A Beginner's Guide To Roasting A Whole Pig

by Karen on Monday, June 20, 2011

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It all started like most of my conversations with people. One night I was at my friends Mike and Ofelia's house sitting around the kitchen chit-chatting about food. Mike, who has the job I only dream of (he's a chef), and I talked through the night about different methods of cooking a whole pig. Before the night was over, permission to destroy the lawn was given by my lovely friend Ofelia and a deal was struck. We were going to try what everyone aspires to do one day: roast a whole pig.  Well, at least everyone I know.

Valerie was soon on board with us and we set the date, invited some people to help eat, and started our research. This was new territory for me and Mike so a lot of books, blogs and friends were consulted. Many methods of cooking were available to us as we realized that people around the world have discovered incredible and diverse ways to cook pig. However, one of the first options we nixed was the “buried pig” method. A large fire is burned in a deep pit lined with lava rocks or bricks for hours, heating the earth. The fire is put out, the pig is lowered and the hole is covered and sealed completely, using the residual heat to cook the pig through. Because of a seeming lack of control over the heat (which is extremely important when it comes to barbeque) we decided that this was not the best option for beginners.  Besides, I'm not sure how the neighbors would've felt about an enormous bonfire one yard over.

The Caja China, a pre-made wooden box that produces lechón-style pork, was recommended many times but after considering the cost, we decided to forego the investment– they're not cheap. We decided to consider purchasing it if our first roast turned out well.

The third and best option for us was a cinder-block barbeque. A rectangular barbeque is built from cinder blocks and a sheet of expanded metal or grates holds the pig a few feet above the hot coals. It requires a bit of elbow grease and sweat, but as someone put it before, it “builds character.”

When it comes to determining the size of the pig you choose it depends on how many people you are going to feed. We planned for roughly 30 people coming so we got a 50 pound pig (after it's been cleaned).  Although, we had more guests arrive than planned for (about 45) and everyone was eager to eat so I would get a larger pig next time, about 70 pounds.  I learned that at an all-day barbeque if you keep bringing out the pork, people will keep eating!

So, let's get this process started, shall we?

Building the Pit
Start this process at least one day before the roast.

You'll need:

- 30 cinderblocks
- foil
- a shovel
- a level
- a sheet of expanded metal or metal grate about 36 by 54 inches*
- Optional: about 10 heat resistant bricks

*Do not use galvanized metal.  The fumes it releases will make you and everyone who eats the food sick.

A few words on obtaining a sheet of expanded metal.  After some research we found the best option (if you don't already have some lying around) is to get one custom made from shops that make oil drum barbeques.  Not only is it much cheaper but you can design the grate as you want.  We decided here to get it reinforced and with handles attached.  Since you can reuse it, the effort to find a place that can do this is worthwhile.

Clear a patch of land about the size of the barbeque pit (about 4 feet by 6 feet).  Start by forming a rectangle of cinderblocks, 2 cinder blocks wide and 3 cinder blocks long.  Lay this first row on it's sides so air can run through this bottom layer, which helps the coals to continue burning.  We used heat resistant bricks to line the inside of the length of the bottom row so that there wouldn't be too much oxygen in the pit.  However, you could seal up those holes using foil or any other barrier you can get your hands on.

Use a level tool to make sure the first row is even.  If it isn't each brick thereafter will be off making your whole barbeque unstable and rickety.

Then stack the rest of the rows on top of the barbeque with the solid sides facing out.  Line the bottom of the barbeque with tin foil.

Prepping the Pig
Start this process the day before the roast.

If the idea of picking out a live animal that you will later eat creeps you out, I implore you to open your mind to this process.  I too was reluctant about it, fearing that my love for meat would be stifled by the stark reality of being a human who kills living things for our consumption.  However, after the process (in which Val was the brave one pointing the finger) I would say it made me, Mike, Ofelia and Val more conscientious consumers and more appreciative of the meat we eat.

You'll need:

- 1 50-pound pig, gutted and cleaned
- Kosher salt
- a box cutter
- latex gloves
- Ice and cooler

Wherever you are able to source a whole hog, ask the butcher to crack the spine and head for you.  This allows the pig to splay out flat over the grill.  You can do this yourself but you will need a hammer, a small ax, and very careful hands.

