Chef Perry, in your article, “How much pig do I need to serve X number of people?“, your weight of 1/2 pound per person is based on the butchered, ready-to-go-in-the-box pig, correct? How much loss do you figure from live pig to dressed pig (i.e., if you want 70 pounds of meat to go in the box, how big a live pig to you order?
Thanks, Fr. Bill
Fr. Bill, sorry for the delay, I’ve been away from my desk, cooking for the evacuee camp for the Eagle Creek Fire for the last couple of weeks, and I’m still digging through a mountain of emails, lol.
Yes, my 1/2 per serving is based on uncooked “ready for the box” hanging weight.
Common consensus is that hanging (or dressed) weight is about 72% of live weight. So, for a 70lb (raw weight) carcass, you’re looking at around 100# pig, live on the hoof. Personally, I’d bump that up to around 120#, to account for variables in body length, bone density etc., (plus – I like left-overs!) 😉
Hope that helps…Let me know how it goes!
Chef Perry Author La Caja China Cooking La Caja China World La Caja China Party! La Caja China Grill
Hello…I am roasting my first pig on the La Caja China #2 tomorrow and was looking for some tips. First off the hog I have is about 102lbs and the weather is suppose to only be 35* or so.
I am wondering would it be a good idea to allow some extra time for cooking and also because of the size of the hog should I put foil over the hams, shoulders etc. Any suggestions would be much appreciated and thanks for your time!… ~ Ehren
Thanks for your email! That’s a big pig you’ve got there, and 35 is pretty cool. I would definitely add 30-60 minutes into the plan for the possibility of a prolonged roasting time.
It’s a lot easier to keep the pig warm if it’s done early, than to asks your guests to wait. (Believe me, I know…lol).
A couple of tips…
Make sure your La Caja China is in a draft free area. Cold wind, especially under the box, can really drop the internal temp. It might not be a bad idea, with those low temps, to use a digital probe thermometer to track the internal temp of the box while roasting your whole pig.(<– See our step by step video on roasting a pig).
Cut a potato in half, around the middle, and push the thermometer all the way through, so at least an inch of the tip is exposed on the far side. Place the potato, cut side down, in the box, making sure that the probe isn’t touching anything. Run the thermometer wire under the nearest top-rail, and out of the box.
You want box temps of 225-250ish.
Second, be sure your pig is fully thawed and close to room temp (I usually leave in on a table for 2-4 hours before roasting.)
Lastly, yes…have some foil on hand, but don’t add it until necessary, as it really deflects a lot of heat. Then, just use pieces just big enough to cover the trouble spots but no more.
If you have questions during your roast, feel free to post them on my Facebook page, or text me at 503-831-8707
Good luck…let us know how it goes!
Chef Perry lacajachinacooking.com
Have you watched our video, “How to Roast a Pig in La Caja China” yet? 300,000 viewers can’t be wrong!
A friend of mine asked about how to achieve that super crispy “pig candy” skin when roasting a pig in La Caja China.
First of all, just following the directions on the box itself is a great start, and will get you a yummy crisp skin. For that “potato-chip” crisp that makes Cuban and Fillipino lechón so amazing, however, I suggest a couple of things above and beyond the typical recipe.
The first two steps can be used with any “whole hog” cooking method, while the third is specific to La Caja China style roasting boxes.
The fact is, the dryer skin is when you start cooking, the crisper is will turn out.
That lovely crunchy skin on Peking Duck comes from air-drying the duck’s skin prior to cooking. Similarly, there are a couple of things you can to to get super-crunch results with your pig.
