Got a couple of great questions today from JW, over at Chowhound. He asks…
Hey Chef Perry. Great Video! I am cooking a pig next week. In your opinion, what do prefer best. The Cuban way with the mojo, or something else.
Also, when I do our block parties pig, the parts that stick up the most get extra crispy/burnt.
Any way of making it more even?
Thank you! – JW
While the Cuban version is delicious, as a Georgia transplant, I personally prefer a Southern “Pickin’ Pig” with just salt, pepper, smoke, and an occasional spritz of apple-juice and cider vinegar. I use a couple of less pounds of coals per round, and roast for around 8 hours, looking for an internal ham temp of 190-195, before flipping.
RE: burnt spots – two things I do…
First, for a long cook like this, I take a very quick peek (just lifting a corner and checking with a flashlight) every couple of hours. If I see one end getting darker faster, I’ll pivot the coal rack 180d to re-position the hot spot.
By the way, if you’re enjoying this post, please subscribe to our free newsletter! We’ll send seven amazing dinner recipes and a shopping list to your inbox each Friday.
Second, if it’s getting two dark for my liking, I’ll patch those areas with foil (just enough to cover the problem). Typically between the 5 and 8 hour mark.
A final trick – adding fresh coals will really jack up the heat if you’ve just dumped ashes. I usually put on fresh coals from my chimneys, spread, and wait about 1/2 hour before scraping the insulating layer of coals beneath. This tends to moderate the heat spikes that causes burn spots.
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!
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, in our MY KITCHEN Outreach Program.
Coming up on one of my favorite barbecue holidays…Presidents Day!
Oh sure, you can have your Memorial Day, and Independence Day, and Labor Day, but the problem with those are, everyone else is barbecuing as well! It can be hard to get enough folks over to justify a decent pig-pickin’ when every Weber on the block is burnin’ dogs.
Besides, Presidents Day has such a fine history or barbecue…
“When George Washington “went in to Alexandria to a Barbecue and stayed all Night,” as he wrote in his diary for May 27, 1769, he won eight shillings playing cards and probably ate meat from a whole hog, cooked for hours over hardwood coals, then chopped or “pulled.”
By the early nineteenth century at the latest, a sauce of vinegar and cayenne pepper (originally West Indian) was being sprinkled on the finished product. This ur-barbecue can be found to this day in eastern North Carolina and the adjoining regions of South Carolina and Virginia, virtually unchanged.” (Adapted from Holy Smoke: The Tar Heel Barbecue Tradition, by John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed, and Will McKinney to be published by the University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming 2008.)
Says Steven Raichlen, author of “Planet Barbecue” and host of “Primal Grill” on PBS, “Our presidents were known to be big fans of the laid-back pastime as well. George Washington’s diaries abound with references to barbecues, including one that lasted for three days. George Washington was a major barbecue buff, and when Abraham Lincoln’s parents were married, their wedding feast was a barbecue.”
Lyndon Johnson built his campaign around Texas-style barbecues, a variation on an old tradition: In the 19th century, roast pig and whiskey were staples at political rallies. Having combined generous amounts of Kentucky bourbon and slow-roasted pork on occassion myself, I can say with some authority that this is a wise political tactic…after several hours you would passionately cast your vote for the pig, if someone put a ballot in your hand!
In fact, President Johnson had a full-time barbecue chef, Mr, Walter Jetton, employed on the LBJ Ranch full time. I have his cookbook…it’s highly amusing.
Ronald Reagan engaged the BBQ catering services of Wayne Monk of Lexington for the 1983 Economic Summit in Williamsburg.
Even President Obama, who, having grown up in Hawaii, is likely to have an undeniable love of pork…I mean bbq of course…got into the action with Iron Chef Bobby Flay, grilling up some fine looking steaks at the White House for the Young Men’s Barbeque in 2009. (Hope they were good…we payed for ’em! lol)
So, in tribute to my favorite bbq holiday, here’s how you can prepare some fantastic, White House worthy pulled pork barbecue of your own on your gas grill or La Caja China (click links for recipes.)
And, of course, if you can get a herd of hungry revelers over, you can go whole hog…but I’d put the bourbon away first, if I were you.
And here’s my favorite “traditional” bbq sauce recipe, from …which is probably pretty similar to what Ol’ George sunk his wooden teeth into, at those all-night poker parties!
Perk’s Tradition BBQ Sauce
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Combine the white vinegar, cider vinegar, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper in a jar or bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 days before using so that the flavors will blend. Shake occasionally.
“Thanks for taking the time to read this! I have a quick question: We are roasting a 70 lb pig in a La Caja China Roaster.
My partners mother-in-law is Cuban and tells us that there is an old Puerto Rican recipe that calls for REMOVING the skin from the pig prior to roasting, then seasoning the meat, and placing the pig back “into” the now separate skin, then roasting as usual.
