*Warning* This post will contain graphic pictures of a raw and cooked pig.
Last year when I was testing the waters with curing my own meats, I went to the Eastern Market in Detroit and got myself an 8-pound pork belly to cure for bacon. The bacon was delicious with a roasted pork flavor that was deep and rich. The difficult part for me was that the nipples left on the belly made me a bit squeamish. I conveniently forgot this fact when thinking of a whole pig. Talk about immersion therapy – but I’m getting a head of myself.
In preparation for our pig roast, we sent out evites to a bunch of family and friends. Dave tackled getting our bathroom remodel in order (another story for another time) while I began to research the best place to get a whole pig. Obviously, if you can get a pig right from a farm, go for it. That was not really an option for us, so we went with the next best thing, a wholesale meat provider down at the Eastern Market. I called then three weeks in advance to reserve a pig. Our conversation was confusing and somewhat awkward at best – I blame this on the fact that a) I wasn’t 100% sure what I was talking about and b) the woman insisted on calling the pig that we would receive “Porky” – naming it… bad idea.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when ordering a pig:
1. Plan for 1 pound of dressed pig per guest. We were thinking 50 people, so we got a 60-pound pig (also, that was the smallest pig we could get). The pig will yield approximately half its weight in delicious meat – thus a 60-pound pig will give you about 30 pounds of usable meat.
2. Ask for the pig dressed – unless you want to be gutting it yourself – didn’t think so…
3. Make sure you know whether or not your pig will arrive frozen or thawed. I was assured Porky would be roaming the farm on Thursday and dressed and ready to be picked up on Friday.
4. Make sure to get the price of the pig. Usually it’s a price per pound. Ours was about $2 per pound for a fresh pig.
Here’s the breakdown of our cooking process:
Friday, June 29th
2pm Dave left work and went to pick up the pig.
2:30pm Dave called me with this message, “we’re not on the list. Did you order the pig?”
Can we say freak out? Turns out that there were several pigs hanging with names written on the side, but none of the pigs said “Julie” or “Dave” and our names were strangely absent from the whole pig list. Thankfully they were able to “find” us a 62-pound pig, wrap it in plastic wrap, and send it home with Dave.
3:15pm Dave walked in with the pig slung over his shoulder. He was immediately elevated to godlike status in the eyes of our pets, especially our new dog, Clover.
So there we were, the day before the party with a 62-pound pig and… no where to put it. It certainly wouldn’t fit into our fridge and we weren’t going to spend $200 on a huge cooler just to temporarily house a pig carcass. The solution turned out to be super easy – the bathtub. We cleaned it out really well (before and after the pig, I promise), laid the pig inside, and covered it in bags of ice.
We spent the rest of the night alternately cleaning the house and doing last minute research on the Internet. Originally, we had thought that it could take up to 12 hours to fully cook our pig, but given how small our pig was and the fact that we weren’t going to stuff it, we reasoned 6-7 hours would be plenty. This was the hardest call for us to make – if you’ve tried looking up proper cooking times for whole pigs on grills, you know that it can vary and there are no guarantees that your pig will be done in time for your party. We used the ultra scientific method of reading a lot, averaging, and finally guessing. We knew we wanted the pig to get to 160 degrees F in order to be thoroughly cooked and we *hoped* that 6-7 hours would get us there.
On the morning of the pig roast, we woke up at 8:30am. The plan was to start the charcoal at 9am and throw the pig on at 10am. Instead, I woke up with the terrible realization that our grill on the roaster would place the pig way too close to the coals. Luckily, we live five minutes away from a Home Depot, so we raced over and found some bricks. We covered the bricks in foil and placed them on the support bars. With the added height of the bricks, the pig would rest about 8-10 inches above the coals (not quite the recommended 12 inches, but it would have to do). Here’s how it looked:
We used two chimneys to start the charcoal and poured them evenly at the bottom of the roaster. All in all, we put about one 18-pound bag of charcoal in the roaster and let it get hot.
While the coals heated, we took the ice off the pig and rinsed it off. We rubbed the whole thing down with kosher salt and pepper. We rubbed the belly cavity with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic.
Dave carried the pig out to the back where we had the roaster resting on the cement. For safety per cautions, we put a layer of heavy duty, grill foil on the chicken wire to catch any grease and had the hose handy.
And then we put the pig on the grill like this:
Problem. There was no way it was going to cook evenly on its side and we didn’t want to have to flip it halfway through cooking. I suddenly recalled how I had read that some people had cracked the spine on the pig in order to get it to lay flat on the grill… and with no time to spare (it was already 10:20am!) Dave grabbed a mallet…. and beat the pig’s back repeatedly to crack the spine in four places.
No picture of that – I was too busy cringing at the dull thuds of the mallet striking pig flesh.
At 10:30am, we got the pig on the grill, laying it as flat as we could get it. We checked it after one hour at 11:30am and covered the face in foil in order to keep it from burning. Here’s how it looked:
Ideally, the temperature needs to be constant around 225 – 250 degrees F. Ours ran a little hotter than that. We splashed the coals with water to bring it down at times, but ultimately we couldn’t always guarantee it was low enough.
About halfway through the cooking at three hours, we pulled the edges of the grate up carefully and added another bag of charcoal to the roaster.
Then we virtually forgot about the pig until 5:00pm. Ok, we didn’t actually forget about the pig, but we didn’t fuss over it and threw ourselves into last-minute party things like making dip and throwing junk into odd places of the house where people wouldn’t notice it. People started to come over at 4:30 and at 5:00pm we held our breath and stuck a digital thermometer into the thickest part of the pig’s leg. We were shooting for 160 degrees F. We got 185 instead. A moment of panic ensued. *Later we found out that this was not the end of the world. The pig was juicy enough that the meat was super moist and tender. Phew!
Here’s how it looked after 6.5 hours on the roaster:
And here we encountered a problem. The foil we put on the grate kept the grease from the charcoal. Unfortunately, when we began to move the pig, some of the grease drained onto the charcoal which caused little flare ups of fire. It took four people very carefully lifting the grate, one at each end, with pliers and hot mitts. We had a table set up next to the roaster so they did not have to go very far – however, I’m pretty sure it felt like a mile.
We let the pig rest for about 20 minutes. In that time, I managed to rope our friend, Amanda, into carving the pig with me. Our conversation went something like:
Me: Hey Amanda, how do you feel about carving meat?
Amanda: Usually I leave that to Chris (her fiance).
Me: Great! Here’s an apron and a knife and tongs. Let’s just step outside…
Amanda was a good sport though and in no time we had the pig carved with the meat shredded into aluminum pans for people to help themselves to.
The 62-pound pig produced about 30 pounds of meat, which we fed to 50 guests. There were only a couple pounds of meat left after all was said and done – not the mountains of leftovers that we were dreading. The meat was delicious. It was moist, flavorful, and almost unrealistically tender. We served it with several choices of bbq sauce and side dishes that all of our guests had brought. Nothing went to waste. We scraped the bones clean to get all the meat. Clover graciously worked on the ears. Even the eyes didn’t go to waste because Dave and my co-worker’s husband ate them. Dave described the experience as “squishy but strangely porky.”
All in all, we chalked up the pig roast as a success. We had a great time throwing it and are even talking about making it an annual event. It was much much easier than we thought it would be. For anyone thinking of throwing their own – I would say go for it! And invite us, please 🙂