The Whole Pig Roast:
How to Cook a Suckling Pig
A roast suckling pig is an almost holy thing in many cultures. To bring out a well glazed, perfectly done whole pig roast on a platter is the ultimate in presentation and festivity. It is the centerpiece of many celebrations and feasts. Young pigs also happen to be incredibly tender and succulent and downright delicious! While the smallest whole pigs can certainly fit in a large oven and can be prepared there, these delicious roasts lend themselves to cooking on an outdoor fire pit rotisserie very well. If you don't have room for, or enough people to eat, an adult whole hog then a small young one is a great substitute. In fact, it is arguably better because of the more flavorful and tender meat.
While cooking a young pig in many ways is similar to cooking an adult whole hog, there are some subtle differences which are important to note. This page will go over some of those important things to consider and remember in planning a pig roast. Be sure to also check out my Cooking a Full Size Whole Pig Roast page. Many of the general principles are the same, with the differences pointed out here.
Tips for Cooking a Whole Roast Piglet:
How and Where to Buy a Whole Piglet
- As I discuss on my Where to Buy a Whole Hog for Barbecuing page, finding a whole pig can be tricky in some areas.
- Obviously, if you have a connection with a local pig farmer, this may be the easiest and most direct way to find a suckling pig.
- You can also special order them from good butchers, particularly ethnic butchers in Latino, Asian or Greek markets.
- Finding young pigs are a bit different from larger hogs. The young pigs may only be available during some times of the year, spring and summer most commonly. Additionally, because young pigs are so small, the typical price per pound would not be profitable to the farmers to raise just to sell as small pigs. For this reason, some farmers and distributors don't even sell suckling pigs. For others, the prices may be quite high for this rare commodity.
- Shop around and ask around to find the best availability and prices.
- Keep in mind that the term suckling pig means different things to different people. A true suckling pig, which is still nursing and their primary diet is milk, should be from around 9 to 20 lb. or so. However, you may find butchers who will call a pig that is quite bigger a suckling pig. So be sure to indicate the exact size you are looking for and shop around to find a source who can get you exactly what you need.
Cooking Technique: Barbecue Pit Rotisserie versus Grill or Barbecue
- Because a roast suckling pig is quite a bit smaller than other whole hogs some people may consider cooking them on a grill or barbecue. I do not feel this is a good way to cook a whole piglet for a few reasons. To cook a whole pig perfectly, you need a relatively low, indirect heat to slowly cook the roast completely without burning the skin. High direct heat on a grill can quickly burn the skin and will lead to uneven cooking. Most grills, except maybe for very large gas grills, are not big enough to accommodate a whole pig when set up for indirect heat grilling. Additionally, even with a large grill set up for indirect heat, the roast would need to be turned frequently throughout the cooking process to cook evenly and completely. Flipping a hot, glazed whole animal is quite a bit harder than you may think. Save your arm hair and avoid using a grill or barbecue to cook a whole suckling pig.
- Rather than a grill or barbecue, a hog rotisserie set over a fire pit with charcoal or firewood as fuel is the ideal means to roast a whole pig. While it may take a bit more effort and/or money to build or purchase an adequate rotisserie to hold your whole roast, the payback will be unlimited. Your roasts will be much more evenly cooked, juicy and tender. Such a rotisserie can also be used for many other things including whole lamb roasts, goat, large whole poultry and any other large roasts you care to grill up. They are a very useful and make a large whole roast so much easier and more successful. The fire pit you use can be anything, including a dug-out hole in the ground, a free-standing portable fire pit, a temporary fire pit built of bricks, or even a permanent stone or brick fire pit. Basically any pit you can set your rotisserie over will do!
Recipes and Preparation: To Brine or Not to Brine
- While I will post some recipe ideas for roast suckling pig elsewhere, there are a few things to consider in planning on how to cook a whole pig.
- For one, while brining or excessive marinating and the use of meat injectors is critical for larger whole hogs, young pigs have such succulent and tender flesh that they do not need as aggressive flavoring methods. However, I feel that these still do help for most recipes. The more flavor the better, right? I would strongly consider brining your pig with a brine solution and assortment of herbs, spices and/or fruits to really crank up the flavors to a higher level. At the very least I recommend rubbing all the surfaces and inside of your suckling pig with abundant coarse salt the day before cooking. Before cooking, this should be brushed off. This acts similar to brining and helps keep the meat tender, juicy and richly flavored.
- The remainder of preparation and cooking of a young pig is otherwise very similar to other large roasts. Just like a larger pig they should be trussed very securely to your rotisserie. They should also be basted frequently throughout the cooking process to keep the surface moist and to develop a beautiful, rich glaze on the skin. This will bring great flavor and beauty to your finished roast! For other tips on trussing and cooking, see my Cooking a Full Size Whole Pig Roast page.
Good luck! Have fun with your first roast suckling pig!
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 about cooking suckling pig?
Return to the Whole Pig Roast page.