When you get your pig, rinse it off very well and place it on a large clean surface.  We used sheet pans on a table, and this is where latex gloves come in handy!  Carefully score the surface of the pig with a box cutter in large criss-crossing diagonals.  Don't cut past the skin and layer of fat into the flesh.  On a younger pig the skin will be much thinner and easier to cut through and on larger pig the skin will be thicker and tougher to penetrate.

With heaping handfuls of kosher salt, rub generous amounts all over the pig.  Don't be concerned about over salting it; it is a lot of meat.  We didn't measure the amount we used but I would say roughly 2 cups of kosher salt was used.

Place it in a cooler with bags of ice over it to rest overnight.  We left the ice in the bag so it wouldn't melt and dilute the salt rub.

Starting the Grill
Start this early in the morning the day of the roast.

You'll need:

- 60 pounds of charcoal
- 1 coal chimney
- a small rake or shovel
- BBQ tongs
- meat thermometer (Use one that reads the external temperature as well as the meat temperature.  Having this is absolutely critical to rookie BBQing!)
- 6-8 sheet pans or a large sheet of metal
*Optional: meat syringe, BBQ mop, more heat resistant bricks

Start with one 20-pound bag of charcoal spread in two even piles on both ends of the barbeque.  Light this and let it burn down until the coals are ashy and glowing.  For our pig, we lowered the grate so it was resting on top of the second layer of cinder blocks about 16 to 18 inches from the ground.  Layer the third row of cinder blocks on top of the grate.  This provides a short wall around the pig so a sheet of metal can be placed over the pig while it cooks, trapping in the heat.

It will take a while for the initial coals to burn down, so in the meantime get the pig out of the chest and patted dry.  We injected ours with a mojo of fresh pineapple juice (which has enzymes that helps break down protein), Seville orange juice, chillies, garlic, oregano, cumin and salt.  We had a bowl of this on the side that we occasionally basted the pig with.

Getting the temperature right at the beginning is really the hardest part.  After you have your pig ready, it's just about maintaining that temperature.  Once the coals are ready, throw your pig on the grate belly-side down and stick your thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh.  Cover with a sheet of metal or in our case a carefully arrange layer of sheet pans.

Once your pig is on, reserve a few coals to start a full chimney of coals (about 5 pounds) so that they're ready to add to the pit.  From here it's all about keeping an eye on the temperature.  You generally want the “oven” temperature to stay around 225 to 250 degrees.  After adding coals to each side, just have another chimney full of coals burning so that they're ready any time you need them.  It takes babysitting, but you can play cornhole in the meantime.

To add new coals, we just removed a couple of the corner cinder blocks and used a shovel and BBQ tongs to add to the pile.  As ash starts to build up just push it carefully towards the center so that you're not putting new coals over a pile of ash.  Just do this gently so the ash doesn't fly up all over the pig.

After about 1 hour (when the inside had gotten some good color on it) we flipped the pig onto its back and let it roast for another 2 hours or so before flipping it back onto its stomach again.  We basted it a few times with the mojo we injected into it, but not a lot.  We really wanted the results to be pure pork– just enhanced.  It cooked the rest of the way like this until the internal temperature of the meat hit about 200 degrees and was served immediately.

There was one thing I would recommend doing differently.  Get some oil on that skin– we thought there was enough fat to crisp up the skin, but while some parts were, others weren't.

Eating the Pig
(I think this is pretty self-explanatory.)

Our group of friends is an adventuresome bunch so we decided to serve the pig as is, straight off the barbeque, and allow guests to pick what parts they wanted.

We made a finishing mojo with garlic slowly cooked in olive oil, Seville orange juice and spices to go with the pig.  Rice, black beans, grilled plantains, grilled corn and a salad was a great way to finish off the meal!

Oh and a keg is of utmost importance.

By the end of the night not a single piece of meat was left, just bones.  Even the face and ears were enjoyed, which was the proper way to pay homage to our pig.

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{ 78 comments }

Gelareh June 20, 2011 at 7:14 am

I have got to say, this was the juiciest, most tender pork that I had ever eaten. Thanks Karen, Mike and Ofelia for inviting me to be one of the lucky 45 guests. There is nothing more satisfying than biting into a piece of BBQ’d meat on a warm summer day!

Karen June 21, 2011 at 8:16 am

Thanks Gel!!! Yes a huge thank you to Mike and Ofelia for doing this crazy thing in their home

Jeff Bannister June 20, 2011 at 7:15 am

Looks like you did a great job! Everyone should try this a few times. In the south this is done as soon as the weather turns cooler for partys. I did these for years and ALMOST broke down and bought a $5000 cooker to make it easier. I ended up buying a La Caja China and I am so happy I did. I like partys for 20-50 people. I think the 30-50lb pigs taste the best.

