Cooking a full pig is not only a satisfying experience but also something that will create life long memories!
Most of us are fascinated seeing a full pig roasting on a fire or in a cooker. The experience is etched into our minds and stays with us our whole life. I am fortunate enough to give people the opportunity to witness such a spectacle. As a Pit Master, it is your job to prepare the pig, tend the fire, and stand a steadfast watch over the cooking process. If you think that this is a “set it and forget it” process, then everyone would be doing it.
A perfect pig has a crispy crackling skin and moist tender meat that pulls apart easily and melts in your mouth. The flavor of the meat is succulent and delicious that all will enjoy. I love seeing the expectations on guests faces when presenting a great roasted pig. The sound of the crispy skin and the texture of the moist pulled pork is just amazing! Then when you get it on your plate and taste the smokey flavor of the crackling and the meat literally melts in your mouth it is an experience that you never forget.
This may be intimidating to most so that’s why they leave it to the pros. But to tackle a pig on your own is a most rewarding endeavor. The first thing you need to do is have someplace to cook the pig. This can be as easy as an open fire pit with a cross or a spit. This can be made of wood or steel. You can purchase these setups on Amazon.com. An offset smoker is my tool of choice, but an open pit makes a dramatic presentation. You can also find plenty of plans online to fabricate a roasting pit that is dug into the ground. They sell pig roasting boxes for a couple hundred bucks as well. You can call your local rent-a-center and see if they have a roaster or spit available for the day and they will only run about $50.
The next step is pig selection. How big should you get the pig? The rule of thumb for a pig roast is one pound per person. That’s easy enough to figure out and not everyone eats meat, so you can even cut that back by five or eight percent. Try to find a purveyor that has a good reputation of being clean and good quality meats. I strongly feel that if you want a great finished product, you need to start with a great piece of meat. Once you find the perfect pig, you can begin the prepping process.
Prepping the pig can be quite simple. You can select a good vegetable oil and rub the skin liberally before cooking. Rub the cavity with dry rub and inject it with flavoring ingredients. I tend to be a purist and let the pig shine through with just a liberal oiling of the skin and cavity. I am not against using your favorite rub on these beautiful creatures and if you feel the need to inject them, please go right ahead. Make sure you inject under the skin between the fat and the meat so when it cooks and renders that fat through the muscle, it carries the flavor with it.
I want to take this time to talk about the cooking process and why we do it this way. When we cook a pork chop from the lean part of the pig, we cook it over high direct heat. We get a good sear on the outside and attempt to pull it out of the fire when it still is moist and tender on the inside. When we cook a tough cut, such as a pork shoulder, we use low indirect heat to render the fat and collagen throughout the meat and break down the protein strands to make it tender and moist. Ribs on the other hand are somewhere in between. We cook them low and slow at first and then hit them with high direct heat to finish them off that creates a great bite and taste on the outside with a fall of the bone tenderness we all have come to enjoy.
The full pig has to find a happy place that will fulfill all the needs of these different cuts. You have to sacrifice some sear to end up a a most succulent, moist, deliciousness. Don’t worry though because the skin makes a nice crunchy cracklin’ that can bring some crunch to your pulled pork sandwich! With all the fat between the skin and the meat that has to render, that takes time. The moisture moving through the muscle and rendering the collagen in the joints needs a low temperature to slowly work its magic. This is the Low-N-Slow temperature and time control needed for a successful full pig.
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time! 12 to 14 hours of cooking time should suffice for a 100# pig. Prepare the smoker prepared with a water pan and bring the temperature up to 220F. Put the greased pig on the grate with the head facing away from the fire box. If your smoker is offset, you may want to make a heat shield around the hind of the pig to protect it from getting flash burn. Time to let it rock out for a couple hours and keep the heat steady as possible.
Use a flavoring ingredient to create the mop. Something that will move through a spray bottle. I use vinegar, rub, and brown sugar. Cook it down until everything dissolves in the liquid. Spray or mop once every two hours or so or maybe more depending on how dry it gets. Basting also helps caramelize the skin and gives that cracklin’s a nice taste and texture . Cook until the internal temp is at least 175ºF in several places. Check the temperature near the joints in the fore and hind quarters.
To present this wonderful main course, cut across the neck and down the spine to reveal the meat under the crispy skin. Cut the skin into pieces and serve as “craclin’s” for all to enjoy. The tender, juicy flesh underneath is great as is or on sandwiches and your favorite sauce. The traditional pulled pork sandwich is bun, pork, cole slaw.
Thank you for your time and I hope this was helpful for you to successfully do your first pig roast.
Pitmaster David Vito