So you want to roast a whole pig…
but you don’t want to freak out over whether or not the spit can handle 160 pounds. Or worry about the pig cooking over coals you’ve placed in a pit you’ve dug (or how you are going to get the pig out of the pit you’ve dug). And you don’t think your pig will fit in one of those really expensive metal boxes that sell for a few thousand dollars – and you don’t have a few thousand dollars.
Do it the Pescadero way! Get a bedframe!
This method has been passed down and around these parts by the Uruguay farmer, Guillermo, from Del Sur Organic Farm. Luckily for me I ran into him at a gas station while we were both pumping petrol and he explained his pig roasting method on the hood of my dusty jeep. Pictograms work wonders…
“Guillermo! OMG! I’m so glad I ran into you! I need your help – I’m roasting a pig. What do I do???”
“Amy, you’ll be fine. Get a bed frame. You have one? Don’t worry you can borrow mine. You want to prop the frame on a T-stake like this….” Guillermo draws a fire cirlce on my jeep hood and then the bedframe and t-stake. This is how all good cooking techniques are passed down – at the gas station – who knew?
So readers, here’s what to do: get a bed frame. Yes. A bedframe. A sturdy one. No rust. Clear a fire circle around it and make sure to have water buckets and fire safety gear nearby. If it is a dry area make sure the surrounding ground is super soaked. Prop bed frame up. You can use T-stakes and do this at a 45˚ angle or you can do what I did, which is to use bricks and lie the frame out flat. But be careful with bricks because they can get too hot and explode (use the special fire retardant ones to be safe).
Let’s backtrack a little, first you have to get the pig.
The pig I roasted was lovingly raised at one of the farms I work with for a “Dirty Thirty” birthday party. He was a pal of mine and this was not an easy thing for any of the farmers or myself to see through. I’m going to say that right up front before World War III breaks out. Because I know people are comfortable not knowing where their meat is coming from and prefer it to be wrapped up in saranwrap wthout head attatched. I get that, but I’m not sympathetic.
This post is bound to cause some uncomfortable feelings. But this is the way it should go. And after this whole experience I realize how important it is to know where you are getting your meat and how it is processed. Out of respect I will leave many pictures out but if you want to see the whole butchering process you can go to my FB page (there’s a button on the top of the site next to my pic.)
The day before the Dirty Thirty party goes like this…
It is a beautiful morning on the farm: humming birds are zooming around, the farm dogs are out tossing field mice up in the air for fun, the cow is mooing her silly head off because no one is giving her extra oats, and the goats are bleating to be milked. I grab a strong cup of coffee from the main house and walk through the raspberry and ollieberry fields picking my breakfast off piece by juicy piece down the thorny rows.
One by one the farmers come out of their cabins coffee cups in hand and meet in the strawberry patch – not that this is a normal gathering place, it’s just positioned equadistant from everyone. It’s 8A.M. time to get a move on. I’ll be taking the pig to be processed at Bar None just up the coast along with one of the farmers, but first the pig has to be loaded into the trailer and this is not going to be easy – or so I’m told.
If you’ve never raised a pig then let me say they are some of the cutest animals ever. They do stink up a storm, but they are great at eating up compost which is awesome on a farm and they are smart. I wish they weren’t so smart. And, as I found out, they are also very protective. A few months ago I was attacked by a neighbor’s dog and the pigs came running snorting their heads off to protect me. They scared the dog who lost his grip on my thigh.
They like belly rubs. They like Mexican pastries. They like artichoke leaves and acorns and extra goat milk and apples and just about everything. And they like to be sprayed with the hose – this the farmers call ‘pig party’ because they love to roll around in the mud and get real sloppy.
The pigs are given a super delicious breakfast of all things mentioned above. They are snortin’ it up and havin a good ol’ time. We give them belly rubs and head scratchies and lots of love. We drive the trailer over and open the back end into the pig pen. The farmers place down boards for “Little Pig” to walk up and drop acorns like bread crumbs attempting to coax the pig in without a fuss.
Ha! Of course the two pigs we don’t want to entice saunter into the trailer eating all the goodies. And the one we do want has a sixth sense that something is up. I told you pigs are smart. We continue to coax “Little Pig” (who is not little at all weighing in at 160 pounds) into the trailer, but no such luck. We back off for an hour and hope that that he will naturally walk himself up.