You did a great job documenting this.

Be careful, as cooking “dead animals whole” can be very addictive. That pit is perfect for lambs and goats also. You may even work your way up to cooking a whole cow.

Go GOOGLE “Bovinova” and you will see me cooking a cow.

Thanks for bringing back some great memories.

Karen June 21, 2011 at 8:17 am

Thanks for all your help Jeff! Hmmm maybe one day I’ll be as brave as you…

Lan June 20, 2011 at 7:59 am

i am so jealous of this pig party you had, what a wonderful way to celebrate eating!

did you go to a farm to pick your pig, or just used the butcher as the middle man?

Karen June 21, 2011 at 8:18 am

Thanks Lan! We drove out about an hour outside LA to a farm and picked the pig from there. Any place in LA for whole pig was frozen pig.

Marnely Rodriguez June 20, 2011 at 8:31 am

Wow. I am speechless.

Belinda @zomppa June 20, 2011 at 8:37 am

This is incredible! What an event…what a feast! I want in!

mlle paradis June 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

wow! this is impressive. since my hubby is a vegetarian – probably won’t be happening at our house, but great pictures and looks like much enjoyment!

Valerie June 20, 2011 at 11:59 am

This was one of the greatest parties ever and surely the tastiest pork I’ve eaten in my whole life. What an experience… from journeying out to the farm to singling out our dinner to petting the friendly porklets in their pens to watching the butchers do their thing to that horrendously stinky drive home, this was something I’ll never forget. And I truly do think it changed my perspective having looked into the eyes of my meal. It’s been over a week now and I still think about the farm every time I eat meat. That’s exactly what I’d hoped would happen. Thanks so much Karen, Ofelia and Mike for hosting such a fabulous event! I can’t wait until the next roast!!

Karen June 21, 2011 at 8:19 am

I really loved it too *high five* Val! Although glad you did the “picking” as I was really wanting to leave as soon as possible. Let’s start planning the next!

Ani Tolmoyan June 20, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Thank you Karen for the invite! I am so glad I was able to share in the experience! I have been talking the piggy roasting party to all my friends and family!

Rashad June 20, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Karen,

That pig was delicious and believe me, that statement counts for something. Unlike some of your guests, who may never have tasted hog before, I am a connoisseur of swine! I can’t wait for your next adventure.

Karen June 21, 2011 at 8:20 am

Thanks Rashad– coming from a “swine connoisseur” that means a lot!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen June 21, 2011 at 3:11 am

OMG! That’s crazy, you built your own pit and everything! You are certainly determined.

ravenouscouple June 21, 2011 at 7:49 am

bravo! bravo!

Jun June 23, 2011 at 4:58 am

I am speechless. We have never roast whole pig before. I would like to suggest to my family to do this, but I know their answer would be no. Nevertheless, I am so proud of you, it is a great undertaking. Did you really finish up the whole thing? Did you keep the bones for soup or stock?

Karen July 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Yes! I was very surprised- but I went back at the end of the night and not even the face or tail was left… no unfortunately didn’t save the bones for stock but would’ve been a good idea. Next time…

Sasha (Global Table Adventure) June 23, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Yessss, you did it! Looks beautiful and, honestly, I think it’s great that it was all eaten up… better that than too much. Great work and I felt like I was right there with you… :D

Karen July 6, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I know you were there in spirit!

Maureen June 24, 2011 at 4:05 am

I’ve never roasted a suckling pig but our next door neighbor did it last Christmas and I can still close my eyes and that fantastic smell comes right back. I would love to do what you did!

joe June 30, 2011 at 8:45 am

i need a t shirt or apron with your logo to spread the good word

Karen July 6, 2011 at 11:39 pm

O good idea!!

bernadette July 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm

I posted this all over Facebook because my boyfriend and his friends have been talking about doing a pig roast for MONTHS, but no one really knew how to get it started. Now we have no excuse!! Thank you so much for sharing!

Karen July 6, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Thanks for passing along on FB Bernadette! Yes, definitely no excuse now.. please take photos and let us know how it turns out and if you have any questions just holler… good luck!

