Preparation: Long Cook (Over 2 hours)
One 40- to 45-pound suckling pig, dressed, skin on
4 cups kosher salt, for rubbing on the skin
Tip: If you have never cooked a whole pig before, you might be surprised to see that the kidneys might be attached to the animal when you receive it. The kidneys are often left on as a way to judge how fresh the animal is and whether or not it has been frozen. If the kidneys are still attached, they are easily cut out.
Big hogs are fantastic—if you’re feeding eighty people. But when your crowd is smaller, suckling pigs are the way to give your guests the dramatic effect that comes from serving an entire animal. And there’s no easier or quicker way to make them than in a Caja China.
Developed by Roberto Guerra, who gave me this recipe, this relatively inexpensive device gives you meat that’s nearly dripping with juice and skin as crisp as a potato chip.
To cut through the beautiful fattiness, a tangy, garlicky mojo performs like a pro. Traditionally, it’s made with the juice from sour oranges, but I usually substitute a mixture of regular orange and lime juice if sour oranges are not available.
71⁄2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
21⁄2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice
40 garlic cloves, peeled, halved, germ removed, and grated on a Microplane grater
5 tablespoons ground cumin
5 tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
5 tablespoons kosher salt
Salt Water Brine
5 gallons (80 cups) water
4 cups kosher salt
71⁄2 gallons (120 cups) ice
1 pound firmly packed dark brown sugar, about 21⁄4 cups
1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
Juice of 8 limes
6 garlic cloves, peeled, halved, germ removed, and grated on a Microplane grater
10 serrano, or other small, hot chiles of choice, thinly sliced (optional)
Coarsely ground fresh black pepper
Glisten With Oil
Optional Savory Herb Brush
Season "Like Rain"
Tighten With Glaze
Before you start…
Cooking in the Caja China is a ton of fun, but you have to be prepared. And it is essential to have a friend to lend a hand. Beyond the pig and the items on the ingredient list, you will need to order a #2 Caja China (this will come with two internal racks, “S” hooks, and an extra- large injecting needle). It requires assembly, and I strongly recommend you put it together well in advance of cooking the pig.
Other items to purchase:
Extra-large cooler with at least a 120-quart capacity
Ice, enough to fill the cooler twice
About 80 pounds brick charcoal
Lighting fluid or other starters.
Large ash can
One 6-foot- table you aren’t afraid to get dirty, or one large, thick piece of plywood set on two sawhorses to create a work surface that can be hosed down.
1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in batches in a blender, or in a large bowl using an immersion/stick blender. Strain through a fine- mesh strainer into a clean bowl or storage container and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or up to 11⁄2 days before cooking the pig to allow the flavors to mingle.
2. In a 120-quart- capacity cooler, combine the water and salt for the brine, stirring and/or whisking to dissolve the salt. Add the ice.
3. Place the pig in the cooler, feet up, with the cavity exposed. Using the provided injecting needle, and the brine in the cooler, inject the shoulders and the hams going through the flesh side (as opposed to the skin side) in a grid- like pattern. Close the cooler and let brine for 12 hours.
4. Drain the liquid using the spout on the cooler. Any residual brine or ice can remain in the cooler with the pig. Pour the marinade into the cavity of the pig. Fill a large garbage bag with ice and place on top of the pig. Close the cooler, and let marinate for 12 hours.
5. Meanwhile, about 1 hour before removing the pig from the marinade, set up your work area and the Caja China. Place the provided drip pan in the bottom of the Caja China. If you don’t have a work surface large enough to hold the pig, position a large piece of thick plywood on two sawhorses. Place the bottom rack on the surface with the triangular pieces facing down.
6. Remove the bag of ice from the top of the pig. Keeping the marinade in the cooler, lift the pig, and place, belly side down with the legs extended, on the rack. Pour salt over all of the pig’s skin and, using your hands, rub it into the skin, letting any excess remain on the surface. Let sit for 30 minutes. Rub the pig again with any residual salt and let sit for another 30 minutes.
7. Hose down the pig to remove any excess salt. Position the top rack on the skin side of the pig with the triangles facing up. Secure the two racks together by attaching the “S” hooks. Depending on the size of the pig, you may need to go through the skin and flesh on the sides of the belly.
8. Place the pig into the cooker, skin side down, and pour the marinade into the cavity. Place the cover (from here on out known as the ash pan) on the top of the box, and then top with the charcoal grid. Pour 18 pounds of charcoal onto the screen and light, using lighter fluid or other fire starters. Once the charcoal is lit, 20 to 25 minutes, using a rake, spread the charcoal evenly over the charcoal grid. Timed cooking begins now. The pigwill be cooked in about 51⁄2 hours, or slightly longer as needed to crisp the skin. Do not move the ash pan (not even to peek) until instructed to do so (see below).
© 2009 APL Creative Inc from Serious Barbecue
9. For 5 hours, every hour, spread 9 pounds of new charcoal over the hot coals. At the 5-hour mark (after the new charcoal has been added and spread), carefully lift only the grid, shaking any ash off of the existing coals. The coals will continue to be used. Move the grid with the coals temporarily to rest on the long handles of the cooker. Remove the ash pan from the top of the box and dispose of all of the ashes. If you place the ashes on the ground, be sure to hose them down before continuing.
10. Lift the pig and flip to be skin side up. Using a chef’s knife cut large “X’s” a quarter inch deep into the skin surface on all exposed areas of the pig. Replace the ash pan and top with the charcoal grid containing the coals. Add 9 more pounds of coals. Cook the pig for 30 minutes to crisp the skin.
11. Meanwhile, combine all of the glaze ingredients in a large jar (a juice jar is a good size) with a tight- fitting lid and shake to combine. If you don't have a juice jar, mix in a sauce pan.
12. Lift a corner of the ash pan and peek at the pig. The skin should be puffed up and crisped. If it isn’t, continue to cook, peeking every 10 minutes. If the pig does not seem to be crisping evenly, check out the placement of the coals on the grid. They may need to be spread out more or moved over the areas that aren’t crisping. 13. Once crisp, lift off the ash pan and charcoal grid together and let rest on the handles of the Caja China. Brush the glaze over all of the skin. Replace the pan and the grid, and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes to tighten the glaze.
14. Lift off the ash pan and charcoal grid together and let rest on the handles. Lift the pig out of the cooker and transfer to the work area, skin side up. Undo the “S” hooks, remove the top rack, gently lifting to tease off any skin that may have stuck.
15. The pig can be served up by peeling back the skin, cutting it into large pieces, and serving alongside meat that has been pulled using bear pawsor heat- proof gloves. But, it is also great fun to peel back the skin, cut into manageable pieces, and let everyone come up and pick out what they like. Season the meat with pepper.