Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pig Roast Party: Part 2

Continue to learn how to do your own Pig Roast from my brother Brian

Phase 1: Digging the Pit
First, measure the perimeter of the hole to 7 feet by 6 feet and removed the grass.  Easy, next step please. Then, dig a hole that’s about 4 feet deep…one word of advice before starting this step:  Either dig up some dirt on somebody (pun intended) and blackmail them into helping you dig, or rent some kind of digging truck.  Me, on the other hand, had some volunteers help me with this part.  Kris’ husband/my brother-in-law, Carter, helped put a huge dent in it, but I have to give a round of applause to my good friend Kyle who helped me for a solid 8 hours total. 

This was by far the hardest and one of the most rewarding tasks of the process.  It might sound weird but you feel a strange attachment to the pit after digging it.  It’s like it’s you baby or something.  I know it’s kind of weird but you’ll understand eventually.

Phase 2: Preparing the Pit

This step was a walk in the park compared to the last one.  The first thing that needs to be done is to put gravel on the bottom of the pit, about a foot deep.  Because the hole is so deep and the dirt is so compact, rain easily accumulates on the bottom.  The gravel provides not only a water table effect, but also a too for heat insulation.

Next we have to line the walls of the pit with bricks. All I did was go on Craigslist and look up were to find free bricks.  I’d bring a buddy because you’ll need some help (and I always bring somebody while going to a craigslist location just in case it’s a shady situation).  Again, thank you Kyle for helping me out, and my other friend, Steph.  Just make sure that none of the bricks have lead paint on them due to safety reasons.  We only needed about 500 bricks to line the edges of the pit.  When digging the pit, make sure that the sides are slightly sloped so the bricks don’t fall on you when you stack them.  It’s fine if they are not perfectly lined or if there are some gaps.  Basically what we are doing here is adding an extra layer of insulation in order to keep as much heat in the pit as possible.  And thank you Carter for helping me with the bricks.

Many people believe that the embers of the once raging fire cook the pig.  Well, you’d need a lot of wood for that to happen.  So what I did was make a ring of head-sized boulders in the bottom of the pit.  More the better, but you’ll need about 8 to 10.  These boulders can be flagstone, river rock, and/or lava rock.  I used flagstone for several reasons.  1) It’s easily found everywhere I live and, 2) it retains heat effectively.  River rock is a good alternative, but be sure to remove the rock from the water source weeks ahead of fire time because they may explode.  Lava rock is the perfect candidate, but it is expensive and rare to find in the wild depending on your location.  

Once the gravel lines the bottom, bricks are laid, and boulders placed then the only thing left to do is to build a top.  Many sources will tell you to bury the pig in a tarp and dirt from the pit.  I don’t know about you but I am done digging.  So the top was something to look into.  The top makes life easy not only for the lack of burying then re-digging, but also for checking the temperature (I’ll get into that later).  This top doesn’t have to be fancy; you’re not hanging this thing up in your living room after it’s been covering a steaming pig.  You will need to go to a hardware store, but don’t worry, I have a list of things already for you: two 8’x4’ plywood, roll of sheet metal to cover that, galvanized nails, two 8’ boards (for connecting and supporting the plywood), long screws (enough to go through the boards and plywood), wire cutters, an electric drill, hammer, and door handles (get the cheapest ones).  While you’re at the store pick up some other things for later: 5’ tin piping, two pairs of leather gloves, chicken wire, burlap, two 6’ stainless steel chains, and a very long meat thermometer. 

I named our lid after my dad (shown farther below), Jim, since he helped me build it.  To build the top, you will need to layer the two pieces of plywood about 3 to 4 inches.  This will make it as airtight as possible.  Lay the two boards across the overlapping plywood and drill them in the ends and where the boards are overlapping, then drill a few more screws along the boards for extra support.  The boards should be about a quarter of the way in on the boards.  After that, flip the lid over on the flat side.  Here you will unroll the sheet metal and cut each strip to fit so then the entire bottom is lined with metal.  Hammer the sheet metal on each end.  This metal is used to protect the plywood from burning and to reflect heat back down towards the pit.  It is vital to the lid.  Now flip the lid back over and hammer all the nails points down to prevent any injury.  Finally, drill the handles on each side of one of the support boards.  Congratulations, you finished all the preparations for the pig pit…unless you have to chop wood (I know I did). 

Phase 3: Prepping the Pig and Pit for Roasting

Now is the fun part: getting the piggy.  Be sure to order the pig weeks ahead of time from a reliable butcher.  We ordered a beautiful 103-pound pig from Cannuli’s on 9th Street inPhiladelphia.  This pig was the freshest product I have ever seen, and they were extremely helpful.  They’re experts and if you are from the Philadelphia area I urge you to go there and order a pig or anything meat related.  Fantastic. 

Junior helping me in the kitchen.  I think he’s going to think twice now before stealing food off my plate again.
A 100-pound pig will cook about 24 hours (maybe a little less, maybe a little more), so be sure to have the pickup date for the pig be the day before.  To add flavor, I rubbed the pig cavity and skin with paprika, onion and garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, and some dried mustard.  I scoured the skin to not only incorporate rub flavors but also to help relieve steam buildup.  Rub down the pig everywhere until it looks like it got a bad spray-on tan.  Then I stuffed the cavity with quartered apples, onion, pineapple, and herbs (rosemary would be perfect because it’s woody).  Sew the cavity securely with wire twine (you may need a large, sharp needle).  Be careful because the skin is extremely tough.  I had to use pliers to push and pull the needle through the skin.  The sew job doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to keep the stuffing inside it. 

