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?
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.