no. Oh, people! Unless you’re Cajun, all caloric attention should be focused on the pig, IMHO. A vinegar-based coleslaw is my standby. But for those who like foie gras on their pork belly, go right ahead.

Not using invites with an RSVP for the pig roast. Once your guests RSVP, they are not allowed to cancel, only by an act of god. And even then, they must come pick up their portion of pork. Okay, one person can cancel but 3 to 4 people canceling? It’s pigageddon. You end up eating pig like a porker. By day 3, what you once thought pleasurable becomes punitive. No.more.pig. This is much worse than leftover turkey, a lean bird of white meat, with hardly a fat cell on its bones. It’s unforgivable.

Let me know if you decide to roast a pig. I’d love to hear about your mistakes.