Matthew November 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Hey this is a great description of what you did and how. i told my wife i wanted to cook a whole pig for my birthday and then i found this blog. my birthday is in a couple weeks and ill be doing this same thing. thanks for your work, it helps a ton!

Karen November 18, 2011 at 1:01 am

Wonderful! glad we could help– it was such great fun– please let us know how it turns out!

Sarah December 25, 2011 at 11:49 am

Wow, you cooked up a feast! Would have loved to have been there.

Sarah December 25, 2011 at 11:49 am

Wow, you cooked up a feast! Would have loved to have been there.

Sarah December 25, 2011 at 11:49 am

Wow, you cooked up a feast! Would have loved to have been there.

Sarah December 25, 2011 at 11:49 am

Wow, you cooked up a feast! Would have loved to have been there.

ChubbyChineseGirl December 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Oh my!!! I wish I had a big yard like this in New York… this looks like a delicious adventure!

wak December 29, 2011 at 4:39 pm

I am going to do this, this weekend. How many hours total cooking time?

Karen December 30, 2011 at 1:29 am

It was about 5 hours total for the size pig we had but I recommend using a thermometer b/c that’s the most accurate reading you’ll get for when the meat is ready. Good luck!

Novelismo January 5, 2012 at 8:11 am

Looks mighty good … this covered method works better for pigs up to about 120 pounds, I think. For a lamb, you can use a spit — offset next to a pile of coals so the fat doesn’t drip on the coals and flare up. A nice stainless steel spit, about 8 feet long, with a motorized turner — best lamb in history. Or use a wood spit and turn it by hand.

Novelismo August 9, 2013 at 4:35 am

The pig in the pictures is rather a small, young beastie — could have been spit roasted . Spit roasting a fully-grown pig is cumbersome because the hams are so meaty they won’t cook pr0perly before ribs and picnic quarters are done. A lamb, though, you can pick up at the market early in the morning, truss onto a spit, and eat for dinner, souvlakifying a few slices along the way.

Christian February 21, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Does anyone know of a way to do this that wouldn’t kill grass or scorch cement? Or alternatively does anyone have an easy-ish way to elevate a fire so it’d be above ground? Great set-up on this one too!

Karen March 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm

Yes you could use the caja china which is a portable device that’s elevated.

Jeff Bannister February 22, 2012 at 4:55 am

I use a portable device called a La Caja China. There maybe a place locally that you can ret one. Google it to see one in action.

tommy March 5, 2012 at 5:46 pm

that is not the way to cook a pig , you have to put it in a stick and them you have to rotate every 1/2 hr ok and with natural wood….

Karen March 8, 2012 at 4:28 pm

There are many ways to cook whole roasted pig all with amazing results. Just depends on what part of the world you’re in. You can cook with wood if you like but is more expensive.

Brandy March 5, 2012 at 10:51 pm

I’m sure there are many who, like you have thought about roasting a whole pig, but didn’t know how, and thought the process would be too0 much! Your explanation of how you did it as beginners, shows that it’s possible for just about any one to do! Thankfully, there are several ways, Tommy, to do this, but your way looks easy enough for any one to tackle, and from your pictures, description, and comments, it sounds as if it turned out great, and most importantly, every one had a great time!

Bob March 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Where did you buy the metal grate to lay pig on?

Karen March 9, 2012 at 7:51 pm

I bought it just at a local place that makes oil drum bbqs. They can pretty much put together anything for you and it’s cheaper!

Jeff Bannister March 9, 2012 at 1:46 pm

That metal is called expanded metal. Any metal supply will have that. Go for a thicker steel as it will hold up to the heat better.

Doug March 11, 2012 at 1:18 pm

YES. My friends and I are undertaking this project and had thought of an idea of an over, similar to yours. Thanks for taking the time for explaining the process!

Karen March 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm

No prob and good luck!

Bob Lee April 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm

How did you flipped the pig over? with out the pig falling apart.

Karen April 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm

When I flipped it it wasn’t cooked to where it was falling apart so that wasn’t a problem. Since this post I’ve also made it again this time without flipping it and it turned out really well but of course the put was covered

joe leroux April 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I made 2 racks. Sandwich the swine between them. Leave hands on the ends and flip half way. When needed flip and continue drinking….Bob your uncle…

Bobby May 4, 2012 at 9:58 am

Gonna give it a shot this Memorial Day weekend sounds easy enough.

Karen May 12, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Good luck and let us know how it turns out!