#1. After marinading (or if not marinading, then the night before roasting) pat the entire pig down with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Then, rub the skin generously with a salt-heavy rub, or straight sea salt. I recommend a fine grind, as it will adhere better. Personally, I prefer to inject the pig (or whatever I’m roasting), instead of marinating it externally, as soaking in liquid for hours is kinda counter productive to drying the skin, lol. It’s also a lot less messy. #2. As you bring the pig to room temp (a must), set up an oscillating fan – or, preferably, two – pointed at the uncovered pig, to help to help “air-dry” the skin as much as possible. If your fan(s) can’t cover the whole carcass at one time, move them around every 30 minutes or so. (Yes, I know these are ducks…but you get the idea! Btw, here’s THAT recipe –Peking Duck ala La Cajita China)
#3. When you flip your pig to brown the skin for the last 30 minutes or so, pat the skin down again with paper towels, give it another sprinkle of rub, and (most important) set the coal tray back on at a slight angle so that there are gaps on both sides of the box.
This will allow any excess moisture cooking out of the skin to escape the box, instead of being contained and “steaming” the skin.
Watch your pig carefully at this point, as a dry skin will brown (and burn) much faster than one with a high moisture content.
PPS – If your first try or two for crispy skin doesn’t turn out perfect, DON’T THROW THAT SKIN OUT! Instead, bag it, let it cool (or freeze), then, when you’re ready for an awesome snack, cut the skin into 2×2 squares, and place them on a rack , skin up, over a foil-lined cookie sheet.
Sprinkle lightly with salt or rub, and roast in a 300d oven for 3 hours or until deeply tan and very crispy. Allow to cool until just warm, and serve with a dipping mix of cider vinegar, salt, and red pepper flake.So FREAKIN’ good!
Have you watched our video, “How to Roast a Pig in La Caja China” yet? 300,000 viewers can’t be wrong!
Here in the UK we don’t tend to inject our meats so can you tell me if using a brine solution makes the pork taste salty.What are the benefits of using the brine? – Thanks again, Lee
Lee, you bet!
Brining whole turkeys for The Father’s House Street Ministry each Thanksgiving,
As far as injections, it’s all a matter of what you consider “salty”. You certainly don’t need to salt the cooked meat, but it is in no way off-putting, as long as you follow a tested recipe.
Brine, because of the salt content, will give greater flavor than a marinade, the salts open the proteins in the meat and they absorb more moisture, so brined meat will be juicier after cooking. (And more forgiving to over-cooking!)
Personally, I think that pork benefits best from both marinating AND brining. Think of it as two separate techniques, the injection moistens and flavors the deep muscle tissue, while the marinade adds flavor to the exterior of the meat, and to the skin. For a whole pig, I’ll typically do a “dry marinade” ie: a thick spice paste, or a dry rub.
Meats that improve with a good brine:
Chicken & turkey (whole or cut) Rabbit (or any non-red game meat) Pork (especially boneless picnic ribs) Smoked Salmon/Fish
Fatty meats like beef and lamb are generally not improved by brining.
My basic brine = 1 cup coarse Kosher or sea salt + 1 cup sugar (white or brown) + 1 gallon purified water.
Bring water to a high simmer, add salt and sugar to dissolve, and allow to cool to room temp before adding the meat. You can increase or decrease the amount of brine, as long as you have enough to completely submerse the meat, by modifying the brine ingredients in these proportions.
This classic Cuban seasoning sauce makes a flavorful marinade for meats and poultry. Traditionally this is made with sour oranges, cumin, lots of garlic. With larger cuts (pork shoulder, or whole pig & lamb) it can be injected into the meat 12-24 hours before cooking.
1 C sour orange juice 1 Tbs oregano 1 Tbs bay leaves 1 garlic bulb 1 tsp cumin 3 tsp salt 4 oz of water
Peel and mash the garlic cloves. Mix all the ingredients and let it sit for a minimum of one hour.
Blend all ingredients and let it sit for a minimum of one hour, strain and inject, or place meat in a cooler and pour marinade to cover overnight.
You can replace the sour orange juice with the following mix: 6 oz. orange juice, 2 oz. lemon juice.
To make this mojo into a marinade, add the above recipe to 1 ½ gallons of water, and 13 oz. of table salt.
