Well I guess technically it was a Christmas pig steam, since the pig in question had no skin and therefore could not be roasted. After watching eleventy million videos on cooking pigs outdoors in every conceivable way but the exact combination of materials and ingredients I had, I ended up winging it.
And it turned out just fine. Pretty damn good in fact, for my first time cooking a pig like this. A testament to cooking as a process, a collection of skills and experience, not just following a recipe.
The pig was thawed in the (sparkling clean) bathtub overnight with a cup of kosher salt. Then I folded it into a cooler and doused it in two bottles of mojo criollo and covered it with ice for the morning. Mmm, mojo slushie. Then we got the coals going- two bags of natural wood charcoal in my backyard brick firepit, with long concrete edgers making a diamaond in the center to rest two oven racks on. Then I pleated sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil into a big sheet, covered that with rinsed banana leaves, and laid out the pig.
The choice of aluminum foil was probably the biggest mistake. Do not let anyone tell you that there is no difference between the “heavy duty” aluminum foil available in grocery store and the restaurant-brand “heavy duty” aluminum foil available at Sam’s Club and restaurant supply stores. Restaurant grade aluminum foil is much sturdier and less prone to tearing. We ended up having to take the pig completely off the fire twice and re-wrapping it- once when the flames burned through the foil and once when the foil tore when my husband was turning the pig.
The menfolk were nervous about the fire and kept adding hot coals. I finally convinced them to stop messing with everything after a few hours and we went inside and left the pig entirely alone to cook for another hour. When I went outside to check the internal temp, the needle went all the way around- over 190°. After only four hours and lots of fiddling, moving the pig off and on the fire, and poking at coals, the pig was apparently done and possibly overdone. We pulled the foil-wrapped package off the fire and I tentatively opened up a corner to test the temperature again, to make sure I hadn’t hit a bone or a thin muscle. Stuck right in the haunch the temperature was 190°. Not only was the meat done, it was literally falling off the bones.
I covered it all back up and let it rest while we hurriedly got everything else ready and set the table. The whole feast was potluck- each member of the family chose a dish to contribute and cooked it themselves. Ripe plantain tostones, black beans and yellow rice, corn spoonbread, turnip greens with plenty of ham, my husband’s pineapple and sweet potato curry, mashed sweet potatoes, and plenty of red wine. After all the dishes were placed on the sideboard I realized there was no room for the pig or to carve it, so we just slid the whole pig onto my largest platter and set it whole in the middle of the table. The meat was so tender we just stuck our forks in it and pulled off what we wanted. Excellent Christmas dinner.
Some changes for next time/advice:
- If I get another wild hog, I will need to lard the meat before cooking it. This was a lean hog and some of the meat turned out too dry, despite the moist cooking method.
- Spend the few extra dollars and purchase restaurant-grade heavy duty aluminum foil
- Use an oven thermometer to gauge the temperature of the barbeque pit
- Check the internal temperature of the meat once an hour
- Have a plan for turning the animal before you put it on the coals
- If your pig has no skin (sometimes small butchers don’t have the correct machinery to de-bristle pigs, so they just skin them) banana leaves are available frozen at Latin grocery stores and make an excellent “skin” to protect the meat from the direct heat.
Will I do this again? I’ll be cooking another pig as soon as we finish eating the leftover meat from this one! I had a blast and look forward to refining my technique. I’d love to do the next one with the skin, but that’s more difficult to get.