Pig Roast Redux

Pig Roast 2008 was a success. So much so, in fact, that I created a new tag for my blog: Epic Undertakings. Not since the (poorly-photographed, but delicious) cassoulet last winter have I felt more triumphant and exhausted.

Thank god my brother-in-law, Joe, was there to help. He’s a chef, and although we were both relatively inexperienced dealing with pork en carcasse, he was ready to jump right in. I insisted Scott take it easy since it was his birthday, but he was on hand to apply rub and fetch clean towels and fresh beers.

Even though I knew we were unfolding a tarp with a dead pig in it, I wasn’t really prepared for the flashback to 10th grade A&P, when we had to dissect fetal pigs. That smell isn’t formaldehyde after all. It’s the smell of a dead mammal. I felt it necessary to look in her eye and really soak in the fact that I would be cooking and serving her to 40 of our closest friends.

We began by slashing the skin all over to get some of my dry rub into the fat. I, being a 12-year old boy, instantly began to snicker.

“Tastes like salty milk and coins.” This photo is for Syd. She has a special category for things of this ilk.

After using up my whole jar of rub on just one side of the pig, we decided to leave one side less rubbed, with just some salt for seasoning.

We had to split the sternum and spine to get the body completely flat, which was imperative for even cooking. If we had been spit-roasting the pig, we would’ve omitted this step.

The sticky Korean-style barbecue sauce I made was slathered on the ribs: gochujang, copious amounts of ginger and garlic, some sesame oil, palm sugar and tamarind paste.

All wrapped up tight in her body bag, I was inspired to name the sow Laura Palmer. She took an overnight nap with some bags of ice in the chest freezer (turned off).

After sitting in the rub overnight, Joe and I hoisted the pig over to the pit, which had been heated with two bag of cowboy lump mesquite and dampered with wood chips. After the initial flare-up, we remembered to soak the wood chips in water before adding them to the coals. Hickory and mesquite added excellent smoke and the entire neighborhood could smell it.

Note the pit. A hybrid between the Hawaiian style pit and the Cuban style oven, this was two CMUs (concrete masonry units, or cinder blocks) high x four long x two wide, on top of a pit dug to ~24″. Having not seen the pig until we already did our CMU shopping, I’d say we did a pretty damn good job gauging how many we’d need. We lined the hole with aluminum foil to reflect the heat, then covered the pig with industrial-sized sheets of foil to keep the heat in (and the flies off).

We fashioned a grill out of steel rebar (washed twice) and metal mesh (the kind used for reinforcing concrete), lined with hardware cloth. It was necessary to use the mesh for concrete jobs because other steel meshes (including “cyclone” fencing) tend to be galvanized, and that is not good eats. The hardware cloth prevented meat from falling off into the fire, assuming we would cook it long enough for that to happen. A second grill/screen was constructed and clamped to the other using metal hose clamps. This enabled a flip midway through the cooking process. By the by, we adapted the idea for the pit and grill from this extremely helpful website.

Half cooked and pre-flip, this is the pig after about 4 or 5 hours at a temp that we tried to maintain at ~250°F. Note the nice golden smoke color on the skin. This is when the second grill screen was attached to the top of the pig.

After the secong grill was attached, the pig got its flip and finished cooking for another 3 or 4 hours.

Don’t judge me. When you get up at 7:30am to start cooking a pig, it’s perfectly okay that you’re on your 5th or 6th pink lemonade chuhai by 6:00pm. Although daytime drinking + sunshine usually = my violent demise, I managed a steady buzz all day and didn’t even puke, not even a little.

Not to get on a high horse, but I think it’s easy to forget that our dinner comes at the sake of another life (unless you’re vegetarian, to which I say “been there, done that”). It’s healthy and completely necessary to come face to face with your food once in awhile. Frankly, I think it should be required.

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In the busyness of getting everything ready, I didn’t get any photos of people just enjoying themselves and eating sammiches and tacos. Hell, I didn’t even get a chance to sit down and chat with my friends until an hour after the meat was all carved up and sauced. But today’s leftover baked beans (in the oven yesterday for 6 hours), pasta salad (with leftover roasted veg tossed in), and a barbecue pork banh mi was the best damn hangover cure a girl could dream up.

When Susan and Shin came over to help clean up, I made Shin a banh mi (with a dab of the leftover Korean barbecue) and Susan, being from Ohio, wanted nothing more than plain pork, mayo and pickle on bread. I sent them home with a gallon-sized bag of shoulder and another half gallon of meat from the face. The skull is sitting in the dirt in the yard to let the bugs clean it up for me, as a souvenir of our adventure. The remaining gallon-bag of leftovers are going to be turned into chile verde enchiladas, and maybe some mu shu or fried rice. Then I don’t think I want to eat pork again for a very long time.