How to inject:
Put your pork shoulder in a pan or baking dish, fill your syringe, and inject in 4-6 spots. Pick a spot, stick the needle deep into the meat, and slowly depress the plunger while pulling the needle out, this allows the meat to close behind the needle.
Refill and repeat 4 times in various spots, until you’ve used 1/2 of the injection. The pork won’t hold all of the solution, so it’s okay for some of it to run out.
Flip the shoulder and repeat, then set the butt aside. Repeat the process with the second pork butt. Here’s the injector I use, and here’s the one I WANT, lol. BTW, if you’re just starting out, La Caja China has a great injection package that includes the injector, mojo, spices, and more…
After injecting, sprinkle the rub generously on all sides, and “rub” it in to help it stick to the meat. Cover meat and refrigerate 24 hours, allowing to come to room temp before cooking.
Okay, pit-masters…got any tips to add?
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“Any suggestions on ideal temp for a whole 30 pound goat? I have read 170.”
Thanks AJ for contacting us! I LOVE roasting goat in my La Caja China!
I’d suggest a box temp of 250F for about four hours, until almost done (160F). Then place goat over the coals of a low mesquite fire, on the LCC grilling rack. Baste with the butter sauce and let it smoke until tender and done (170-175F), maybe another 20 minutes.
As far as internal temp of your goat: “Cook all raw goat beef steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source.” – So sayeth the USDA. Of course, they them say, in the very next line, “allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming” – which simply proved that they don’t know their…goat…from a hole in the ground.
If you pull a whole roast goat (or any other animal) off the heat, and don’t leave it the heck alone for at LEAST 20 minutes, tenting loosely in foil, you should be sentenced to live on McRib sandwiches and gas-station corndogs the rest of your life.
To slightly modify a favorite movie line, What does the USDA know about the needs of a man’s soul? 🙂
Oh, and for goats I like a simple wet rub of salt, olive oil, and fresh rosemary. If you want to go fancier than that, there are some fantastic marinade, rub, and sauce recipes over at TexasGoat.com.
Hope this helps, let us know how it turns out!
By the way, if you’re enjoying this recipe, please subscribe to our free newsletter! We’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each Friday. Plus, you’ll be helping us teach nutrition, shopping, and hands-on cooking classes to at-risk kids.
“Chef Perry. I am going to try a pork butt on my #2 la caja china this weekend for my fantasy football group. Can you advise me on the amount of charcoal to initially use for a single roast in this unit?
The la caja china recommended 18#’s seems like a lot. The tip you offered on your whole pig la caja china made sense to primarily cover the ham and shoulder areas with coals, so I thought the same for a pork butt.
BTW I am going to roast a whole pig for the first time soon and your terrific video has given me a big confidence boost. Thanks so much! – Clem”
Clem, you’re certainly welcome!
I wish I had a better answer for you on roasting a pork butt in a model #2, unfortunately, I’ve never tried that.
Here’s the challenge: you’re going to have so much extra empty space that will have to maintain cooking temperature, that while you may need less coals to get it to temp at first, in the long run you’re going to need MORE coals to keep all that empty air hot. A whole pig, or several shoulders/butts, take up a lot of mass, and once they start to warm up, they help keep the ambient temperature up.
Without that mass, it’s going to be a constant fight.
Here’s my completely unauthorized, and untested, possible solution This is what “I” would try: I would go with your idea of a selective fire, ie: build your coals up at one end of the box, and then build some kind of barrier INSIDE the box….maybe fire-brick, or foil wrapped pans (to reflect the heat). THEN heat a big pot of water to a simmer, foil the top (to minimize steam escaping), and place it in the OTHER side of the box. This should minimize heat loss.
La Caja China Model #3
Now you’ve created a (somewhat less efficient) Model #3 “Cajita”. See instructions for roasting a shoulder in a Model #3, here.
Basically, you start with 5lbs of charcoal and add 4lbs every hour until you reach your desire temp. I would add 25% to each of those numbers to make up for our fix, and do everything you can to minimize heat loss. I have some tips in my free e-book, La Caja China Guidebook that should help. If you haven’t been to our BBQ page (at that link), we have TONS of La Caja China stuff there.