None of the farmer’s want to use force: everyone wants it to be as peaceful as possible. But we’ve got to get going or the pig isn’t going to get butchered. Finally three of the farmers grab the pig and force him up the ramp. He pushes everyone over quite a few times, bites many a calf, and squeals up a storm. A pig squealing is not like a mild whimper for help – it’s a f’ing scary-ass deafening shrill war cry. Sadly, he is out numbered.
We drive Little Pig to Bar None along the beautiful Highway 1. I watch the waves crash against the cliffs, the white caps frothy and fierce, the fog creeping closer dipping lightly into the sea and floating it’s way up to land. I smell the cleansing chapparel of the coast mixed with sea spray and brace myself for what’s coming. It’s one thing to kill a chicken. It’s quite another thing to do in a four legged creature.
Is this the right thing to do? And why do I feel I need to be part of this process? At this point there’s no turning back. I said I would cook this pig and I can’t back out of it now with 100 people showing up for the shin-dig in 24 hours.
Bar None is a strange place. Very professional, but just a little odd. In that they raise animals that can be bought and slaughtered on the spot or you can bring your own. You can go and pick out your dinner if you like. I don’t know if the animals are organic or not but they seem well tended to. For the actual slaughter, you can be part of it or not. But I think if that animal has the courage to die for you, then you can darn well stand there and watch. And if you can’t. Then, like I wrote earlier, maybe you shouldn’t eat meat (?).
We talk with the butcher and choose for Little Pig to be electrocuted because it’s a swift process. And I very much like the butcher of Bar None. He is professional and the processing area is spotless and odorless. He works cleanly and quickly. And I believe that it’s not so easy for him – even though he makes it look that way.
We unload Little Pig into a holding pen with the aid of the butcher. And Little Pig is having a great time much to our relief. He is a hog amongst little pink pigs and obviously receiving mucho attention. I notice his ears perk up and his sense his spirit. And yes, this makes everything much harder.
His turn is upon us. The butcher leads him into the processing room and he is electrocuted. I sense no pain. It’s over in seconds. And then quickly the pig is hoisted up and bled. The blood runs into the gutters and is hosed down fast. Next, the pig is put in a scalding water dip that removes all the hair. From here it is hoisted into a an odd metal machine that spins the pig around and taking off all the outer skin leaving the carcass bright pink and smooth.
We ask for our pig to be butterflied. The butcher hangs the pig and in 5 minutes removes innards (reserving heart and liver for us). We pack our pig into an ice chest and leave. And we are not feeling exuberant. We are feeling heavy hearted.
But there is a strange transition that happens from the point of death on. The pig does stop being a friend and turns into “it” – into meat.
I cannot lift 160 pound pig and this is a problem. I bring the pig early in the morning to the place of the party on a beautiful grassy knoll in Boony Doon close to Santa Cruz.
I build a fire ring with the aid of the birthday girl, Debbie, pictured above. And we are very careful about this because starting a wild fire in Santa Cruz is not on our to-do list.
How better than to test the strength of this well worn frame then climb on top? It seems to take my weight just fine. But with another 60 pounds I’m not so sure. This frame has seen better days for sure and some of the side hooks are starting to wear thin. Hmmmm….
It is a scortching hot morning, and there is not a shade tree in sight. It’s at least 90˚F today and even hotter next to the fire. This truly sucks for me. The ocean is a half mile away, close enough to jump right in. Ah, forget it, it’s too much to risk to leave the fire unattended.
I have not taken Guillermo’s advice on raising the bed frame at a 45˚ angle attatched to a T-Stake because it doesn’t quite make sense to me and the pig is sooooo heavy. I understand that it might be easier to push the fire around and tend to it and control the direction of the fire if there is wind. But I ration that if the pig is sprawled out I can really control all parts to the fire and what body parts I want the most heat on.
I can’t say that I’m right or wrong, because I’ve never tried this other way, but my way works for sure.
