Pig Roast in La Caja China

Okay, I’ll give you just one warning, so listen good. This isn’t a typical Steamy Kitchen post. There are not pretty photos, no recipe and actually I didn’t even do any of the cooking. This is a post about a pork roast, beginning to end. Hint: before it becomes pork, it’s a pig. So, if you’re squeamish about seeing pig — a whole pig before it’s cooked — don’t read further.

Members of PETA, vegans who blast meat eaters and people who like to eat bacon but deny that it comes from a cute little piggy, click away stat! (Here, come check out some cute kitteh kats.) If you read further and then complain about pig photos, I’ll dunk you in a vat of fermented fish muck. I swear.

Everyone else, pull up a chair! Grab a beer! I’m going to show you how to do a whole pig roast.

First, you need a pig. A whole pig! In Florida, we are lucky enough to to have Jim Wood and his family farm, Palmetto Creek Farm raise free-range, all-natural Hereford pigs.

I actually met Jim and his wife about three years ago, when they were part of a Farm-to-Fork event, along with other area farmers and chefs. It’s a family-and-friends operated company, with son Jim and daughter Annesly (and that cute little doggy too!).

Jim normally delivers pigs around 250lbs, but since I was only feeding about 30 people and wanted to roast it in La Caja China (more on that later), we needed a 100lb live weight pig, which meant about 85lbs dressed.

Palmetto Creek Farm slaughters only on Mondays, and on Tuesday, came the delivery. I’d never ordered a whole pig before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know how big a 100lb pig was!

And here she is:

Onto a dolly. We had to get the delivery at our old house, since there was an empty refrigerator there, and I only have 1 refrigerator in my current home. If you’re doing this at your home, I suggest clearing out your extra refrigrator OR getting a 150 quart cooler (about $150, you’ll see in later pics that the pig *just* fit in that massive cooler)

Now back to the pig. I removed all of the shelves in my refrigerator, but how do you fit a 4-legged, floppy pig upright in a refrigerator!???


We ended up wrapping the pig in large black garbage bags, securing it with packing tape.

Uh, that looks mighty suspicious, doesn’t it?

And then stuff him in the fridge.

The problem now was that the four-legged floppy pig kept falling and pushing the door open.

And so we had to block the door shut – with heavy boxes.

The pig stored there until the day before we wanted to have our pig roast. Our roasting vessel was La Caja China, a wooden box with a charcoal tray on top that I picked up from The Outdoor Kitchen in Tampa, FL (if you live in the area, they’ve got a must-visit showroom!)

La Caja China has been featured by Bobby Flay, Martha Stewart and Al Roker, it’s a fool-proof method of roasting a whole pig in 5 hours or less, complete with the beloved crispy skin. I first heard about La Caja China when we moved to Florida 10 years ago – it’s got it’s own cult following!

The method is simple: Inject pig with marinade the night before. The day of, let the pig come to room temp before roasting. Start with 16 pounds of charcoal and add charoal 3 more times, flip pig skin side up and let the skin crisp for 30 minutes.

I followed Roberto’s Mojo Criollo Marinade recipe, which consists of oranges, lemons, garlic and spices:

Let the marinade sit at least 1 hour (or overnight) and strain it before using (otherwise your injector thingy will get plugged)

Here’s the injector thingy.

Oh my.

Before marinating, I wanted to wash the pig thoroughly and give it a good scrubbing.

Since our kitchen sink wasn’t big enough, we gave the pig a scrub the tub. errrr….I mean….my husband did.

What a good sport. I love him.

Give the pig a good rinse. Then to clean the skin and scrub well, I used kosher salt *groan* I KNOW. I know. But kosher salt is the perfect size and shape for scrubbing, I’ll show you before and after scrubbing with salt on a chicken. It helps get rid any dirt, loose skin on the pig. Use as much salt as you want, you’ll rinse it all off. For the pig, we used 2 big handfuls.

Back to the kitchen, Scott had to open the pig up further to make it flat, pressing down on the ribcage.

Fill the injector with marinade.

Inject everywhere but not just anywhere – be careful NOT to pierce the skin – otherwise the marinade will leak out.

See the space between the skin and fat/meat? That’s where we inserted the needle. Once you insert it, you can go as deep as you want (as long as you don’t pierce skin on the other side) or change your angle to to get to as much meat as possible. It’s a long needle – from the neck area, we reached the cheeks too.