Again, this isn’t something that your model #2 is designed to do, so it comes with all of the standard “McGyvver” warnings and disclaimers, lol.
That said, if you DO try it, and it DOES work…please take lots of pictures so I can add them to this post! 🙂
Let us know how it goes!
-Chef Perry SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com Burnin’ Love BBQ
YES! I’ve found everything I need to make Pierna criolla at my local Mexican grocery. There’s one in Wilsonville in the strip mall behind the Arbys. There are a couple in Tualatin, as well, but I haven’t checked them out yet.
Here’s a top secret trick…if you can’t find guava shells, buy some halved peaches (in water) drain well, pat as dry as possible, then soak overnight in Guava Nectar (available at most grocery stores with the juices or sodas.)
Also, you can make a really good “sour orange” by mixing 3 parts fresh squeezed orange juice with 1 part lemon juice. You can see the recipes for making the mojo this way, in this post.
Q:Regarding dieting, healthy eating, and shopping…I’m curious if you find special challenges on this endeavor since your a chef or if it your knowledge of food helps. I’m not a chef, but I do love food and my knowledge of nutrition has been very slowly expanding since I had my son. I find myself often wishing I knew more about the taste dynamic of different herbs, spices and foods that would help me to come up with more tasty versions of healthy dishes.
A: Excellent question. I would guess that I actually have less temptation than most, as I have a very detailed shopping list to follow each week, to plan menus for our subscribers. I try to shop late at night, and eat dinner just before going to the store, so I’m not shopping hungry.
Be adventurous…there are tons of great fresh produce, meats, etc along the outside of the grocery store that you can experiment with. Try new fresh herbs, and unusual fruits. If you see something that looks interesting, write its name down, and Google some recipes until you find one that sounds good, then add that item to your next shopping list!
I’ll tell you, a handful of chopped fresh Thai basil will rock just about anything! Sample some cilantro (you’ll love it, or you’ll hate it), and find a good recipe for roasting your own garlic. Any of these will turn something as pedestrian as a Cup O’ Noodles into a satisfying repast, and turn a good recipe into a next-level one!
Personally, I think that, in terms of a general style of cooking, it’s hard to beat a great “traditional” (not Americanized) Italian cookbook for finding healthy, exiting new things to try (disclaimer: yes, I am Italian, and totally biased.) Greek cooking is pretty amazing, as well.
Brass tacks…if it’s something you love to do…DO IT…just find a way to do it right. I think the biggest deal-killer to most folk’s healthy eating, is that they believe that they have to deny themselves to eat healthy. We are, all of us, narcissists and hedonists by nature, and a deprivation mentality is a one-way ticket to a binge session. I speak from personal experience, lol.
Make learning, exploring, and experimenting with healthy eating something you love to do…and then indulge yourself! Try something new at the grocery store…take a field trip to your local farmer’s markets…throw a “healthy (country of choice) dinner” for your friend’s or family.
Make it fun…make it something you want to do…and you’ll do it!
Just one guy’s opinion.
PS – Drop by our hautemealz.com blog for some great healthy (and free) recipes that are a little “haute-er” than you might find elsewhere, lol. – P
I am going to be cooking a 50 pound pig in a home made china box in a week and a half. We did a test cook with a couple of chickens and the box got hot, close to 400 and cooked the chickens beautifully. I had them in a roasting pan with a tent of foil. Took the foil off for the last 30 mins and the skin crisped up nicely. Almost too nice. I am concerned that when I’m cooking the pig, rib side up, that it will burn and crisp up too much. Is it ok or even advisable to tent the pig for the first 2 1/2 hours? After that time I’d take it off and let it cook up to the 190-195 temp and then flip the pig.
What do you think?
Great website, only place I found any mention of internal temps for the La Caja China.
