A Cuban Pig in Alaska is Cooked

Updated 8/3/09 Scroll down for second attempt.

Let me first say that any success I had with this undertaking is due in large part to these guys, “Three Guys from Miami“. Their time tested method for slow cooking a pig is simple to recreate. So to them I say Thank You.

Now on to the show. Really that is what it became, a slowly sizzling, wonderful savory smelling, feast for the eyes and belly.

Prep begins the day before. Since this was my first, I had to buy blocks and build the roasting grates. To give you an idea on cost,  I spent $2.39/block on 36 blocks. Then used about $16 worth of rebar. I also used some steel fence wire and fence posts that my Uncle Joe had on the property. I also bought a 1000 ft roll of aluminum foil. If you had to buy everything, it would price out at around $150. All of these items except for the foil can be used over and over. WARNING! DO NOT USE ANY GALVANIZED METAL TO COOK ON!

Find a level spot in the yard or on a gravel or cement pad. Stack the blocks 2 wide by 4 long and 3 courses tall. This is one block shorter than the Miami Guys suggest. I went with my instincts. I foiled the ground and the first two courses of blocks but I feel this was probably unnecessary.

This was taken the next morning while getting the fire started.

Next comes the pig. We bought a beautiful 85 pounder from a local butcher, Echo Lake Meats. Make sure that the butcher thaws the animal for you. Something this big takes 3-4 days to thaw out so it is something best done under very controlled conditions. Find a table big enough to work on and start on butterflying the pig. I used a small hatchet and a hammer to bust through the spine and head. Be careful not to cut through the skin. When you are close you can just push down on both sides to split the animal apart. Brad was nice enough to give me a hand with this part.

I went with a mojo style marinade of dried oregano, orange/pineapple juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. I ended up using two whole heads of garlic, a handful of oregano, and about 1 1/2 cups of the juice.

Lather up the pig on the belly side. I cut slits into the butts and shoulders. Next time I will also remove the membrane covering the ribs.

This was wrapped back up in the bag and then covered with a sheet of plastic. I then put ice in ziploc bags and covered the top of the animal. A cool garage works really well for storing everything overnight.

Now on to cocktails and some horseshoes.

I have a habit of staying up way too late around the campfire when at my Uncle’s. The next morning came early and I was anxious to check on things. So around 6:45am I was out of bed and gathering the last of my materials. 60 lbs of charcoal, lighter fluid, work gloves, aluminum foil, rocks, etc… Basically just busying myself until everyone else got up. This is what an early morning at my Uncle’s house looks like.

Rain was a concern but not predicted until later in the day. Besides I had access to an “EZUP” portable tent that would fit right over the top of the pit. Around 8:30am I started the fire. I put a whole 20lb bag in the center and doused it good with lighter fluid. About 30 minutes later when the coals were nice and hot, using a shovel I moved a pile to each corner. Two large drip pans were put in the center to catch the rendered fat and cut down any flare ups.  Then we bundled up the pig in the cooking racks top and bottom and wired the racks together. Put the whole thing on the fire skin side down.

Cover the whole top with foil. Looking back, I realize that the fire was a little too hot at this point. With experience comes knowledge. After about an hour, I added more charcoal to the corners by pulling back the foil and feeding the briquettes through the grate. Already at this point the pig is sizzling. Then again add charcoal another hour later. The estimate for cooking time was around 5 hours but that was with a 4 block tall cooker. At two hours I pulled the foil back and checked with a thermometer and found it was nearly done. 

Notice how it has even started cooking on top. That foil really keeps the heat in. Time to flip. This is definitely a two person job. With the pig and the rack, you are talking about at least a hundred pounds. Be careful. I don’t have a photo but either end got a little black from the hot fire when I first put the pig on.

I added just a bit of charcoal to each corner and then put more foil on to cover. Another hour and time to check. 165F at the back legs. Easily done. 3 hours instead of five was a bit of a surprise. We flipped again to keep the moisture in the pig. Notice how evenly cooked this side is.

Of course at this point everyone near the fire was sticking their fingers in to grab juicy still sizzling bits of perfectly tender pork.

Now this is where I really started to worry. Some of the party wouldn’t be home from fishing until 7pm. It was only 12 noon. So I stopped adding charcoal and covered up the pig again with foil. You may or may not believe this but I swear it is the truth. Around 7pm the rest of dinner was finally ready. It was a busy weekend for everyone and so things kept getting pushed back. Let me just say that I was stressed thinking the pig would be cold, or dry, or inedible.

It was none of the above. We pulled off the foil for the last time to find a still very hot, juicy, and wonderfully aromatic whole hog just ready to be devoured. We took off the top rack and then flipped onto a small camping table. It nearly broke in half. After all that effort the pig almost fell on the ground. Lets just say the dogs started circling. We quickly went for another table and made all right with the world.

