The Whole Pig Roast:
How to Cook a Full Sized Pig
A whole pig roast is a wondrous event, but if you've read How to Cook a Whole Pig then you know there is a lot that goes into it. A whole hog can be quite large and therefore requires special equipment and skills to pull off. While you may know the basics so far, this page will go into more of the details of things to plan for to make your whole hog roast go off without a hitch.
Some things to consider and plan for when cooking a whole pig roast:
Invite a Lot of Friends!
This may seem obvious, but most people do not realize just how much meat is on a large hog! Don't plan a hog roast without sufficient friends and family to help you devour the tasty goodness when it is done. You'd hate to see all your hard work go to waste wouldn't you!
The Hog Rotisserie
- A suckling pig is typically under 25 lb. Therefore, whole hogs are generally significantly larger than that. While many that you'll see roasted are 30 to 60 lb., larger adult hogs can easily weight from 100 to 200 lb. For this reason, you need a very heavy-duty and sturdy rotisserie, as seen above, to slowly and safely turn your pig roast over your fire.
- Why do you need a rotisserie in the first place? Why not just support the pig over your fire pit on a rack? A whole pig is a large roast! If left in one position over a fire or charcoal, one side would be burnt and crispy while the other side would be raw. Just like any cut of meat, you need to turn it to be fully cooked throughout. However, turning a whole hog is not as easy as flippin' a burger! Just imagine trying to flip the hog, several times, while it is inches over hot embers. Think you could handle it? Well you're wrong, this is a set-up for disaster. Turning a large whole pig roast over a fire by hand is next to impossible and you will end up with charred arms and eyebrows. A sturdy hog rotisserie is the only solution and in my opinion is critical to a successful pig roast.
- Many companies make whole hog rotisseries. Whatever you use, make sure it is weight tested for more than your pig weights so you know it will hold, and turn, that weight. The rotisseries featured here are designed and sold by SpitJack a great source for outdoor and fireplace cooking equipment. Their rotisseries are well designed and work perfectly. You can read more about rotisseries on my Hog Rotisserie page.
Buying a Whole Pig
- Plan ahead for your pig roast! In most areas a whole fresh hog is not that easy to come by. Find a source for a whole hog well before you plan your party.
- Talk to your butcher. Most can special order whole pigs. Ethnic markets and butchers, Latin and Asian particularly, are a good place to start. Check out my Where to Buy a Whole Hog for Barbecuing page.
- When buying a whole pig, find out if it will come frozen or fresh. If frozen, be sure to leave sufficient time once you get it to defrost. An average sized hog will take at least 48 hours to defrost completely. If you are planning to marinate or brine it as well, this will take additional time before the whole pig roast so plan ahead and make sure you don't run out of time!
- Also ask your butcher how the pig will come. Most are prepped for cooking, meaning their hair and internal organs have been removed. If they haven't been prepped, make sure you have someone who can clean and prep the hog for you before cooking.
Prepping Your Whole Pig Roast: Marinating, Brining and Injecting
- A whole pig needs to be flavored. If you just throw it on your rotisserie and cook it, the large cuts of meat will be rather bland. But do not fret, pork takes to marinating and brining like a fish to water!
- There are many types of recipes for prepping a whole pig roast, but I particularly like brining. Brining uses a salt water solution to tenderize the meat and also to help the muscle fibers retain moisture. This helps infuse flavor and keep your roast succulent and moist. It will not dry out and become tough.
- There are many options for brine or marinade mixtures. One brine that I particularly love and works beautifully with pork is an apple cider brine described on my pork tenderloin barbecue recipe. The apple flavor and subtle sweetness really enhance and compliment the natural flavor of the meat. To add even more flavor, I like to add an abundance of herbs, onions, lemons, oranges and/or hot peppers to the brine solution.
- A whole pig should be brined or marinated for at least 24 hours overnight, if not longer. Additionally, injecting the thickest parts of meat with the marinade or brine solution will help to be sure your brine penetrates all of the meat, not just the surface cuts.
Prepping Your Whole Pig Roast: Trussing
- Proper trussing of your whole pig roast to the rotisserie spit is critical. As your pig cooks it will loosen, move and shift. The muscle fibers will pull apart and away from the bone. The result? Your whole hog could fall off your spit! That would be disaster. Prevent this by trussing aggressively and tightly.
- In general, the spit should go between the thighs, along the inside of the body just under the spine and out through the mouth. Because the spit is not really going through meat, this is not secured to the spit. A large trussing need and heavy-duty kitchen twine should be used to secure the spine to the spit every 6 inches along the length of the meat. This should be tied as tightly as possible with the knots on the back. Cut off excess twine so that it will not burn.
- The hips, thighs and legs should also be trussed securely to hold them tight against each other and the spit. Same goes for the head and shoulders. You don't want any wiggle or give in your pig, it should move as one with the spit.
- A great demonstration of how to truss a whole hog to a spit with pictures is available at SpitJack.
Go Slow and Easy
- A whole pig roast takes a long time, you cannot, and should not, rush it. Quickly grilled pork leads to burnt skin and dried out meat. Cook slowly over the fire pit on the rotisserie at lower temperatures (around 250 degrees or so at the surface of your roast is ideal).
- Whole hogs can take from 4 to 24 hours to cook completely depending on their size and the cooking temperature. So plan ahead and take your time.
- When you think the roast is nearing doneness, test the doneness with a meat thermometer. All internal temperatures of the deepest meat (the hams and shoulders will be the last to cook thoroughly) should be at least 160 degrees and ideally about 165.
Basting, Basting, and Then More Basting
- Basting with a good basting mixture helps to develop a nice thick, dark caramelized glaze on the surface of the roast. It also helps prevent the skin and superficial meat from drying out.
- Baste frequently throughout the cooking period, particularly when you notice the surface getting dry.
- Basting mixtures vary and can use any number of flavoring ingredients. Some examples of things to include are olive oil, wine, fruit juices, herbs and lemon juice. Even a little honey or sugar can enhance the flavor and help the caramelization. Just be careful not to put too much sugar on the surface of your whole pig roast or it will burn if it gets too hot. Remember, you want caramelization, not charcoal!
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 the whole pig roast of a full size pig?
Go back to the Whole Pig Roast page.