Petunia: A How-To Guide on Roasting a Pig
Despite this miserably hot and muggy summer, we’ll be dammed if 100-plus degree heat is going to stop us from cooking out. But what does a food obsessed person do when you want to up the game from your casual cook out? Roast a pig for 150 people on a Saturday that turned out to be the sweatiest day of the year, that’s what.
I’ve never roasted a pig before. I’ve been to one and assisted in babysitting one, so I figured it was about time I cooked one. But not alone — my friend Tyler was eager to jump in and get dirty, and with a garden to boot I had myself a co-host. The BF helped too, something to do with music and dealing with me stress over an 80-lb pig for weeks. We all played our part.
I’ll admit, the logistics of hosting a pig roast made me thankful I wont be doing it again for another year. There was so much I didn’t account for or didn’t think of, and didn’t realize most of it until too late.
So here’s my gift to you: a 16-step how-to on hosting your own pig roast.
1. Find a Pig
Depending on the type of pig you want this can take anywhere between 3-10 days and cost anywhere between $2.25 to over $3.00 a pound. If you’re not particular on the breed, or the way it is raised, there are butchers who can get you one in no time at all, but if you’re picky like me (I opted for a pasture-raised, grain-fed Duroc), then it might take a little longer, and being picky also meant it was harder to find. I asked my food friends for recommendations of where I could get one and most if not all suggested visiting the farmers market. I did just that, and I found Truck Patch Farms at the U St Farmers Market.
2. Name Your Pig
I’m not sure where I heard it but I was told that when roasting a pig it deserves a name. After a very long and tense planning meeting we tossed around names and settled upon Petunia. And Petunia was such a pretty pig — she even had her nails done for us.
3. Pick Up the Pig
We picked up Petunia mid-afternoon on Friday, the day before roasting. The BF and I don’t have a car and Tyler was sure as hell not letting a dead pig ride in the back seat of his Mercedes, so it was to the trusted ZipCar we went. We coordinated the pick up of our spit rental with the pig, killing two birds with one stone. We bought a (clean) 5′ Rubbermaid trash can to transport Petunia in, but as you can see we didn’t account for her to be spread eagle, so she was a little too large for the trash can. Truck Patch gave us extra ice to cover her in. She was roughly 110 lbs. at death, which I was informed occurred on the Wednesday evening. After cleaning she came out at about 81 lbs. —- a little smaller than I had wanted, so ask your supplier questions, including pre- and post- death weights.
4. Check Her Credentials
Under the Federal Meat Inspection Act all raw meats are required to be inspected, so make sure your animal has one of these stamps which should look a little like Petunia’s.
5. Keep Her Cool
My intention was to fill the trash can with ice and water to keep Petunia cool but as she was too large it was in Tyler’s bathtub she went — sorry Tyler. Although, it did make for a more interesting photo, don’t you think? Keep her covered in ice and a little water and you’re good to go. We kept Petunia in the ice bath until we were ready to spit her — for us this was about 10 hrs.
6. The Action
We started prepping Petunia for the spit around 2:30 on the Saturday morning. Depending on the size of your pig the time will vary. I believe a general rule of thumb is 1 hour of cook time for each 10 lbs, plus another hour or two for crisping the skin. We probably started Petunia a little earlier than we should have. Of I were to do it again I’d have pushed back a couple of hours. Btw, I have no ideas why the kidneys were left in, but they were comical to watch flop each go-around on the spit.
7. Don’t Forget Your Hammer
Remember, your pig is dead and probably has been for a couple of days, so be prepared for any eventuality. Rigamortis kicked in and it was a little tough getting the spit through the mouth. While Tyler was wedging the mouth open I was hammering the spit through the backside. Team work. As gross as this may sound, hammer the spit from ass to mouth. I had no idea but this is what is done.
8. Be Prepared to Get Dirty
In addition to the spit we also secured Petunia with some steel wire, piercing two holes on either side of her spine up and down the back and threading the wire through and twisting to tighten up (see below). I’ve seen people use chicken wire to keep secure, but I think this looked a little prettier.
9. Get Her Hot
I don’t have a garden but Tyler does, which made for a perfect co-host. Make sure you have enough room for a staging area, the spit, a table, a coal-burning station, and guests. It’s recommended that the coals be hot prior to placing on the grill. We used a coal chimney to heat them up before using. We estimated about 10 lbs of coal for each hour on the spit, replenishing as we went along.
10. Look How Pretty She Is
Be sure to enjoy your pig. Petunia was great eye candy.
11. Keep the Spit Turning
Once Petunia was on the spit it was a simple case of making sure the spit motor kept on turning, the coal kept on burning and… Wait, there’s a song in there somewhere. Put out a rallying cry for volunteers — this is a time when you know who your true friends are. Trust me, after a trip out to the farm for a pig, cleaning the house, prepping food, home depot for coal and all the other items you need the last thing you want to do is sit up and babysit a pig. Ask friends to do it. Out of the 250 people we invited only two came forward, the other two had to be bought with liquor. Tyler and I stayed up with Petunia until 5am, two friends took the 5am-8am shift and another two took the 8am-10am shift, by which time Tyler and myself were back with her.
12. Don’t Stop Cooking!
To ensure Petunia didn’t crisp up too quickly we occasionally covered her in a mop sauce — a combination of vinegar, water, spices and a few sliced jalapenos. Every 20-30 minutes or so we covered her in the liquid. Around 4pm I started to worry — had I overcooked the pig? I made a rookie mistake, I eased off on the coals and let her sit for an hour or two, starting her back up again an hour before carving. What I should have done is cranked up the heat and kept her rotating, this would have created a succulent and crispy skin for people to snack on while I was carving the meat. Instead, we got a slightly rubbery, albeit flavorful piece of skin. Learn from my mistake.
13. A Little Manpower
After a good 15hrs on the spit it was time to take Petunia off the grill, straight to the carving table. This is when crowds will form, it’s not every day that you get to see a pig being carved up, plus it’s close to feeding time at the zoo.
14. Table Her
We positioned Petunia face down with legs apart. After resting for 30 minutes or so we started to carve.
15. Carve It Up
I was more anxious about carving Petunia than anything else. I’d never carved a whole pig before and I wanted to make sure I’d harvest as much meat as possible. I did reach out to several chefs across the city to see if they could help, but finding a chef who can spare a Saturday night is not going to happen. It was down to me. Tyler held her down while I sliced down the spine from neck to butt; I was shocked at how surprisingly easy it was, the meat just fell off. Within minutes we had a full tray of meat, the crowds were pleased. It probably took a good 30 minutes to carve, stopping occasionally for people to come up and ask for bits of the ear and tongue.
16. The Condiments
Don’t forget the sauce and coleslaw. Dave made a vinegar, and I covered the mustard and tomato. Depending on the style of roast you’re wanting to create you may just want vinegar, this is where you can be creative and make what you like. I’m not a huge fan of slaw but I found a great recipe in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. We topped off the party with kegs of Stella, PBR, flip cup and cornhole — with the police only stopping by once.
I think next time I’ll roast a lamb.