After you’ve botox’d the pig, I threw some orange and lemon slices all over, crushed bay leaves.

Then seasoned with salt and ground cumin. You can use a rub if you want instead.

Very little mess! That’s my counter right after we lifted the pig off.

Put the pig in the large cooler (this is the 150 quart cooler that I mentioned previously) and cover with bags of ice. Keep the ice in bags, you don’t want the pig covered in loose ice, which would melt and dilute the marinade and all the hard work seasoning the pig.

On the day of the roast, you’ll have to do some math.

4 hours to bring pig to room temperature (about 70F)
4 hours or so to roast
20 minutes to rest after cooking

In the morning, we took the ice out of the cooler and kept the cooler lid open. After 4 hours, it was 70F.

Put the pig in La Caja China’s provided wire racks with S-hooks so that it lays flat. We had a choice or rubs: it was a difficult decision, but we ended up using the Texas Pig Rub.

Our friend Charlie came over to help – I discarded the orange and lemon slices first, then we seasoned one side.

Flip the piggy over.


Season the other side.

Place the pig inside La Caja China.


It barely fit! Stick a heat-safe meat thermometer into the pig, a meaty area that doesn’t touch bone (thigh is best). I highly suggest a meat thermometer that has a probe and beeper.

Put the metal tray on top.

Start the charcoal with chimney starters on the metal rack. Do not use charcoal ligher fluid. That stuff stinks. However, if you really, really want to use self-starting charcoal, go ahead, but ONLY use it at the beginning here. Use regular plain charcoal thereafter.

La Caja China owner, Roberto Guerra, told us to ignore the instructions on the box and gave us the easy method. We have La Caja China Box #2 with a 100# live weight pig (85# dressed)

Start with 16 pounds of charcoal.

Get the charcoal nice and hot. Instead of using self-starting charcoal, we used 2 chimney starters.

Then it stared raining. So we had to move the roaster to our dock, under the umbrella <– not recommended — don’t do this. I’m surprised the umbrella didn’t go up in flames.

Have a plan if you are expecting rain – in a cleared garage – keep your garage door open is fine.

Carefully dump the 16 pounds of charcoal on top of the metal tray + metal rack.

So, at this point, I was in the house, getting other stuff ready for the party. Charlie took these photos with my camera, and it was JUST NOW that I realized that my husband’s choice of footwear was open-toe sandals. WHHHAAAT!??? Let’s see. Hot fire. Burning hot charcoal that you’re dumping by hand. Wet, slippery wood dock.

)!(@&$)!*$!@%*!@$$ I HAVE NO WORDS. At least none I can publish.

Spread the burning hot burning hot burning hot charcoal around. You know, the type of burning hot charcoal that could accidentally fall off and burn your big toe off.

Let it burn for 1 hour.

You’ll add charcoal 3 additional times. See timing below.


Start with 16 pounds of charcoal. Light charcoal – once the charcoal is lit and hot, spread it around. Your cooking time starts now.

START: Let it cook for 1 hour.
1:00: Add 8 pounds charcoal on top, cook 1 hour
2:00: Add 8 pounds charcoal on top, cook 30 minutes
2:30: Add 4 pounds of charcoal on top, cook 30 minutes or until the meat thermometer reaches 190F.
3:00: Time to flip the pig. This will take 2 people.

Lift up the metal tray.

Place it on the handles (the handles are designed specifically for this)

Take a peek?

Flip the pig over

Hello, delicious.

Score the skin, make an X in each square of the grid.

Put the charcoal back on.

Let it cook for 30 minutes (no more charcoal is needed).

Then find another friend wearing flip-flops to lift the burning hot charcoal.

MMMmmmm…crispy skin. If it’s not crispy enough, put back the charcoal for another 10 minutes.

Let the pig rest for 20 minutes before digging in – we got a big folding table, covered it with newspaper and set the pig on top. Three people with gloves pulled the meat apart, placing it in massive serving tray. It was crazy juicy, fall-off-the bone! The Mojo Criollo marinade was perfect, the pork had hints of citrus.

I set out flour tortillas, salsas, lime for guests to make their own tacos.


Here, take a bite!