Hammis Family Blog

Tag: texas

Roasting a Pig with La Caja China

by on Jul.17, 2016, under General

A few years ago I attended my first pig roast done with a La Caja China roaster.  I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time, but I found out later.  They just said it was street tacos for a Super Bowl party.

That summer I decided I wanted to have a party at my house.  I was figuring about 30-40 people.  If I had a party though, how would I feed everyone?  I had a grill, but burgers and hot dogs and chicken are kind of staples of the summer party and kind of boring.  I could cater, but that gets expensive quick and a lot of those mass produced foods were staples at office gatherings and such.  Pizza, like burgers and dogs, was also out.  I hate asking people to bring a dish to pass as well.  It just seemed rude.  I thought back to the pig roast at the Super Bowl party and thought, I could probably do that.

So I called my friend who worked at the place where the party was and asked him about it.  He got me in touch with his chef, who told me about the process, offered to loan me his box, order a pig and prep it for me.  All I’d need to do is put the charcoal on.

Originally we were going to celebrate my brother in law’s birthday since it was near the time of our first party.  Then we had people that we invited say “hey, my birthday is just before the party!” or “my birthday is right after the party!”  I realized that since we don’t always have the time to get together for everyone’s birthday party, we could celebrate everyone’s birthday at the party.  Thus, the Birthday Party Pig Roast was born.

The first year the pig was prepped in a brine in a cooler with broth and vegetables and kept there until I started cooking.  I learned that year about letting the pig come up to temp.  I also misread the directions about the initial amount of charcoal to put on.  I put on 8 pounds when it should’ve been 18.  Trying to keep the temps moderate while also cooking and to an extent, thawing the pig at the same time met with unexpected results.  It took much longer than expected and I wound up scorching the skin after I flipped the pig.  Lesson learned there was to let the pig finish cooking and get to the 185 temp before flipping and only flip to finish off the skin and fat on that side.  It was still tasty though and everyone enjoyed it.

The second year I did things on my own.  I lost touch with the chef who had lent me his La Caja China the year before, so I bought my own.  I ordered it from Home Depot and it came with free shipping, but it was still on the expensive side.  I found a butcher who could order the pig for me locally and placed my order with them.  I told them how I was cooking it and how I would like it prepped and they had no problems with it.  The night before the roast I made the mojo marinade that is on the La Caja China website.  http://www.lacajachina.com/Mojo-Criollo_a/168.htm  I used the injector that I used on turkeys to inject the hams with some of the marinade.  Since I couldn’t find sour orange juice I was able to get a blended mix of orange and pineapple juice that worked well.  I’m not sure if it’s in the same ratio as in the recipe, but it worked.  This was the juice I got.  http://www.simplyorangejuice.com/product/orange-pineapple-juice  I just used 12 ounces of juice for each version of the recipe and then multiplied it by 3 instead of 4.  I also mixed some with the pig juices for a dipping sauce, but that wasn’t very popular with the guests.  The day of cooking I butterflied the pig, which takes a bit of effort.  You need to finish cutting the pig from neck to tail to open the cavity more, then cut down along each side of the spine to loosen the ribs.  Then you have to really lean into it and crack the ribs open so the pig will lay flat.  After I did that I used McCormick’s Grill Mates Pork Rub and rubbed the entire pig with it.  http://www.mccormick.com/grill-mates/flavors/dry-rubs/grill-mates-pork-rub  All of the prep work outside in 100 degree Texas heat helped to defrost the pig before I cooked it.  It came out really well that year, but I felt I could improve on it.  It wasn’t burnt, which was great, but still could use something.

This year was the best year ever for taste, and I attribute it to the prep and cooking style I did this year.  I went with the same butcher as the previous year and that worked out well.  56.3 pounds of pig was ready to go the day before the party.  The night before the party I made the mojo marinade and injected it into the hams and shoulders like the year before, but this time I chopped up the garlic instead of just smashing it.  I also substituted basil for the bay leaves.  I did the butterflying the night before and started with the rub.  I generously applied it all over, inside and out.  I wound up using about half the jar.  She went from pink to reddish brown when it was done.  Then, I took the solids that were strained out of the marinade and rubbed them all inside the rib cavity.  I took two large white onions and cut them in half and put them inside the ribs.  I didn’t peel them or anything.  I broke up a couple of bulbs of garlic and again, didn’t peel the skins or papers off of them.  Just tossed them inside.  I took two jalapeno peppers and sliced them in half lengthwise, kept the seeds in and placed them cut side down into the cavity.  Then I wrapped the pig up in plastic and put it back in the cooler with ice bags on top.  The next day I came over to where we were hosting the party and took the ice out of the cooler.  I left the cooler open inside the house for about a half hour before moving it outside to do the final prep and put it in the rack.  You could smell the prep work had made its way into the meat already.  I started the charcoal and in about 10 minutes (Texas sun helps the charcoal get hot quick) the coals were ready and I put the pig inside the La Caja China roaster, cavity up, with the vegetables still inside.  My hope was that the vegetables would smoke and add flavor to the meat.  They weren’t intended to be eaten.  Sure enough, the plan worked and the tops of the vegetables turned black and smoked inside the box and the juices from them seeped into the meat.  We had a bit of a delay in cooking due to rain, but we kept the fire going despite the two hour wind and rain downpour and slowly roasted the pig to perfection.  The pig came out deliciously juicy and full of flavor.  Those that had attended all three years of the pig roast party said it was the best one so far.

Feel free to ask any questions or offer any tips for my next roast.  It’s a lot of fun and I’m trying to figure out more opportunities to do it.

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