Hosting a Pig Roast

Cook, Grilling Tips, Holidays, How-To, Learn, Try This at Home, Weekend Project

On Memorial Day, how about grilling something a little out of the ordinary, something you and your guests will remember for a long time to come. Anytime we want something on the adventurous side, we turn to chef Willie Cooper, author of On The Grill. Willie’s suggestion: go whole hog and try a pig roast.


Spit-roasting a whole 50-pound pig is one memorable, and tasty, grilling adventure—a big project to be undertaken with the help of others. A large pit fire (or large drum barbecue pit) is not something to mess around with, so enlist friends as assistant pit masters. Have them monitor and stoke the fire, help transport and prepare the pig, and assist with getting the pig on and off the fire. Once the pig is done, you won’t be able to resist the urge to take decent-size hunks of it while it’s still on the spit, nor will your buddies.


Make a pit
Chose a spot (be sure there are no underground cables or pipes in your location) and, if possible, clear an area of about 10 feet. On a nonflammable surface such as brick, gravel or dirt, or in a metal fire ring, line the bottom and sides with large stones to retain the heat. Arrange hardwood logs or charcoal and kindling such as twigs or dried grass in a pyramid shape in the pit.
Light the fire
Using a long match or lighter, ignite the hardwood logs and charcoal and let them burn down 1 to 2 hours, until the embers are covered in ash. Continue to add wood and charcoal to maintain a constant temperature throughout the cooking process.
Begin roasting
Next, place the prepared pig (see recipe below) on the rotisserie over the burning fire. Attach the motor to the rotisserie and turn on. Add more charcoal and shovel the coals to maintain an ambient temperature of 225 to 250°F.
Check for doneness
The pig is done when the skin is golden brown and crisp. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the internal temperature is 155 to 160°F in the shoulder, hindquarters and belly cavity.
Carve the pork
After you have successfully removed the pig from the spit and onto a table or large work surface, it’s ready to be carved. Using a large carving knife, start at the cheeks and shoulder and work your way through the ribs and tenderloin to the hindquarters. Carve against the grain.

Spit-Roasted Pig

To successfully spit-roast a pig, you’ll need a hog rotisserie, shovel, steel wire and wire cutters, a heavy-duty trussing needle, butcher’s twine and two pairs of heavy-duty oven mitts. Be sure to call your butcher at least a week ahead of time to order your pig.


1 whole pig, about 50 lb.
2 boneless pork butt shoulder roasts (Boston butt), each 6 to 7 lb., skin removed, with a thick layer of fat remaining
Chili Rub, double batch (recipe follows)
2 cups olive oil
Memphis Mop Sauce (recipe follows)
Basic Barbecue Sauce (optional) (recipe follows)


Prepare a fire pit for indirect grilling over medium-high heat.


Rub the inside of the pig and the pork roasts with the chili rub. Thread the spit through the pig. Place the pork roasts inside the belly cavity. Use a heavy-duty trussing needle and butcher’s twine to sew the cavity closed. Tie the pig closed with more twine at 6- to 8-inch intervals. Tie the feet and legs together with butcher’s twine and brush all over with the olive oil.


Attach the pig on its spit to the mounting brackets or tripods over indirect heat, 1 to 2 feet above and 1 to 2 feet away from the fire. Secure the spit rod to the brackets with wire. Place 2 large disposable aluminum roasting pans under the pig to catch the drippings. Turn on the motor. Keep an oven thermometer situated on a rock or cinder block near the pig to check the ambient temperature. Add more charcoal and shovel the coals to maintain an ambient temperature of 225 to 250°F. Roast the pig until the skin is golden brown and crisp and the pig is cooked through to an internal temperature of 155 to 160°F.


This will take 8 to 10 hours, depending on your fire pit. Take internal temperature readings in the thickest parts of the shoulder and hindquarters. Lightly brush the pig all over with mop sauce occasionally during the roasting time to keep the skin moist and impart flavor.


This next step is a two-person job: Wearing heavy-duty oven mitts, lift the pig on the spit out of the pit and transfer it to a work station or board large enough to accommodate it. Remove the spit rod from the pig, including all wires and butcher’s twine used to secure the pig. Carve the pig in sections, starting at the cheeks and shoulder and working your way through the ribs and tenderloin to the hindquarters. Remove the pork butts from the belly cavity and carve them against the grain. Serve at once with barbecue sauce and other condiments of choice. Serves 24 with plenty of leftovers.


Chili Rub
This is an all-purpose spice rub for slow and low barbecue cooking. It is best used liberally to coat beef, poultry and pork overnight. It can also be rubbed onto the meat just before it is placed on the grill.


3 Tbs. coarse salt
2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. paprika
1 Tbs. each cracked pepper and granulated garlic
1 Tbs. each dry mustard, cumin, chili powder and dried oregano


In a spice grinder or blender, combine the salt, brown sugar, paprika, pepper, granulated garlic, mustard, cumin, chili powder and oregano. Process into a coarse powder. Use at once or tightly cover and store for up to 1 week at room temperature. Makes 1 cup.


Memphis Mop Sauce
In authentic southern-style American barbecue, vinegar-based mop sauces are applied to baste pork in the barbecue pit or on the grill. For added flavor add a splash of hot-pepper sauce.


2 cups cider vinegar
1 Tbs. coarse salt
1 Tbs. sugar
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbs. red pepper flakes
1 Tbs. cracked black pepper


In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt and sugar. Stir in the onion, red pepper flakes and black pepper. Pour into a tall container. Use at once or tightly cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Makes 2 cups.


Basic Barbecue Sauce
Serve this sweet and savory barbecue sauce as a condiment for grilled meats and vegetables. This sauce is pureed until smooth but it can also be left a little chunky, if you prefer.


2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 small sweet onion, diced
2 Tbs. water
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. each chili powder and ground cumin
1 1/2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup prepared barbecue sauce
2 Tbs. molasses
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce


In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and melt the butter. Add the onion and water, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar, chili powder and cumin to coat the onion. Stir in the ketchup, barbecue sauce, molasses and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 15 minutes. Pour the sauce into a blender and process until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Use at once or tightly cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Makes 2 cups.


For more great grilling adventures, check out Willie’s book On The Grill.

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