Of all the items on my "To Cook" bucket list, I'd consider roasting a whole pig in the top 5. Ever since I experienced the obligatory Hawaiian luau on a family vacation back in 8th grade, I've wanted to attempt this primal endeavor.
The idea that for hundreds of centuries, humans have participated in this ritual and celebration of roasting a whole animal and feasting on every edible part tantalizes me as a chef and pulls at my inner cave man. And while throwing the hog directly onto hot coals in a pit, or roasting on a spit over an open flame may have been more primitive, for the sake of my lawn and my party hosting duties, I decided to go the more commercial method and bought myself a Caja China Box.
20 minutes of assembly and the box was ready to go. Turns out that was the easy part. Sourcing a pig was a whole 'nother challenge. After failing to obtain a 40-50 lb pig from multiple nearby butcher shops, I actually utilized my Visa Concierge service (which comes with any Visa Signature card, I believe) as I was running out of time and figured they had nothing better to do. Let's just say, it was an interesting conversation with a Visa employee named Ken based out of somewhere in the midwest. Surprisingly, Ken came through and found me a roasting hog available on my requested date at a butcher shop in San Francisco.
So now I had my roasting box, pig and about 40 friends RSVP'd to the event which also coincided with my 30th birthday celebration - and yes, it was toga themed.
Everything was in place. Or so I thought.
The weekend before the party, I received a call from the SF butcher saying they couldn't actually secure the 40 lb pig I had ordered two weeks prior. Panic. Set. In. Where was I going to get a whole pig in less than a week's notice?
A little more googling, a couple phone calls later, and The Local Butcher Shop in Berkeley, saved the day. Only set back was they couldn't get me a 40 lb pig, I'd have to settle for a 65 pounder!
The overall cooking process was pretty straightforward. The Caja China kit included a giant hypodermic needle used to inject marinade into the meat. If and when you plan to do your own pig roast, tell the butcher what cooking method you are planning to use and they will process the animal accordingly. For a butterflied roast, they need to split the spine and pelvic bone.
After injecting a mojo marinade, I kept the pig in a large cooler (165 qt) with ice bags for 24 hours. You could do 48 hours but just make sure the ice hasn't all melted. A few hours prior to roasting, I put the pig in the roasting box covered to let it come to room temp. Not doing so will majorly impact cooking time which results in more charcoal needed.
The Caja China uses indirect heat as the coals are placed on top of the box. More coals results in a higher temp in the box as does shaking off and removing the excess ash. Follow the directions provided - they are printed right on the side and also available online.
Basically, you roast for 3-4hrs, flip the pig and finish with a broil to crisp the skin.
Last comment is that this method is not the same as the slow cooking luau method. A pig in a pit aka Kalua Pig takes 16-24 hrs of slow roasting and comes out falling apart. The Caja China method is timed to cook the pig through just until tender. The ribs were falling-off-the-bone done but the rest still had to be carved up before serving.
Thanks to all who attended and helped along the way.
Photos courtesy of Karen Ko.
He who eats alone, chokes alone.