We celebrated my father’s birthday 59th Birthday this last weekend. I’m sure he’s not unlike many fathers in that it’s nearly impossible to get him a good birthday gift. He pretty much buys whatever he wants, so any product that he does not have he either has never heard about it, or he has decided he didn’t really want it. At some point last year, I saw a recipe for a spit-roasted lamb in one of my BBQ books (sadly, I have several), and tucked it away in my brain with a note that this would be very cool for a birthday gift.
In October, I got the budgetary approval from my wife and mentioned the idea to my dad. He seemed mildly interested… (which is more than I can say for years of past gifts…) But, as the date approached, the subject dominated our family conversations and the excitement grew. We decided that the animal to be roasted would be a pig and decided to do it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I found a party rental place (Alexander Rental) that rented spits and several butchers (We went with Frank and Guy’s down in Federal Way) sold whole animals. Both required about a week advanced notice. A pig under 60 lbs was $140 flat and the rotisserie was $75 for the weekend.
My father told me a week before the BBQ that he invited 30 friends to come help eat the pig. That’s when it hit me that this was suddenly serious. There will actually be people expecting to eat this pig. I had to get my game on.
I found several websites that described how to roast a pig. All of them suggested about 6-8 hours for a 60 lb pig. One website suggested wrapping the pig in chicken wire so the meat doesn’t start falling apart after it gets cooked. I decided on a fairly basic salt, pepper, oregano, and olive oil rub, followed by basting with apple cider vinegar (with onions and jalepenos).
On Friday, we spent the entire afternoon and evening picking up everything. We went to the butcher, the party rental shop, and home depot for chicken wire. As we were picking up the pig, I asked the butcher if he had any advice for roasting up this beast. He laughed and said he’s never done it, but he thought it would be a good idea to have some kind of heat shield on top to reflect the heat back on the pig. My dad really liked that idea, and I was assigned to create some kind of heat shield. That evening, I used some chicken wire and attached aluminum foil to it to create a heat shield for the pig. It looked like a solar panel that broke off of a satellite, but it looked like there was a chance it may work and it fit the budget.
The following morning (Saturday) at 7:30am, we awoke to start preparations for the pig. I’ll have to admit, that it was a bit creepy. It will probably take me a few months to forget the eyeballs, tongue, and teeth. But dutifully, I rubbed down the pig with the prepared rub. I then rammed the spit into its bum, and surprisingly, it went straight through right out it’s mouth. I’m not sure how the anatomy worked, but I was grateful I didn’t have to cut or drill some hole through the pig. However, I did have to hammer in the prongs on the spit into the pig to hold it in place – one set into it’s buttocks and the other into its face. My dad and I hoisted up the pig onto the rotisserie, hooked up the chain to the motor, and let’er spin. A beautiful sight. We then attached my satellite heat shield on top of the pig by hanging it on the roof with some wire. We found that the wind blew it all over, and the chicken wire of the heat shield got tangled up with the chicken wire wrapped around the pig. That was bad news. We tied the heat shield down to the rotisserie so that it didn’t blow around so much, and found that it was adequate.
We had bought 4 20 lb bags of charcoal. We started the roast by heating up one charcoal canister worth of charcoal, then dumping the entire 20 lbs bag in the rotisserie. Once the charcoal was all lit up, we shoveled the charcoal to both sides of the pit so that there were no coals directly under the pig. We were constantly worried about the fire being too hot and burning the pig. In retrospect, we don’t think it ever got too hot. The heat shield worked great. We don’t think the pig would have cooked nearly as well with out it, because it was such a cold day. Finally, we threw in a couple of cherry wood logs to give the pig a smoked flavor.
After 6 hours of watching a pig turn on a spit and breathing in cherry wood smoke, the guest started arriving. If there was any part of this ordeal that was worth the effort, it was perhaps watching my father proudly showing off the pig as each of the guests arrive. Most of the guests were mildly disgusted – especially with the eyes, teeth, and tongue…
Our dog, Sadie, like the heat under the rotisserie and found a home underneath its warmth. Naturally, this drew an endless number of dog BBQ jokes from the stream of Korea guests… (at least, I think they were jokes.)
One thing that I did decide this weekend is that I will have a no backseat BBQer policy. If a person is willing to dispense BBQing advice, then they’d better be willing to put on an apron and take responsibility for the meat. I only mention this, because I removed the pig from the coals against my better judgment at the constant advice of hungry guests that the the pig looked "done". When we put the pig on a table, blood started dripping out. We had to remount the pig, restoke the coals, and keep BBQing. I will have to come up with a canned response in the future for any would-be BBQ advisors… "Mr. (or Ms.) [Blank], I appreciate your advice and it sounds like you’ve done this before. I was actually getting tired of BBQing, so I’m glad an expert has come to replace me… " I’m not bitter… but BBQ just isn’t an activity that can or should be done by committee…. It’s one where one man (or woman) deserves all glory or all blame…. OK, maybe I’m a little bitter, but enough rant.
After about 8 hours, we decided we could no longer stave off the hungry guests. We would serve done parts of the pig. Most of the pig was at a much higher temperature than the required 160F. However, at the deepest points, it was still 135F.
We covered up a picnic table with aluminum foil and hoisted th pig on top of it. I carved out the ribs which were the thinnest part of the pig and brought them inside to serve. Once I snapped the backbone, the remainder of the pig could be put on a few large platters for disassembly inside.
My grandma ate some of the crispy skin and really like it. She’s pretty old school. She was excited about the hoofs and the head.
I was assigned to dismantling the pig and sorting the meat into the cooked and uncooked pile. I’m sure this was absolutely unsanitary. It’s not as if I changed gloves to handle the uncooked meat… The uncooked pile, we were planning to cook more thoroughly in the oven. (I secretly hoped, some of it would land on the plates of my anxious BBQ advisors.) [My attorney mentioned that I should note that this last paragraph is fiction merely for the purpose of amusement. Of course, we only served fully cooked pork using FDA approved food handling techniques.]
The part where I lost all desire to eat the pig was when I peeled the skin off of its face. For the revolted reader, I’m not trying to gratuitously gross you out.. I can virtually guarantee that you are not as horrified as I was when I beheld the fat and skull behind the face skin…
After all the pork was dismantled, I did finally get some meat to eat. I tried the skin. It was crispy. I was hoping it would be like a pork flavored tortilla chip… but it was more like a burnt piece of leather. I left the remainder for my grandma. All in all, the actual meat was pretty good- juicy and tender. Kinda like if you cooked pork in a crock pot. (Or like if you stood outside for 8 hours breathing in smoke tending to a rotisserie).
Finally, I think if I were to evaluate the entire experience, it was much more difficult than I thought. I would never take on responsibliity for doing anything like this again (except in the capacity of merely dispensing unwanted BBQ advice at someone else’s pig roast). With that said, it was absolutely worth it as one of the most unique gifts I’ve given to my dad.