With summer lasting a little longer every year, many people find themselves beach bound to soak in the last slivers of the sun. We, however, usually look for a farm to feast at, a place whose hulking harvest usually means a variety of vegetables and perfect produce. This time of year is also packed with portly pig roasts, where whole hogs are hefted on top of glowing coals for hours, and cooked for perfection. Recently, we were lucky enough to head to Ian Knauer’s (host of the History Channel’s Hungry History) family farm to participate in one of these very events. “We started roasting a whole pig at the farm several years ago as an excuse to get together, and it quickly became a tradition,” Ian says. “Recently, I found a local farmer who is raising heritage breed pigs that forage for a large part of their diet. This year’s pig, an Ossabaw from Wyebrook Farm in Pennsylvania, was the tastiest yet.”
While roasting a whole animal might seem like a daunting duty, the best way to learn is to practice. Trust us, no one is going to have an issue with a less than perfect pig as they rip crispy cracklings off with their bare hands. “There are few tricks I’ve picked up along the way,” Ian shares, “that you’ll probably find helpful if you’ve never roasted one before. The most noteworthy is that it is not necessary to turn the pig on its spit. Pigs are very fatty, and as they slowly cook, their fat melts down and through the meat—essentially, it’s a self-basting animal. Instead, cover the grill (both the spit and the hole in the ground) and let the magic happen.”
Roasting a pig takes a long time, so check out this month’s tracks to kick start your porky playlist.
Whole Roast Pig
Adapted from The Farm – Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food by Ian Knauer
serves 60 to 80, with leftovers
1 (100- to 115-pound) pig
11⁄2 pounds kosher salt
Beer (for basting, if desired)
8 loaves bread
Equipment you’ll need: a shovel; 2 heavy-duty plastic garbage bags; 3 (4-foot-long) iron pipes and 1 couplet (to skewer the pig); tin wire; about 6 armloads of split hard- wood; a large disposable aluminum tray; 1 (5-by-8-foot) sheet of corrugated tin roofing. All the equipment can be gathered at a hardware store. Of course, if you can beg, steal, or borrow a spit, you’ll save yourself the chore of digging a pit.
Dig the pit: Dig a 4-by-6-by-4-foot-deep pit, trying to keep the sides and bottom as flat as possible for more even heat distribution. Dig a 6-inch-deep, 1-foot-long notch in the center of both of the short sides of the pit. This will take 3 to 6 hours, depending on how much help you have.
Cook the pig: Cut the garbage bags open to form sheets. Lay the plastic sheets on the ground. Place the pig on the plastic and rub it inside and out with the salt. Attach two of the pipes using the couplet. Skewer the pig onto the resulting 8-foot length of pipe by inserting the pipe through the anus, through the body cavity, and threading the pipe out the mouth. Tie the front legs to- gether and the back legs together, near the hoofs, us- ing the tin wire. Make an incision through one side of the rib cage with a sharp knife, cutting through to the cavity. Force the remaining pipe through the incision until it hits the far side of the cavity. Make another incision where the pipe has hit and feed the pipe through the other side of the rib cage so that it sticks out about 6 inches. Most of the pipe will remain on one side of the pig.
Arrange the hardwood along the long sides of the pit. Light a fire, and let the fire burn down to charcoal. This will take about 1 hour.
Lift the pig over the fire, letting the ends of the pipe spit rest in the notches in the pit. The pipe that is inserted through the rib cage will rest on the edge of the pit, pre- venting the pig from moving.
Brush any coals to the sides of the pit. Place the alu- minum tray underneath the pig to catch any drippings. Cover the pit with the corrugated tin roofing. Cook, bast- ing occasionally with beer, if desired, until the pig is cooked through, about 9 hours.
The ground retains an impressive amount of heat. I have not needed to add any more wood to the fire after it burns down, but you may want to check your pit every few hours to ensure that it is still hot. This method of cooking produces very tender parts (belly, cheeks, shoul- ders) and juicy roasts (hind legs, loins, tenderloins).
Roast the pig for tens hours or until your desired tenderness has been reached.
Gently and carefully lift the pig from the pit and place it on a paper-lined serving table. Remove the pipes, then carve the pig into serving pieces. Serve the drippings with the bread.
Listen to the Lucius track HERE.