As you can see, the pig’s back legs are pulled back.  In order for even cooking to occur the back legs should be moved to a laying down position.  This is easier said than done.  The pig’s legs will be stiff and not stay in place, so by using a sharp knife and having a few assistants, cut around the rounds and forcefully bring the legs to a laying position.  Tie the ankles together and then tie them around the waste.  The pig will be as even as possible in this position.  Don’t worry about the front legs, the shoulders are the main prizes and they will be thick enough to stand on their own.

Our Mom Cindy & Jake helping out...

For the final touches, put an apple or an onion in its mouth.  I know it’s cheesy but it serves a purpose.  The mouth is clenched shut and needs to stay open in order to release steam.  If not you are running the risk of an exploding pig.  If you have weak stomach have someone else do it…it requires a lot of muscle and finesse but an apple or onion will fit.

To finish the pig, you will need to wrap it with a lot of layers in order to prevent it from charring.  If you’re consulting the Internet like I did you will hear a lot about banana leaves or cabbage.  I don’t know about you but I don’t want to have to look for/spend money on banana leaves or smell the stench that is cooked cabbage.  I went with a cheaper and more convenient route: go to your local grocery/produce market and ask if you can take one of those trash bags full of corn husks off their hands.  It works great, and you’re just going to char them up so why spend money on them.  Going back to the hardware store list, we will need the chicken wire and burlap.  The burlap needs to be soaked for at least a half hour in water, and then roll it out.  Put the pig on one end and start rolling.  Be sure to cover all sides of the pig including the face and butt.  When the pig is wrapped in burlap, unroll the chicken wire and put the burlap pig on one end.  Line the chicken wire thick with the cornhusks.  It doesn’t have to be all the way, there just has to be enough to wrap the pig once.  Wrap the pig as tight as possible.  The chicken wire is what will hold the delicate pig together after cooking is done.  By this time the pig is ready for roasting.

Depending on the wood being used and how long the fire is going, the average bonfire time (not including start up or dying down) should be about 4 hours.  Again, depending on the wood being used the fire may die down slowly or quickly.  Just be sure to have enough wood (1 to ½ cord).  Use the tin piping to supply oxygen in the bottom of the pit, just lay it vertically and it’ll be fine.  Once the flames die and the embers are glowing, the head-sized boulders should be white with heat and even cracked.  That’s perfect.  Take a metal rake and push the embers as side to make a bed for the pig.  Attach the chains securely to the chicken wire and lower the pig into the pit.  Be sure to stake the chains on the outside because you will be using those to pull the pig out later.  Pull the lid over the pit, and then take excess dirt from digging the pit and cover the sides so no steam is escaping.  For the first 12 hours, be sure to hose the lid and dirt periodically to avoid overheating and a possible burning of the lid. 

Brian and our Dad Jim getting ready to put the pig in the pit!

Check the temperature after an hour of putting the lid on.  Brush aside some of the dirt and insert the long thermometer as far it can go.  Be sure it is not touching brick or the sheet metal or else you will get an incorrect reading.  It should read somewhere around 600°F to 800°F.  If it’s a little under it’s fine.  If it’s lower than 500°F I would take the pig out and start another fire.  If you’re temperatures are fine, don’t worry about a thing.  Just sit back and relax for 20 to 24 hours. 

Maggie’s checking out to see if we did a good job…can’t upset the boss!
When 20 hours comes around, check the temperature again.  When it reaches less than 200°F the pig is done.  I stabbed the butt with a knife duct tapped to a spear to make sure it easily pierced and to see if the knife was hot to the touch for a ballpark temperature check.  Remember, it will carryover cook for hours.  Just move half of the lid off and let the pit cool off so you’re not scorching yourself.  With the help of a friend, carry a makeshift gurney (we used a folded up table in the case), lift the pig out of the pit using the chains (I’d put on those leather gloves to avoid burnt hands), and put the pig on the gurney.  Remove the chicken wire from the pig and carefully roll the burlap pig.  Now carry the pig to the carving station.

My other brother Jim and his friends checking out the finished pig, yum!
We devoted our island to the pig carving station.  Be sure to have plenty of room on each side so you can put the pulled pork somewhere.  But before we put the burlap pig down, we covered the island with tin foil.  You’ll have to roll the pig on the carving station.  Use as many people as you can get because the pig will literally fall apart otherwise.  Once the pig is right-side up, push down a little to get it stabilized.  Next cut the burlap, exposing the pigskin.  Be careful because the pig will be hot and steaming.  Once the burlap is unraveled, cut as much excess you can then tuck the rest under the pig.  Cover the pig in tin foil and allow it to sit for at least 1 hour, but it will stay hot for hours covered. 

There is no way to correctly carve the pig (at least I don’t think there is).  When I called everyone to come over for the unveiling and carving, I just stood there dumbfound wondering where to start.  The only advice I can give you is just dig in.  Cut the skin back and away and start picking at the meat with a pair of tongs and a knife.  The meat will easily fall apart.  Don’t be afraid to explore the different cuts of meat either.  There are some delicacies that are very delicious.  The cheeks are extremely tender and flavorful.  Two lucky people enjoyed the eyes.  The tongue wasn’t as demanded, but it was gone by the end.  You might surprise yourself.

Brian carving the pig and  Shane creeping in on the photo, lol

Closing Notes

My first pig roast will be something I will remember for years to come.  If I could give one piece of advice to all of you who want to tackle one for yourselves it would be to have confidence in your plan.  Just be patient.  It will work.  If you have any questions regarding the pig roast, BBQ sauces, or anything culinary related about this event I’d be more than happy to help you.

- Brian
Thank you again to my brother Bri for sharing his experience/process, love you!

If you have any questions regarding the pig roast, BBQ sauces, or anything culinary related about this event Brian be more than happy to help you! Please email me at and I can put you in touch with him ASAP so you can start planning your own Pig Roast Party for family and friends. 

No comments:

Post a Comment