The Pig Has Left the Building
I'm happy to report that the pig roast was entirely successful. It was a long, full day of activity that built steadily from the morning and reached a crescendo right on time, around 7:30pm, with a lingering, smoky afterglow that lasted till after midnight sometime. None of the "what could go wrong" scenarios played out -- it was smooth sailing all the way through, in no small part due to the many helping hands throughout the day.
A Beautiful Butterfly
The pig was extricated from the tub and brought outside for the first of several indignities. In order for the pig to lay flat on the grill (to allow for even cooking), the carcass needed to be butterflied. To do so, the hip bones need to be sawed apart, and then the vertebrae must be split open along the length of the spine. This whole operation feels like breaking the spine of a book. It was accomplished with a bone saw, a heavy cleaver, and a hammer.
Sawing and hammering on the carcass of a pig in the front yard managed to draw the attention of my neighbors, who came by to find the pig laid out on the table getting salted, in repose resembling someone enjoying a day at the spa. You can see that the fire barrel is already ablaze -- it took about two hours of burning to get the first load of embers produced for the pit.
The steel barrel, modified with an opening at the bottom and a grate just above that, was a magnifiicently hot chamber of fire. Maple and cherry rounds went in the top, glowing embers collected in the bottom.
For the first charge of the pit, we poured a ring of embers around the outside perimeter, with a little heavier dose in each of the corners. The tin trays, filled with water, are there to catch drippings, and to provide for some moisture throughout the roasting.
In went the pig, at 10:30 am, and down came the lid. We tried to remove the lid as seldom as possible throughout the day. We had an oven thermometer inside that we'd occasionally peek at to see how the pit was performing, but otherwise we kept the lid on. The pit performed very well. We were able to keep the temperature vacillating between 200 and 275 degrees. We added a shovelful of embers into each of the corners, using access points on each end of the pit, about every 40-45 minutes.
Rinse and repeat. For six hours. Time enough for some breakfast: chanterelles on toast, and a homebrew pale ale.
Six Hours Later
Mahogany, smoke, tantalizing -- after six hours of gentle roasting our pig hit our target temperature of 185 degrees. The skin was a beautiful leathery color, juices flowing with every poke of the thermometer. We were a couple of hours ahead of schedule, which was just fine. We removed some coals from one end of the pit, shifted the pig down that way, and put a small amount of coals on the far end of the pit. This held the temperature of the pit at about 150 degrees -- plenty hot to hold the pig without overcooking it. We finished preparing the yard and house for the party, which before too long was in full swing.
Pulling, Seasoning, Serving
Things started moving really fast now, and this was where lots of helping hands made a huge difference. A couple of people pulled large pieces of the pig off the grill and into trays, where they started pulling meat from bone. They used silicon gloves to protect their hands from the hot meat. Meat came to a cutting board, where fat and lean, belly, ham, shoulder, were combined and chopped together. The whole mass was then seasoned with apple cider vinegar, salt, cracked black pepper, dried red pepper flakes, and a little bit of sugar.
We had plenty of rolls on hand, and our guests brought an intoxicating array of pickled goods, baked beans, salads, sides, and desserts to go along with the pork sandwiches. How was the pork? Amazing. Moist, flavorful, kissed with smoke, and amplified by salt, acid, and peppers. Topped with pickled cabbage and a few generous dashes of Frank's Hot Sauce and...wow...just...wow.
Why Do It?
Those are the details of the "how", and I'm sure that between you, me, and the internet you can build and execute your own plan for a whole pig roast. But why do it? There are obviously easier and less costly ways to get a sandwich (although you'd have to go a long way to find a better tasting sandwich).
As I mentioned in a previous post, I left a tech job to try some new things. One of the priorities driving that change is to spend more time in experiences that are rewarding, including connecting with the people I care most about. The pig roast delivers on many fronts, not the least of which was providing a venue for spending time with my community of friends and family. I have been hearing about a book released this year by Susan Pinker, a Canadian psychologist, called The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter. I haven't yet read the book, but the premise resonates with me: that our increasingly digital lifestyles diminish valuable in-person interactions -- interactions that are not only satisfying but critical to our health and well-being.
So after a day of tending a fire with friends, of feasting and drinking, reconnecting and laughing, with music and the noise of a multitude of conversations pouring out of the house, we raised our glasses and I thanked everyone there -- my village -- for coming together. There really is nothing more nourishing than being surrounded by the people you love. And that's a great reason to roast a whole pig. And it turns out a good bbq pork sandwich is pretty nourishing too.