Notice that the feet are gone. We had a bunch of happy dogs. The skin was pulled off and set aside. Of course I went for a golden and perfectly crispy piece from the belly. Every thing was pulled off the bone. An 85lb pig filled 4 heaping hotel pans with juicy and delicious roast pork. It was SOOOO good. Everyone would walk by the table for a taste because they just couldn’t resist.

Lessons learned. Scrap the foil on the blocks and ground. Also let the fire burn way down before you put the pig on. Even though the head and ass look blackened, the meat under that charred skin was still moist and perfect. Be prepared to share the leftovers. The whole next day people ate pulled pork sandwiches with a Kansas City style BBQ sauce. That still left 2 hotel pans worth of leftovers for everyone to share.

Everything turned out so well that I have been asked to do it again in just under two weeks. My good friend Mike is celebrating what must be his 60th ( haha just kidding ). What better way to celebrate a big event? This is one of those things people used to do a lot. Block parties, weddings, 4th of July, etc… It is the kind of thing that brings friends new and old back to your door.

Who has fond memories of attending pig roasts as a kid?

8/3/09 Update

My good friend Mike was celebrating his 45th birthday this past Saturday. After discussing the success of the first pig roast, Mike, his wife JJ, and I decided to do another.

This time JJ put together a delicious marinade that I highly recommend.

  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 24 ounces beer
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 4 tablespoons achiote paste
  • 4 tablespoons Tabasco
  • 3 tablespoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

It provides a level of spice that is a very good match to the richness of slow roasted pork. This time I did remove the membrane covering the ribs to allow penetration of the marinade and the smoke flavors.

Pay close attention to just how the coals are scraped to each corner. Keeping the heat tight in the corners provides for indirect heat and cuts down on flareups. I was also more attentive to placing drip pans to completely cover the underside of the pig. This also keeps the heat indirect and cuts down on flareups. Every once in a while you might still get a little flame. I used a cup of water to carefully douse the flames.

As before, cover the pit tight with foil. This time I put a couple of pieces of hickory in each corner for more smoke. This helps you judge the heat of the fire as well. Lots of smoke means the fire is ok. When it slows way down it usually means it is time to add charcoal and hickory.

Start skin side down. Flip after about 2 1/2 hours. Baste with more marinade. Add charcoal and hickory chips.

This is another important tip. After anothr 2 hours I felt the pig was done. The thermometer was reading 140F at the rump. Then we got a second thermometer and what do you know, 165F. I usually travel with two analog meat thermometers and am not a fan of the digital ones. Count this as one more lesson learned.

Now is the time to finish off the skin side. Carefully hold the pig aside. Pull out the drip pans. Spread the coals evenly over the whole floor of the pit. This was kind of bypassed the first time around because of the pig being done too early. Don’t skip this part. This is the polish that will set your pig apart from other’s.

The blistering of the skin makes otherwise very hard skin into super crunchy, almost fried pork rinds. Most of the skin was eaten just by those standing around as I started cutting the pig apart. This 75lb animal fed 27 hungry adults with 6gallon ziplocs of roast pork leftover.

Like with all cooking, you get better with practice. This roast, I was very deliberate about the details. Taking extra time to dig out the pit, getting the coals just right, adding the hickory, perfectly centering the pig over the drip pans, and crisping the skin all payed off with a pig that everyone enjoyed. Total cooking time ended up right at 5 hours.

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~ by climbhighak on July 22, 2009.

31 Responses to “A Cuban Pig in Alaska is Cooked”

  1. Wow, just Wow! I am so impressed. I LOVE Cuban style-pig roast. It looks absolutely delicious. How did you control the heat?

    • Just by limiting or adding charcoal to the fires in each corner of the pit. Like I said when I first put the pig on the fire was too hot. Then it cooled down and was perfect from then on out.

  2. That is so festive and looks so succulent. I wish I had some of that crispy skin right now. The smell of that pig as it cooked must have been unbearably mouth-watering. Beautiful.

  3. Oh…My…God….that’s it…..I’m putting my Caja China together. Pig roast…pig roast! Yum!

    • I was really close to buying one of those. My only hesitation comes in that being in the box does not seem like any smoke flavor would be imparted.

  4. Wow! your lechon looks beautiful!! I’d dive into the skin and ears first then the belly! If ever you’d like to try another style of making lechon try the Filipino Lechon (Cebuano style) the stuff calls for lots of lemongrass, lots of scallions, garlic, bay leaves, spices and S&P. Sew the pig up and use bamboo pole for skewer coz it needs turning. Others use poles but not sure what kind. Anyways, w/ the size of pig you have it’ll cost me $180-$200 to order one whole lechon. There’s only 2 Filipino lechon maker here in my area hence the price.

    • I forgot to mention that the pig was $2.39 per/lb. Totalled out at just over $200 with sales tax.