Thanks! With those kind of temps, I would certainly tent the pig in foil. I wouldn’t worry about crisping the rib side, as there’s not much meat on that side.
Given the heat your cooker puts out, I would recommend a couple of things:
1 – definitely want to use a digital thermo in the pig, and perhaps another inside the box.
2- I’d cut back on the coals by about 25%, so you don’t jump over 300d. Keep a close eye on it though, as a 50lb piggie will suck up a lot more heat that a couple of birds.
Will you be marinating the pig? I’ve found that when the skin has absorbed some extra liquid, it doesn’t burn as quickly.
Keep us updated!
Gotta love the quick response, very much appreciated. I will tent for the first part. I have two digital therms, one for the piggy and one for the oven. I plan on doing a creole based spice rub and then inject a brine. I haven’t completely settled on the brine recipe. Will likely be a mojo based brine.
The Caja China website says it will take about 4 hours to cook a pig. Is that for a 50 pound pig? Wondering if I can use that time for planning.
No worries, my daughter is in a “Blues Clues” coma right now, so I’m free and (relatively) uninterrupted, lol.
Cooked 3.5 hours before flipping, then took about 20 min to crisp. Keep in mind that Cubans don’t eat their pork “pulled” but sliced, so the box recipes turn out a very juicy, but still firm, end result.
This is why I started using the internal thermometer and taking it up close to 200d – I like a “pickable” pig!
The other thing I do now, is let the pig rest 30-45 minutes (even an hour would be fine) outside the box. This allows it to reabsorb the juices, and it’s still almost to hot to handle bare handed.
Lastly, I saw something very interesting the other day in an online video. A professional chef was using La Caja China, and when the pig was done and moved to the table, he left it “ribs up” and basically used a boning knife to slice under the ribs, and “bone out” the legs and shoulders.
Wen he was done, he had a big boneless roast pig that could be chopped and mixed WAY easier than when using the traditional carving method.
This is one of the more brilliant things I’ve seen when cooking whole pigs, and I’m going to try it next time myself!
I also like a pickable pig. Do you take it up to 200 before you flip? Can I expect that to take more than 4 hours? I plan to have the pig ready to eat by 3pm including the 45 min resting period.
Do you have a link to that video? This is my first whole pig and I have been thinking about how best to remove the meat for my guests. I think the de-boning may be beyond my skill.
Just a follow-up. We did a 90lb pig yesterday, started with 15lbs of coals, and added 10 lbs every hour, and scraping* off the ashes every 2 hours (very important.) Cooked 7 hours and the pig was tender and perfect for pulling.
Tip: Cooking this much longer, I would recommend that you tent the pig in foil for the first 3-4 hours to keep the cavity from getting to dark.
*I’ve been using a big metal dust pan to scoop the ashes off the lid, instead of lifting the lid and dumping. I lose a lot less heat that way.
Yes, the extra time after flipping is just to crisp the skin.
I usually take the pig up to about 195, as the temp will continue to rise for some time, out of the box.
I would plan on flipping the pig between 4.5 – 5 hours, then 30 minutes to crisp and remove to table, and lastly 45 minutes to rest before carving. for about 6:15 total.
Remember to add about 30 minutes from the time you start the coals to the time you spread them. Spreading the coals is when your actual cook time starts.
Oh – and bringing the pig to room temp (or close) makes a HUGE difference in cooking time. A pig that’s still icy, or even very cold in the center will take FOREVER to cook…that’s the voice of experience talkin’ – lol!
Excellent. I think I’m ready to cook this pig. Here’s a pic of the home made box. It has a metal plate in the bottom and is lined with foil. My neighbor does welding and he did the metal top.
Did the pig cook yesterday. Took a bit longer than we had anticipated. Who knows why. Yesterday was the hottest day of the year and I decide to stand next to a fire for 10 hours and cook a pig.
Started the coals at 8:30 and we ate at 7pm. Even though it was late it was really tasty and everyone raved. Wanted to thank you for your input, despite taking longer it really helped. I used your Mojo recipe for the injection and rubbed a cajun spice mix on the outside.
