I'm reminded of the opening sequence of "Breaking Bad," the television series that chronicles the life of Walter White in his transformation from mild mannered high school teacher to methamphetamine drug lord. In the first moments of the show a large RV careens down a desert road. We meet Walter, dressed only in his underwear and wearing a gas mask, as he swerves wildly from shoulder to shoulder. Behind him the interior of the RV is a chaotic mess, but we can make out a couple of bodies, pools of some unsavory looking fluid, and broken glass. The RV crashes into a ditch, Walter lurches out of the vehicle, and we can only think, "How on earth did this all start?"
Why is there a pig in my bathtub? I guess it's there because I left an enviable tech career some 40 days ago. It's there because I'm marking a pretty large transition in my life by attempting to throw a whole-pig bbq for as many people as will come. And no, I've never done this before -- the career hopping or the pig roasting -- so there is a distinct and uncomfortable possibility that, like Walter White, I'm going to end up in a ditch.
This blog will focus on my search for more real things, which I'll explain in some detail later. But for now I'm just going to share the preparations for the whole pig roast. Some 75-80 people will arrive at my home tomorrow evening, and I sincerely hope to have at least adequately [safely] cooked South Carolina style bbq pork to serve them when they arrive.
I don't know what will put you into the mood to roast a pig, but for me I think it started when I read Michael Pollan's book Cooked. Pollan explores cooking over fire, and does so with whole hog barbeque. There are a lot of tantalizing details in the chapters on fire -- enough to inspire, but not quite enough to spell out start to finish instructions.
The Plan for the Pit
I wanted to cook over wood, and had decided this meant an above-ground "pit", and a burn barrel for creating coals. I found the simple schematic for the pit at Field and Stream online. A good start, and it allowed me to bulid this thing:
Gettin' the Wood In
Pollan describes well how to think about wood and cooking:
...I began burning shamefully large quantities of wood, because I now understood that it was not the fire but the remains of the fire, the smouldering wood coals, that you really want to cook with.
To acquire shameful quantities of wood I shamelessly accepted donations: cherry from John, some mixed orchard woods from Charmaine. I cut up the woodpile languishing in the corner of my yard, and I filled in with a sixth of a cord of seasoned maple from a local fuel company. This is the hustle required for the urban pit cook.
Gettin' the Pig In
I have the good fortune of knowing David Pearlstein, author of the OinkMoo blog, and founder of Link Lab Artisan meats. Which is all to say that David has connections to the world of healthy, fatty, happy pigs. David ordered me a whole pig, 79 pounds dressed weight, from Kapowsin Farms. Apparently chef Tom Douglas is all about Kapowsin pigs these days too. In any case, it is this fine carcass that graces my bathtub at the moment.
Making the Game Plan
The plan for tomorrow is an amalgam of instructions pulled from a variety of sources. The internet is a wonder, providing an endless stream of information...which at some point results in at least subtle differences, if not outright contradictions. So I picked a path through other people's experiences, not limited to these fine blog entries: CaughtSmokinBBQ, IndirectHeat, Mausit, and GlobeTrotterDiaries. With an eye towards serving food around 7pm, I'll get the fire started at 9am, bank coals at 10:30ish, and put the pig on directly. I'm not brining or rubbing -- just letting the pig be the pig -- and I won't plan on flipping the critter during the many hours of roasting, but instead try to get it cooked through with indirect heat. Once internal temp has reached 185 degrees or so, I'll pull the pig off, let it rest for a bit, then start pulling meat. The skin, once separated from the meat, will go back on the grill to crisp up. The meat will be chopped and combined (lean with fatty with some shards of skin), then seasoned with apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar, some red pepper flakes.
And that's it. From there onto sandwhich rolls. What could go wrong?
What Could Go Wrong
For starters the weather is supposed to be pretty crappy tomorrow. This is Seattle, rain is what it is, but it may otherwise foul up the fire, the temperature of the oven, carving of pig, serving of pig, drinking while watching pig cook, etc. My worst fears center around timing. What if the pig is done really early? Worse, what if the pig is done really late? Or underdone? Or scorched? What if there's not enough? Way too much? Jesus what am I doing?!
I'd be curled up in the fetal position in my bathtub right now, Will Smith style, except there's a dead pig in my bathtub.