Several weeks ago Obed asked me what I wanted for my birthday. And, I gave the typical answer that any girl would give, “I want to roast a whole pig!”
When I was about ten my family, and I went to Florida for Christmas. We spent many Christmases in Florida with extended family. But, this Christmas, in particular, stands out because it was my first experience up close and personal with a whole roasted pig. I remember my father and uncles preparing the pig, putting it on a pole to roast over coals. My sister, cousin and I would poke at it and play with it’s floppy ears, giggling and squirming every time we touched the pig. I had seen many pigs on a spit before and since then, but it was always from a distance at the lechoneras in Puerto Rico. Finally, at the ripe age of thirty-something I thought it was time for me to roast my own pig.
Whole roasted pig or lechón is an icon of Puerto Rican cuisine. If I were to rank the popularity of proteins in Puerto Rico pig is most definitely king, followed by chicken, seafood and beef. If you ever visit Puerto Rico and want to have the whole roasted pig experience visit Guavate on Rt. 187. The road is lined with roadside restaurants all dedicated to roasting whole pigs. It’s hog heaven…literally and figuratively.
I’m going to share my pig roasting experience, where I found my pig, how I prepared it and how we cooked it. However, if you are squeamish when it comes to whole animal carcasses brace yourself because there will be pictures of whole butterflied pigs.
Where to find a whole pig in DFW
I called several places all over the DFW area to find a whole pig that we could roast. We wanted a pig between 50 and 70 pounds. This was more difficult than you would think because most places I called had pigs that started at 100 pounds. After a few calls and several internet searches I finally found a pig at Columbia Meat Packing in Dallas. However, be prepared their roasting pigs are frozen and the smaller the pig, the more it cost per pound. Our pig fell in the 50 – 60 pound range and is priced at $4.49 per pound. To order a pig call them ahead of time so they can pull a pig for you. When you arrive give them your name and they will load it for you. The pig is bagged and packed in a box. They only accept cash or check, no credit cards.
How to defrost a whole pig
A whole 52 pound pig does not exactly fit in a refrigerator. Especially not in the refrigerator of a tiny 150 square foot camper. So, how did I defrost our pig? Easy…a big stinking heavy duty cooler. My cooler is a large Igloo ice chest that can keep ice for up to seven days. We picked up the pig on Tuesday afternoon. I placed the pig frozen on its side in the cooler with no ice. On Wednesday evening, I flipped the pig on its other side, by Thursday afternoon it was thawing. I turned the pig on it’s back and placed two bags of ice in the cavity. By Friday evening, it had thawed enough to season. Although it was very cold to the touch, I check the internal temperature to make sure it was still safe. The thermometer read 35 degrees, so I knew we were good. You want to be sure that the temperature does not go above 40 degrees.
How to prepare a whole pig
Preparing a pig to roast is a two person job. Do not attempt to do it yourself. The pig is heavy, slippery and floppy. You will drop it if you attempt to prepare it on your own. Plan to prepare the pig at least one day before cooking.
What you will need:
- A clean non-porous work surface.
- A boning knife. This is essential to season the pig. A sharp boning knife is a MUST!
- A large chef knife.
- A disposable razor.
- A batch of my pork seasoning for 52 pounds of meat.
- Paper towels & kitchen towels.
- A small trash can or bowl.
- Rinse and keep the bag that came with the pig.
- Disinfectant spray or wipes.
Using a razor carefully remove any remaining hairs. Place the pig on it’s back, have a person stand on each side of the pig and pry it open. Press down on the ribs, until they open completely and break from the spine. If some of the ribs don’t break use a chef knife and carefully separate the ribs from the spine. Look along the edges of the rib cage, and you will see a thin membrane, carefully and slowly pull on the membrane to remove.
When preparing the pig for seasoning it’s important not to cut or puncture the skin. Maintaining the skin whole help keep the meat moist when cooking. Use a boning knife to carefully make holes in the flesh from the cavity. The holes will later be filled with seasoning. When cutting into the meat use your free hand to feel where the knife is going, being careful not to puncture the skin our yourself. Make sure you make holes in all parts of the pig. The most challenging part to season are the ribs and loin. When seasoning the rib cage carefully slide the knife under the rib cage along the length of the rib. The loin is located along the spine. The best way to access the loin is to slide the knife at a diagonal between the ribs and spine along each side of the spine. The knife should run along the length of the loin, not across the loin.
Fill each hole with approximately two teaspoons of seasoning and rub the exterior of the meat and under the skin of the shoulders and hams with the remaining seasoning.
Once your finished seasoning transfer the pig back into the bag. Place ice bags in the bottom of the cooler, then lay the pig on the ice and fill the cavity with ice bags. Let it marinate overnight.
Roasting the pig
We roasted our pig using “La Caja China“. If you love roast meats and are not familiar with La Caja China I encourage you to familiarize yourself with this extraordinary box. It’s a portable roasting oven. We bought ours a few years ago on craigslist. I have used it for small catering events, to roast Thanksgiving turkeys and now to roast a whole pig. The box we have is a the Model #1 which can cook up to 70 pounds of meat. It’s truly the coolest thing ever!
The pig lays flat pinned between two racks that are held together with “S” hooks. The box gives you an estimated cook time according to weight but, to be 100% sure that your pig is properly cooked it’s best to use a thermometer. We used a dual probe thermometer, placing a probe in each ham. Place the thermometer probes at an angle in the center of the ham. Make sure that the probe does not come out the other end otherwise the temperature will not read correctly.
Place the drip pan in the box followed by the pig. The pig starts skin side down.
Cover the box with ash pan and grate and fill the grate with hot charcoal. Make sure to scare off any noisy cats. For our 52 pound pig, we started with 15 pounds of charcoal and then add 10 pounds of charcoal per hour for the next three hours, ending with a total of 45 pounds of charcoal.
After the third hour remove the ashes by lifting and shaking the charcoal grid. Use a shovel to remove the ashes. Lift the ash pan and charcoal grid and lay it over the long metal handles. Flip the pig skin side up and score the skin of the pig.
Cover again with the ash pan and hot coals and roast another 30 minutes take a peek and see of the skin crispy. You will continue doing this every 10 minutes until the skin is crispy to your liking.
Lift the pig out of the box and transfer to a large, clean work surface. Step back because your guest will want to take pictures…trust me. Remove the grates to carve the pig. First peel back the skin, it will be crispy and it makes the perfect appetizer.
The pig meat will be so tender you will easily be able to pull the meat. I find the best way to carve the pig is to have a separate carving station with a cutting board, knife, towel and serving tray. Take a section of the pig to the carving station, break it down, plate it and move on to another section.
The pig roast was a total success! Everyone loved the experience, and the pig was perfect! A whole pig roast is a great experience to share with friend and family. We had a total of about 30 guest, and our 52 pound pig was enough to feed everyone and allow people to take some home.