Kerry June 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Any specific recipe for the mojo you used?

pauline June 26, 2012 at 5:27 am

what is the process of roasting a whole pig on a stick , turning it in the process called????

mike August 18, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I am going to roast a 50 pounder in aweek or two for our 35th aniversy, and I like the way you did it. The only thing is I have a Grill on Wheels to do it on. WISH ME LUCK.

Chrsitian August 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm

@ Pauline – that is called “spit roasting” a pig. Most sticks aren’t stout enogh – a length of stainless steel rod is what you really need. Preferably fixed up to be turned with an electric motor drive, so no human has to stand so near the fire all day.

really, spit roasting a lamb – of substantial size — is much easier. Dressed weight of around up to 100 pounds will do nicely. Pigs, the hams are very thick, they’ll likely have to be carved off so they can cook a bit longer in the smoker.

AnonymousBike September 30, 2012 at 9:27 am

Thanks for posting this! We used your method yesterday for an anniversary party and it worked wonderfully. We plan to do this again in the spring for a friend’s baby shower such it was such an easy method and everyone enjoyed the process.

Phil October 16, 2012 at 3:45 am

Awesome post guys!!! I am going to do a 40lb pig this Saturday and now I have an good idea of how to do it. I was going to use wood but it looks like coals might be the way to go.

marc pollock December 31, 2012 at 10:05 am

Ive never cooked a whole pig but this summer im going to have a block party and wanted to cook one but had no idea how to begen but now i do so thanks for the help

Rosa January 2, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Thank you so much for your step by instructions and pics..We roast a 50lb pig for new years and it turned out great!!!

Fun Wood Projects March 24, 2013 at 5:04 am

It’s amazing to visit this website and reading the views of all mates about this paragraph, while I am also keen of getting experience.

Don April 30, 2013 at 9:27 am

Awesome article, love the pics too. I’m glad you had a fun party.

Sven May 10, 2013 at 10:44 am

hey, this all sounds very good. Do you think the process would still be the same when I take a 200pound pig? I need a bigger pit probably … But that is no problem.

stefan June 1, 2013 at 1:08 pm

I’ve been dreaming about trying this but I’m still nervous about the full cost and messing up the pig. How much did you spend in total?

Paul June 5, 2013 at 2:16 pm

Great article. Love the photos and descriptions of each step. Did you have a problem with the pig sticking to the grate when you flipped it? Did you oil the grate at all before placing the pig on it?? Thanks

David June 30, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Is there any rule of thumb with this pit as to how many hours per pound? We’ve constructed out pit and on Thursday we are doing a nearly 70 lb. pig. We are excited but having trouble figuring out how much time to give it…

John Myles July 3, 2013 at 6:39 pm

so excitied about the bar b que this is my 3rd pig but the first time I made my on pit
my neighbor and I love the challgen but don’t know about the mojo injection but here goes

Nic July 10, 2013 at 7:55 am

I see that you placed the charcoal in two piles…. After the coals burned down, did you spread them out evenly across the bottom or did you leave them in that position?

Phil July 13, 2013 at 1:51 am

Never cooked a little pig . I use my 500 gal cooker I will have to try a tender little pig like that. Loved reading and viewing your post , there’s nothing like roasted pig it’s a flavor all it’s own and can be smelled for miles.

Veronica Meewes August 3, 2013 at 11:19 pm

Great photos and explanation of how you did this as a first-timer! I can’t wait to try it myself..!

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Jeb August 9, 2013 at 6:09 am

Thanks for this. I am also wondering how long this is going to take so that I know when to start.

Anne-Marie August 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

We use brookside barn and farm in uxbridge MA for our pig roasts. You can rent the whole open rotisserie spit for the pig(electric). The pig and the firewood are included in the rental. There is a Facebook page too!

Laura Inks August 14, 2013 at 10:43 pm

What was the total cooking time for a 50 lb pig?

R.P August 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm

i used this writeup as a guideline for my 1st pig roast. went very well, thank you for the helpful information!

Clayton Lee August 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm

MMMMM…

Amy Mckibbin August 29, 2013 at 7:05 am

What a Great tutorial for a first time roaster! What was your total grilling time of the 50 lb pig? Thank you!

Paul August 29, 2013 at 7:24 am

Figure about 1 hour per 10 pounds of pig. I recently cooked a 70 pound pig in just under 7 hours. Here is a blog I wrote on what we did that day.

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