Question: I need help please. I have La Caja China model #2 and I have now cooked two pigs with no great success.
The first pig was 100lbs and took me over 7 hours to cook on the hottest day of the summer, and I had to put the hams back in because they were still raw. The second pig was 67lbs and, unfortunately had been covered with foil before the top of the box got put on.
I went about cooking and was surprised that I could not get my thermometer above 150. Then, after 5 hours, we uncovered to discover that the foil was on. Took the foil off, which lost a lot of heat. It then took another SIX hours and 8 20lb bags of Kingsford charcoal to reach my desired temperature of 170, and the skin didn’t crisp up that much.
Once cooked, it was delicious, but I can’t get it to cook in 4 hours or less as advertised.
What am I doing so wrong? I read that the meat has to be at room temperature, I think 70 degrees?
But what else can I do?
Hmmm, 160 pounds of charcoal, added over the course of 6 hours, is 26 pounds of charcoal per hour, roughly three times what the instructions call for (after the initial 18 pounds). Something’s not right with those figures…it’s practically a physical impossibility that that much coal would take that long to raise the temp from 150 to just 170.
That much coal should have not only cooked your pig, it should have incinerated it.
What temp was the meat at, when you fired up the roaster?
Second, you’re right, the foil is a killer. I made this exact same mistake myself this summer, and the pig wasn’t done to my liking at all. Slow roasted meat has to hit a “sweet spot” temperature-wise, where it plateaus for anywhere from an hour or more, before it jumps up the the finished temperature you’re looking for.
That plateau is the window where the meat nearest the bone is cooking, and the collagen (hard fat) is chemically changing into the gelatin (soft fat) that creates tender, succulent meat. Foil reflects back a LOT of heat, and keeps the pig from cooking through that plateau (or, at least, taking a LOOOONG time to do so.)
My new policy to to add foil only if (and after) I start to smell something burning. This isn’t a bad thing, as a little char adds to the flavor, and won’t hurt the meat if caught in a reasonable time.
That said, here are only five other things, typically, that prolong cook-time on La Caja China:
1. Temp of the pig at start time. This is the #1 issue I’ve found with delayed cook times. You want the pig to be as close to room temp as you’re comfortable with. The colder the pig, the more heat it sucks out of the box, and the longer it takes for the internal temp of the box to reach it’s “sweet spot.” One of my first pigs still had ice crystals in the meat when I loaded it in the box…it took 12 hours to bring to 185.
2. Peeking. Lifting the lid from the box effectively removes all the cooking heat, and it takes a LONG time to build back up, as your pig is cooling at the same time. Use a remote probe thermometer, and (personal opinion) a metal dust pan and scoop to remove the ashes, instead of removing the lid. NEVER lift the lid until your pig has reach “flipping temp”…which is your finished temperature, depending on what meat-consistency you’re shooting for.
3. Ambient temperature/wind chill. Keep the Caja out of the wind as much as possible. Set up on the “lee side” of the house or garage, or throw together a couple of sheets of plywood (at a safe distance) to block the wind. Cooking in extremely cold weather is just going to take longer, it can’t be helped, so plan ahead for it.
4. Ash build-up. Ashes are an extremely effective insulator. Even a 1/2 inch layer, between your coals and the pan, can cut the amount of heat going into the box drastically. La Caja China’s instructions call for removing ashes roughly every three hours, by lifting the lid and dumping. I like to do so more frequently, about every hour, using the method in #2, above.
5. Amount of charcoal used (especially at the start). Roberto did a lot of research and testing in coming up with the charcoal-to-cooktime ratios, and they should be adhered to exactly. For best results, use Kingsford brand charcoal, not lump, or an off brand (is it really worth risking that $200 pig, to save $10 on charcoal?) and add the exact proportions listed on the box. I’ve cooked any number of perfect pigs, simply following those instructions.