AKA – How to roast a whole hog in a La Caja China roaster.
Our first annual Father’s Day Friday went better than expected. We just started carrying the La Caja China line of roasters, so we thought we would give one a try. Our friends at McReynolds Farms provided us with a beautiful 60lb hog. After the Cuban style meal our Free rib and chicken classes went without a hitch. Except for the part where the smoker caught on fire.
We got our first order of La Caja China roasting boxes in. They are very different than anything else we carry in the store. I have read that these rose to popularity in Cuba during the early 1900′s. Their brilliant but simple design allows them to be relatively inexpensive and cook food like nothing else we carry.
They really excel at cooking whole hogs quickly and in Louisiana where they have grown popular they call them “Creole Microwaves”. Normally a 60lb hog would take 8 or more hours to cook. Supposedly we were going to be able to cook ours in about 4 hours. If you don’t understand how it works, it may seem like magic. The principal behind the fast cook times are really very simple. The hog is placed in a metal tray in bottom of the metal lined box. Then a large metal tray is set on top of the box and charcoal is placed on top of that. The well fitted lid and the weight of the charcoal effectively seal the cooking chamber and create a pressure cooker large enough to roast a whole pig. In addition to the short cook time, the meat is super juicy and the skin gets crisp like bacon. The charcoal is only used as a heat source and is complete separated from the food. Because of this you can use really cheap charcoal. None of the binders or other chemicals will ever come in contact with your meal.
Now that you hopefully have a better understanding of the units, lets get into how we used it to cook a 60lb hog in 4 hours. Note: we did nothing other than follow the directions that came with the Model #2.
Here is the unit fully assembled. As you can see it is metal lined wooden box which has a metal tray that acts as a lid. In this photo you can see the optional wind guard (which we did not use) and an optional roasting rack for cooking things above the charcoal. If you use the raised cooking rack, remember to only use quality charcoal under it. The handles and wheels make it easy to move and when not in use it can be stored vertically. Just use a couple of bungee cords to keep the lid secure and stand it up in a some place out of the way.
On to the hog prep. Our hog weighed about 60lbs and was supplied by McReynolds Farms. When we received it the hair and insides are removed. It had a USDA stamped seal of approval and was inside of a plastic bag.
A day before the event Phil picked up our hog. We were going to inject and season it and keep it refrigerated overnight. Leaving it to soak up the marinade and seasonings always results in better tasting meat.
While we got the supplies and tools around, Mike glanced through the instructions and we were ready to get started in about 5 minutes.
Unless you cut the bag, removing a pig this big is a two person job. We did not want to damage the bag because we were going to use it to store the pig overnight. After a minute or so JT and Mike had wrestled it from the bag.
They manufacturers even paint the general cooking on the end of the roaster. The amazing part of cooking on one of these, is that it is really this simple. We only used about 20lbs of low grade charcoal briquettes to cook the hog to perfection.
While you can get hogs already butterflied, Mike wanted to try doing this himself. The first thing you have to do is cut the breast in half. This was fairly easy and only took a minute.
Splitting the backbone so that the hog would lay flat was another story. It took about 5 minutes of chopping, cutting and slicing before it would lay flat.
This is what the backbone should look like once it has been suitably split.
The next step is to inject the meat with La Caja China Mojo Cuban Style Marinating Sauce. It is a blend of Pineapple, sour orange juice, garlic, onions and spices that really help create that Cuban flavor we were going for.
We had problems with the sauce plugging up the injector, so we tried to strain it with a number of devices and finally found that the screen on the top of our OGGI Oil Skimmer worked perfectly. After filtering the sauce through the strainer the injector did not get plugged again.
Mike injected all of the large meaty areas of the hog and he used all 24 oz of the sauce.
After he finished injecting the meat, he sprinkled a heavy coat of Adobo Criollo on all sides of the hog.
Now that the hog was properly prepped they returned it to the bag and put it on ice overnight.
Somehow I managed to not take any photos of the hog loaded into the roasting rack, but I will try and describe the process to you. You simply lay the hog flat between the two metal racks and secure them to each other with 4 S-hooks. The rack is then lowered into the La Caja China and the charcoal tray/lid placed on the roaster. We started a couple of charcoal chimneys up and in about 15 minutes had about 5 lbs of charcoal red hot.
10 lbs of unlit charcoal was spread out on the top of the La Caja China. Then the two chimneys of hot charcoal were scattered among the unlit briquettes and we were off and running.
Twice during the roasting we added approximately another 5 lbs of charcoal to the top of the cooker.
About 1/2 an hour before the hog was fully cooked the rack was flipped and the skin was sliced open in about 15 places. This last step helps achieve the fantastic crisp skin that is a signature trait of cooking in one of these.
Shelton gloved up and help carry this masterpiece into the store for lunch.
That my friends, is one hell of a good looking pig. Great job Mike, JT and Shelton! At this point we were just hoping it tasted as good as it looked.
One last thing about the La Caja China. The metal handles double as a place to set the hot coal tray when accessing the roaster. Pretty ingenious, right?
The first wave of guests descended on the hog like killer bees on a landscaper.
Once the first wave had plated up their lunches, this is what was left. Do you notice what is missing? If you guessed the skin, you would be correct. Everybody I saw, made sure they got a little bit of that deliciousness on their plate. Many people mentioned that they thought the crisp bacon like skin was best part. I think someone even ate the ears.
Part of our Cuban themed meal was Pinapple Avocado salad. Sounds a bit weird, but when paired with the smoked pork it was fabulous. It is a light, healthy side that has a citrus tang to it.
- 1 pineapple, peeled, cored, and sliced
- 8 cups torn head lettuce
- 2 cups chopped cucumber
- 1 cup chopped red onion
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
- 1 diced peeled avocado
Just combine all the ingredients and toss.
After the meal we offered two free 1 hours smoking classes. The first was ribs and the second was chicken.
Our in house BBQ expert Sterling, taught the rib class. The feedback was very positive and as always the ribs turned out fantastic. Thanks Sterling!
I was a bit late getting over to the class to take pictures of the finished ribs. By the time I made my way over to the class this was all that was left of the ribs. Man they were good.
The chicken class was taught by master barbecuer Michael Reimann. His years of experience, really made the class enjoyable and was full of great information. Thanks Michael!
All in all the day was a tremendous success. Thank you all for coming out and spending the afternoon with us. We look forward to seeing you at our next event.