Last night a group of 30 of us stood in Prospect Park and carved away at a 50 pound pig I had spent the day roasting. It was glorious. There's something incredibly joyous and primal about carving up a whole animal with good friends. I would do it again in a heartbeat (and I will!).
Putting the roast together was a month long adventure, I did a bunch of research into roasting techniques, pig sourcing and potential locations. By the time the event arrived, (almost) everything fell into place. Once you decide on a technique, farm and location, most of the other stuff is easy. Here's what I went with:
Getting a Pig
I wanted to buy my pig from a real farmer (not a factory). Pigs raised the old school way are environmentally friendly, healthier, and, most importantly, tastier. In my quest for a pig, I went from stall to stall at the farmers market asking if they could sell me a whole hog. Almost everyone selling pork gave me quote and I went home to deliberate.
There are a bunch of good ways to roast a pig. Every culture has a different method, varying in cost, time and effort required.
If you're in the tri-state area, I highly recommend talking to Sam over at Hudson Valley Harvest. He hooked me up with a great pig at a great price (about $5.50 a pound for a small pig). If you're a bit more frugal, check with your local butcher (you can probably end up with a pig for between $2.50 and $4.50 a pound).
50 pounds hanging weight (dead and cleaned) seems like the sweet spot for a pig roast. You get enough food for about 30 people and a pig that's small enough to be tasty (and handleable) but, big enough to not be a baby (suckling pigs are too cute to roast IMHO).
My initial plan was to use cinderblocks to construct a roaster. It seemed like an economical and fun way to roast a pig, boy was I wrong! Turns out NYC neighbors freak out when they see you loading 25 cinderblocks into the garden outside their apartment.
Going with the Caja China was the best decision I made. It's the best, most efficient most portable way to roast a pig.
After finding someone to remove the 25 cinderblocks from the garden courtyard (Taskrabbit FTW) before an irate landlord showed up, I decided against that plan.
I was left with a few options, a Spit, burying it in the ground, or... La Caja China. Renting a spit seemed like a hassle and I wasn't interested in digging a big hole in NYC's probably toxic ground so I ended up purchasing a Caja China.
The Caja China is more like an oven than a grill or a smoker, you put the pig inside a big wooden box lined with metal and cover the lid with hot coals. Heat radiates in and cooks your pig to juicy tenderness in just 4 hours. Going with the Caja China was the best decision I made. It's the best, most efficient, most portable way to roast a pig.
Where to Roast
Living in NYC is pretty amazing, unless you want to roast a pig. Backyards are few and far between and the fire code is pretty prohibitive.
The good news is that there are a few public parks that allow you to setup a grill. Turns out, a Caja China is basically a grill. Show up early, stake out a spot and get your roast on. We did our roast in the grill area right next to the Picnic House and it was perfect.
Optimize for crispy skin. I hear that rubbing the outside of the pig with oil and turning the lid 45 degrees after flipping to let the hot air out increases crispiness.
Get extra buns, sauces (hot, bbq, ketchup, etc.), and PICKLES, lot's of pickles.
A car is a must when trying to transport a 50 pound pig from Manhattan to Brooklyn
Roasting a pig is incredible fun. Enjoy it. Seriously. I haven't had that much fun in a long time.
All photos courtesy Jesse Lamb