      I saw the Phillipines episode of No Reservations and they had lechon. For some reason I want to think that they mopped the pig with coconut water while it cooked. Does that sound right?

      • Yes, but not necessary. They say by adding so, it’ll enhance flavor and crisp up the skin. Some also mop milk for the same reason but really i’ve seen some not mopping anything yet it’s still delicious and skin is crispy. I forgot to ask you about the kind of charcoal you used. Wood charcoal or coconut shells/husk are commonly used to impart a good underlying taste and smell to the pig. Just so you know i’m so happy that a Filipino store here is now selling /lb of lechon…i finally had the fix of my craving since you posted this..i was soooo craving for the real deal lechon, all becoz of you=;)

  5. WOW! This looks outstanding!!! Thanks for the detailed pictures & instructions. You make this sound totally do-able! YUM

  6. Oh, we used to always do a pig roast when I was growing up! We must have had it a couple times a year – either for big family gatherings or community BBQ’s – wow, this brings back memories. We always buried ours and cooked it for several days. That seems like alot more work than your pit.
    Were putting in a huge wood fired oven right now with an opening large enough to slide a small pig in – and the opening deep enough that I can play with charcuterie. My husband and friends thinks I’m crazy (but I’m used to it).
    Kitty – a Caja China? I am so jealous!

    • I remember my Dad doing a pig when my Uncle, the one I am named after, came to visit with his family. I figure it was in 1974. Barely 3 1/2 years old and I still remember it to this dsy.

  7. Looks like you had great weather and a good time! The pig isn’t bad either :)

  8. WOW! I mean, seriously…wow! Robert you never cease to amaze me. I bet the neighbors were going mad with this! Ihave never seen a pig like this before, at first I thought it looked like an alligator. I love how you descrbed it all so well I feel I could have a chance of pulling this off, even though I know it isn’t happening anytime soon.
    I can’t believe it almost fell! I doubt it would have stopped many from diging in.
    What did you do with the skin? Isnt that supposed to e the best part?

  9. That is so cool. My husband and I are going to be digging an imu today to roast some pig in, I couldn’t afford a whole pig though, yours looks amazing!

  10. what a fantastic location and wonderful way to cook that succulent pig! jealous on both accounts!

    cheers,

    *heather*

  11. oh my god, this looks amazing! I always knew you Alaskans were crazy. I have this theory: The further south you go along the W. Coast of N. America, the less hardcore people are and the less they’re able to do with their hands. Totally unfair, but it fits my move from Orange County CA to Washington and subsequent move into farming, and it sure fits with an Alaskan butterflying and roasting a whole pig. The only thing better would be if you butchered it yourself. Stay tuned to the farm chronicles for an entry on lamb and cow processing…

  12. I am SO jealous of all who got to join in and eat that pig! You totally outdid yourself, Robert..as it is even more mouth watering and amazing than I thought it would be, and that was already OTT! Great photos too! One day, you’ll have to come to NY/NJ and roast me some a pig :) Outstanding!

  13. Wow… that just sounds so utterly amazing. I am drooling here. I need to do this some day… maybe on a smaller scale, though! But wow. Just… it sounds so amazing!

    Coyote

  14. This is a truly an awesome post. The pig looks great. Nothing better than Kansas City style BBQ sauce (I’m a KC girl.) I do have a question … where in the world does one buy a 1000 ft roll of sluminum foil? lol

  15. Great looking pig roast! I’ve always wanted to do a pig roast… either in a pit (imu) or as you did (like a Mississippi hog). Just looking at the cracklings has my mouth watering! Delicious!

  16. HI There

    Really stunning food photos. First off apologies for contacting you through the comments instead of by email but I wanted to bring FoodandFizz to your attention as a great place for you to share some of your photos. We would love to feature some of your photos and hopefully send a little traffic back this way to you :) Drop me an email if you have any problems and look forward to seeing your stuff

    Regards

    Ben

  17. OK, your second attempt is just as mouth watering as your first, and the marinade sounds amazing..one I’m copying and pasting into my food files. Great photos too, as usual :) Can you mail me some of that crispy skin? :)

  18. KUDOS!!

  19. OMG! Another one? you’re killing me =;) I see you used a different marinade this time. W/c is better? ahhh, silly question! I’m sure they both are delicious. I can only imagine the good smell while this was cooking! OMG!!!

  20. That pig looks great! I can alm ost taste it, and that crackling… I’m so jelous! ;) I would love to have a bite… :)

  21. My wife saw on TV ( I think) the Miami BBQ pig. Next weekend we will be celebrating our son’s 30th birthday and we are going to try it. I hope it turns out as good as yours, otherwise we will have to travel to Alaska ahahahahah.

  22. I am salivating! I want to taste that pig. It looks SO GOOD! I’ve never been to a pig roast, and I just can imagine how wonderful it tastes. Great job!

  23. Hey looks great getting ready to do the same thing in two weeks sons graduation party.

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