How to Cook a Whole Pig:
A Whole Pig Roast
Want some tips on how to cook a whole pig for a whole pig roast? As I've mentioned, this endeavor is best for someone a little adventurous and ready to do a lot of work. As you might imagine, cooking a whole large animal can be hard and demand a lot of time and effort. But the results handsomely pay back all that hard work. To be honest, there is no set of instructions that you can follow to get your pig roast perfectly right the first time. Because every pig is different, every fire pit is different and every recipe is different, how to cook a whole pig will be different and you will have to get a feeling for the whole process on your own. Each time you do it you will find new ways to improve your outcome and how to cook a whole pig more efficiently with a better outcome. However, there are some basic things you will need and general principles which will help get you started so that you will be prepared and don't experience any catastrophes, like your whole hog falling off the hog rotisserie into your fire! So read on and take some notes, the fun is about to begin!
Tips on How to Cook a Whole Pig
- Finding a Whole Hog or Suckling Pig - Without a whole pig, you can't have a pig roast! Sourcing a whole hog can be tricky in some areas. However, there are some tricks to finding a source in your local area and even some farms that ship anywhere in the US. You can find more information about these on my Where to Buy a Whole Hog page.
- Your Fire Pit Heat Source - If you are cooking a whole hog, obviously you need a heat source! I don't know how to cook a whole pig without heat! But that's a good thing because I love working with fire! For an outdoor fire pit pig roast you can use any fuel that is good for cooking, either hardwood firewood or charcoal.
Assuming you have an adequate rotisserie, various types of fire pits can be used. For example, pictured above is a temporary fire pit which was built out of landscaping bricks placed on a non-flammable ground area. If you build this on an area you don't want to be stained by the charcoal you can lay down a large piece of sheet metal first to form the floor of your fire pit. The barbecue pit is then simply filled with fuel, charcoal in the case of the picture above, and you have your heat source! Other options are to dig out a shallow area in the ground to act as your fire pit. This can then be filled with firewood and a big fire built and burned down until you have a good core of embers to grill over. You can even cook your whole pig over a portable cast-iron or copper fire pit as long as it is big enough and your rotisserie is tall enough.
Remember that for a large roast like this you don't want high direct heat which will burn the skin of the pig quickly. You want enough heat to cook, but low enough that the pig can cook on a rotisserie slowly over hours. Therefore, don't cook over a large direct flame of an active fire unless your rotisserie is high enough to keep your food away from the flames. Hot embers or charcoal are better. They give off a lot of radiant heat but don't tend to burn nearly as fast as an open flame.
Whatever your fuel, be sure to spread it out so that all parts of your pig roast will cook relatively evenly. To accomplish this, it helps to take a temperature, with a grill thermometer or meat thermometer, at the surface of the pig at several locations. The temperature should be even and you can move coals or embers around to adjust if needed. If there is a differential, I prefer my most intense heat to be on the butt/hindquarters (ham) and shoulder areas where there is thicker meat and will take the longest to cook.
- Hog Rotisserie - It is key to remember when learning how to cook a whole pig that a large animal will take a very long time to cook, usually several hours for full sized hogs. During that process you want the meat to cook evenly and the skin to brown nicely and acquire a beautiful caramelized glaze. However, you don't want the skin to burn to a charcoal crisp! The ideal way to accomplish this is a hog rotisserie which will slowly turn your pig roast over your heat source at an adequate distance to keep it from burning quickly. For smaller suckling pigs you may be able to get away with a standard fire pit rotisserie. However, for larger whole hogs you need a heavy duty rotisserie which can hold and turn a large weight. More information about these can be found on my Hog Rotisserie page. The pig rotisserie pictured above and on most of these pages can be purchased from SpitJack.
- Trussing Needle and Twine - A good trussing job is essential to successfully learn how to cook a whole pig. Without the trussing job, the roast will fall right off the rotisserie spit! It pays to go extra heavy on the trussing because while a raw pig may seem secure, as it cooks and the tissues become softer and even fall off the bone, the roast can shift and slip. Prevent this by doing an adequate trussing job from the get go! The trussing will consist of several loops of heavy-duty twine going through the back of the pig on either side of the spit and spine, securing the spine to the spit below. This should be done at about six inch intervals all the way down the length of the meat. The legs and head should also be wrapped and secured tightly so they are as close to and as tight against the spit as possible. Finally, the body cavity is sewn shut, after seasoning and filling with any stuffing you want of course. A good trussing needle kit can be purchased from SpitJack.
- Meat Injector - As I'll discuss elsewhere, pork, especially from a large hog, can lack some flavor and juiciness in the depths of the meat. One tip on how to cook a whole pig that is delicious is to infuse your roast with more flavor by marinating and/or brining the pig before cooking. However, because of the size of these roasts, much of the marinade or brine may not reach the depths of the meat. A large, heavy-duty meat injector (basically a large syringe with a large needle) can be used to inject marinade or brine deep into the meat.
- Whole Pig Recipes - When you learn how to cook a whole pig you'll find that there are hundreds of different ways to prepare them. From basic BBQ roasts to ethnic preparations, from marinating to brining. All of them are good for different reasons. Search around for one which seems best for your taste. I have a couple examples on my Recipe Ideas for a Full Size Whole Pig page and my Recipe Ideas for Roast Suckling Pig page. One of the general principles I recommend following is that for larger pigs, brining or marinating adequately is a must to instill as much flavor to the meat as possible. I personally like brining a larger pig at least overnight, if not longer, to really get all my flavors and juiciness deep into the meat. Suckling pig tends to be a bit more tender and flavorful on its own, but it definitely benefits from adequate seasoning or even brining as well.
- Baste, Baste, Baste! - While cooking your whole hog, remember that one of the best parts of the finished product is that beautiful caramelized glaze that develops on the crispy skin. It is both beautiful to behold when served as well as very tasty! When you learn how to cook a whole pig, you'll find that basting your roast frequently will help to develop that glaze and add flavor to the skin. It will also help keep your pig roast moist, preventing it from drying out.
We'll that is it for now. Now that you know the basics of how to cook a whole pig go and practice to hone your skills. Good luck and enjoy your pig roast celebration! Be sure to check out the rest of my Whole Pig Roast section to learn more about how to cook a whole pig and various aspects of preparing for and executing a perfect whole pig roast.
The best place I know of to buy whole hog rotisseries and other accessories for pit roasts is SpitJack.com. They are very helpful and have a great selection of supplies that are specifically designed for cooking with fire, either in your fireplace or over a fire pit. Their "Whole Hog" and "Rotisseries" section have many great products. Most of the rotisseries pictured on these pages are available from them.
Done learning how to cook a whole pig?
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