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!???

Hmmmmm……

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.

TIMING:

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!

Comments 69

  1. Gaby

    freaking amazing. Wish I could have been there for this feast – it looks like it was a ton of fun :) Can we have a pig roast at food blog camp next year? hehe

    xoxo

  2. Alan Cooke

    How cool is that. Being from S.C., pig pickins are common occurences, but that’s the first time I’ve heard of La Caja China roasting box. Will have to look into it. Looks like a great part and lots of fun! :)

  3. jenjenk

    That is awesome!!! I have to admit that I had my own mental commentary [from piggy’s perspective] going on when I saw the step by step pics of him going into the caja! That looks deliciously amazing!!!

  4. onelimb

    I have roasted 12 pigs in my caja china over the last 3 years-love it!. For crispier skin, buy a chinese skin “poker”. Looks like the wooden stuffer that comes with the kitchenaid meat grinder with nails coming out of the flat end. I got mine in chinatown – they know best!

  5. Rowena @ Saraplicious! Kitchen

    The roast looks amazing! Thanks for sharing this. In a way this reminds me of my grandparents farm in the Philippines where we roasted whole pigs often the old way, dug up pit, wood and a long bamboo stake for the pig. Anyhow, I’m not going to mention this La Caja China to my husband. We have wild boar problems here in our end of FL and for some reason he thinks we should catch one of the boars and have a pig roast.

  6. Just Jules

    PIGtastic! My mouth is positively watering! We just purchased half a heritage hog from a local family farm and the flavor of the pork is incomparable. The bacon is porkolicious. Tastes nothing like the pork from the local mega-chain grocery store. Hope you had fun!

  7. Lyndsey ~The Tiny Skillet~

    You crack my up, I was laughing so much I had to show my husband. Wow it looks amazing, I love Mojo Criollo marinade! Pulled pork tacos with salsa verde…mmmmm…the best. Now you are all set for the next wild boar Scott gets. :D Our neighbors across the street have a big smoker roaster, but this look perfect for the average Joe to use. BTW That would be my husband in his flip flops, but he’d have his big leather welding gloves on.

  8. Joy

    I loved your photo essay. I especially enjoyed the part where you used the boxes to keep the fridge closed. LOL! Mmmmm… it looks so incredibly good. Maybe someday I’ll be able to taste some pork made this way. Thanks so much. That was amazing~

  9. Steamy Kitchen Husband

    I would just like to remind people that appropriate footwear is always recommended when working with hot coals and burning embers. As a side note, I would like to remind my wife that I was a trained professional in the art of firewalking.

  10. Liesel

    I did not look at the pics or read the post but I wanted to say thank you for considering those of us of a squeamish nature. I do love shredded pork but seeing the pics makes me a bit sick. So thanks, for the consideration and head’s up!

  11. Shonneky

    My husband and I have used our La Caja China many times and we love it. I love experimenting with marinades. Glad to see someone else doing it too. Looks like you guys had so much fun.

  12. Chet Holden

    Okay! That’s it, you did it! My order is in the mail. THANK YOU for putting the Caja China that much closer to reality, after years of me sayin’ “Man, that looks good.” This is a totally keeper post, complete with footwear guide, weather forecast and really cool method for keepin’ the fridge closed. Gotta tag it: INSTA INSTAPAPER.

  13. bunkycooks

    Great photos of the entire process. The meat did look incredibly juicy. Our neighbors in NC have a pig roast every year, so I let them do the work and then we enjoy the food. ;)

  14. Susan P.

    Cuban friends of ours roast a pig a couple of times a year and have a pit made of concrete blocks, charcoal on the bottom and use 2 twin beds frames for the pig frame. Takes 4 people to flip the pig over and it comes out great.

  15. Susan

    I can’t remember ever reading such a fun posting. Wish I could have been there. Love that crackling skin…Looks delicious and reminds me of home.

  16. Joan Nova

    Fabulous post…living in So FL, I’ve been to pig roasts before but just showed up to eat. Didn’t realize what went in to it…love the pictorial from stuffing it in the refrigerator on forward. Such fun!!

  17. Sherri M

    A-MAZ-ING….I’m in NC and we do plenty of pig-roasts (we call ‘em pig-pickins’). I’ve always wanted to do a whole pig, though, and this looks as simple as anything I’ve seen. Thanks, Jaden, for the post.

  18. Amy @ A Little Nosh

    That was insane. My husband looked over when I was looking at the pic of the pig in the black trash bag. I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to explain what the heck I was looking at. He looked appalled. LOL

  19. Monica

    Jaden.. this whole post reminded me when I lived in Miami and this was an event every single weekend for me.. lots of Cuban friends that would do this all the time… the roasted pig looks delicious, that I want to lick the screen!

  20. Kim in MD

    WOW. What an amazing post, Jaden. I have seen several Food Network chefs use the La Caja China, but your details and photos blew me away! I wish I could taste one of those tacos! YUM!:-)

  21. Nancy G.

    That looks amazing! What a treat. I was practically drooling as I read along, except for the part about the pig in the black garbage bags…

  22. The Mrs @ Success Along the Weigh

    That looks sooo good! Takes me back to doing one up in the imu in Hawaii! I had to crack up laughing at the black bagged “body” in the fridge…looked like a suspicious scene to any outsider who didn’t know what was going on! :) Did the pup get the pig ears?

  23. Susan @ SGCC

    I have been jonesing for a la caja china for years! Can’t get my BBQ challenged husband to go for it. Looks like a great time was had by all (except the pig)! Well done!

  24. Perry P. Perkins

    GREAT step-by-step! I’ve suffered the “poorly chosen footwear” issue myself, lol, and it ALWAYS rains when I fire up the box!

    Those tacos looked awesome! We’re roasting a pig this weekend and now I’m gonna have to go pick up some tortillas and salsa verde.

    Thanks for the great article!

    -Perry

    Perry P. Perkins
    Author
    “La Caja China Cooking”
    “La Caja China World”

  25. Lisa @ The Cooking Bride

    Too bad the fridge door wouldn’t stay closed. What a mean (i.e. funny) trick to ask some unsuspecting soul to get you a cold one out of the fridge and have this “dead body” fall out on top of them.

  26. Jorge Carnona

    Love me some pig roasts. I have been roasting pigs since I was a little boy with my father. recently began doing what I love as a business in Texas. Love the full description of your roast…the piggy turned out great.

  27. Carrie Oliver

    I find myself wondering what else the Caja China can be used for – is it more versatile, for instance, than a deep fat (turkey) fryer? It would be very fun to host a similar party. ps Hereford pigs!

  28. Stefanie

    hi – WOW! that looks uber delicious! i’ve heard about these things, but never knew exactly how they worked. thanks for sharing and congrats on your new place!

  29. Betty S.

    Jaden – here in VA, a pig roast is an event not to be missed filled with boot stomping, flat foot’n, fiddle playing, whole pig roasted over a huge (I’m talking really big) grill and lots of family members. Thanks for sharing. Makes my mouth water for some home cooking.

  30. Olinda Paul

    Jaden,
    This looks incredible. My grandparents did theirs in the ground with grape leaves and large wet kitchen towels. I don’t remember all the details…but the covered it with dirt and let it bake all day. Fabulous. This looks much easier. Thanks for sharing.

  31. Soren Lemche

    Awesome post, still laughing here (about the flip flop part and the hot coals!). Now as for the piggy. Damn gotta try this one day here in Rio de Janeiro. Thanks for sharing.

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