Now I am not a fan of this, but I figured I would ask if this is something you would suggest? I mean, might it dry out the meat?
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.
Roast Suckling Pig has its very own national holiday?
How freakin’ awesome is that?
Today, December 18th, we celebrate the swine! (Okay, we do that a lot around here, but today it’s official…)
The main ingredient involves a four to six week old piglet, ranging between nine to twenty pounds.. For those first few weeks, the pig is feeds solely on its mother’s milk, which produces an extremely tender, sweet pork.
People have been roasting pigs since time immemorial. They were enjoyed in in ancient Egypt, and in Roman times were served covered in pastry or even stuffed with live doves as a centerpiece.
Roast suckling pig is a famous item in Chinese culture, eaten primarily for the crisp texture of its skin, and as a symbol of virginity is often included in wedding banquets.
Roast suckling pig was immortalized in Spanish book Don Quixote (awesome!) and, known as cochinollo asado, remains a key dish in Castilian cuisine.
So, there are a lot of ways to roast a suckling pig (and they’re all good), including Mexican style (Mexican cinnamon, cumin, and guajillo chiles), Asian (rice vinegar, five-spice powder, miso, and a brushing of soy sauce) and, of course, the Castilian method, above (onion, bay, & white wine).
Several of these recipes are included in my La Caja China Cookbooks, but just in case you don’t own them (and I forgive you), here’s my favorite. A sucking is actually small enough to be roasted, with any of these styles, in the average oven, but, as I’m going to be giving you the directions for roasting your suckling in La Caja China, let’s borrow a page from my friend, Roberto Guerra, and go Cuban!
Cuban-style pig means “Mojo”, a sweet, savory, tangy broth of awesomness made up of oranges, limes, cumin, and other spices, and used to drench the piggie before, during, and after the roasting process.
As Roberto makes the best mojo I’ve ever tasted, we’ll use his recipe…
La Caja China Mojo Criollo
6 oz. orange juice
2 oz. lemon juice
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon bay leaves
1 garlic bulb
1 teaspoon cumin
3 teaspoon 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. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Caja China Brine
1 cup of the Mojo Criollo recipe
3 cups Water
1/2 cup Table Salt
Blend all ingredients and let it sit for a minimum of one hour, strain and inject. After injecting the pig with the Caja China Brine, apply a salt rub all over the pig, using Kosher Salt or Sea Salt. Marinating the pig overnight, and allow it to come to room temperature, before you begin roasting.
Lightly oil La Caja China rack place your piglet on it, belly up, with its legs close the side of the body. Tent loosely with foil (the skin of a suckiling is much thinner than that of a larger pig, and burns easier.)
Add 16 lbs. of charcoal for Model #1 Box or 18lbs. for Model #2, or Semi Pro Box, and light up. Once lit (20-25 minutes) spread the charcoal evenly over the charcoal grid. Cooking time starts right now.
After 1 hour (1st hour), scoop away excess ashes, add 9 lbs. of charcoal (note time).
Continue to scoop away excess ashes, and add 9 lbs. of charcoal every hour until you reach 195 F on the meat thermometer. (The pig is actually “done” when the temperature in the thickest part of the ham registers 160 degrees, but for a “pulled pork” consistency, which I prefer, shoot for 195F-200F.)
Once you reach 195 F, lift the charcoal grid shake it well to remove the ashes, now place it on top of the long handles. Do not place on the grass or floor it will damage them.
Remove the ash pan from the box and dispose of the ashes.
Flip the piglet over to crispy the skin. This is easily done using the patented rack System, just grab the end of the rack, lift, and slide as you pull upward, using the other hand grab the top end of the other rack and slide it down.
Score the skin using a knife, this helps to remove the fat and crisp the skin. Cover the box again with the ash pan and the charcoal grid; do not add more charcoal at this time.
After 10 minutes, take a peak by lifting the charcoal pan by one end only. You will continue doing this every 5 minutes until the skin is crispy to your liking.
Remove sucking from Caja and allow to rest 20 minutes.
Perry, I have a HUGE pig roast coming up. Well the pig is going to be average size, but we are tailgating on the river and I ‘ve invited my biggest customer and his family to join me. I have done a lot of pigs in the LCC and I am good with that part.
Do you have or does any of the cook books have some hits or ideas on the process after the pig is done? In the past it was always family and friends so we just cut it up the best we could and ate it. I need to do this more like a catering event with side and things. Thanks…
Okay, so I did some looking around, and couldn’t really find any illustrated carving instructions that I really liked…so I made my own!
These directions would work nicely with any of the “Pig Roasting Party Themes” included in my free eBook, the La Caja China Guidebook. And, of course, there are tons of side dish recipes in La Caja China Cooking, and La Caja China World.