Here is the game plan: build fire in a separate fire pit, then move coals (wood not charcoal) along the outside flanks of the pig and keep the heat indirect everywhere – especially the tenderloin. As coals die down they are moved inward and then pushed out in one sweep. The problem with cooking any animal whole, whether it is a chicken or a pig, is that some parts are going to take more time than others. Because the pig is covered with so much fat I’m not really worried about it drying out, especially with low indirect heat. But I am worried about the tougher cuts not getting enough cooking time.
The plan so far, is working. However the heat from the two fires (one under the pig, and the separate one I keep to feed it) along with the blaring sunshine is making me sick. I had heat stroke in India when I lived there a long time ago and I’ve never been the same in heat since that life threatening experience. My hubby takes over tending to the fire while I lie down for an hour and try to cool off with ice packed around my head and neck.
Debbie (the birthday girl) and Ramin (my husband) come wake me up. It’s time to do the pig flip. Oh brother, this wasn’t part of the plan! I mean, I knew it would come to this point but I kinda blocked it out of my mind and I don’t have a game plan for this part of the process. Or maybe the heat exhaustion is scrambling my brains. “Jeez, aren’t there anymore men around that want to show off their bravado?” I ask holding an ice bag on top of my head.
Debbie laughs beer in hand, “We got this. Time to rise and shine!”
Debbie is a farmer. She works at Pie Ranch. Her face is as bright as sunshine but her fingers tell a different tale. Where my hands are covered in cooking wounds, hers look like they’ve been planted and potted. Debbie’s roommate who is hosting the party, Alison, is the original owner of Dirty Girl produce and also a professional surfer. So I am in strong company.
How to flip the pig: we build an identical set of brick posts next to the fire pit. With everyone grabbing a side to the bed frame we lift the whole thing (including pig, of course) to our new set of posts away from the fire. From here the two strongest of us (My husband and Alison) grab an arm and a leg and hoist the pig up, while Debbie and Yours Truly grab the remaining arm and leg and swing the pig to flip. No problem. Easy. We carry the pig back over the coals on the frame.
Up until this point I have cooked the pig skin side up. We will flip it one more time before the cooking is over and I will add spices and my mop solution that is a mixture of spices, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar. There is still five more hours to go….or more… I’m not really sure…but I’m figuring around eight to nine hours altogether.
I do follow Farmer Guillermo’s instruction on seasoning. I insert cloves of garlic all over, making tiny incisions through the skin. And throughout the cooking process I switch the pig with brine using a rosemary branch.
It’s finally party time.
People are showing up with all sorts of the goodies and the bands are loading in their musical equipment into the barn. This is going to be a fun evening. The executive Chef from Oliveto’s arrives and whips up all the side dishes from produce that has been donated from all the surrounding organic farms. The last of the padron peppers, late summer corn, early girl and molina tomatoes, winter cabbage, kale, and carrots are miraculously transformed into a stunning array of veggie nirvana.
The Chef gives me a big bear hug, “Great job! Normally I’m the pig roast person, but now I thankfully get to enjoy it without the 9 hour headache.” I know what he means. By this time I’m exhausted. Even though there’s not much to roasting a pig, it does take constant attention.
I carve the pig right over the fire with the help from my husband, because there’s really no place to set a whole pig. With the aid of friends we get plates of pig out to the buffet line. The meat disappears before we can even set the plates down. In fact, the meat practically disappears right off the bedframe. Everyone is begging for the crackled skin, a favorite around here.
The big orange evening sun has finally sunk behind the hills sizzling straight into the ocean I’m sure. The buffet line is now just a few stragglers poking around in the darkness for some last pieces of pig skin and cornbread and the crowd is mostly filling up the barn. The music is picking up energy. People are well fed and bopping around to ska music.
I’m totally wiped. The beer I’ve just downed has gone straight to my head and I’m ready to crash despite the invitation to dance with my husband who seems to have boundless energy, I just can’t quite get into it. Dehydration has taken its toll.
Debbie gets the sleeping bags out. It’s going to be a night under the stars for sure. I can’t wait to hit the hay… great experience overall. Life changing in many ways. Although the processing of the pig wasn’t an experience I’d like to repeat, I needed to be there for it. And having never partaken in a pig roast before, I was totally blown away by the celebration and excitement that drew people from all over the California coast.
What a feast!