How to Prep, Brine and Roast a Pig in a Caja China

I’ve been getting a lot of email requests lately, asking how people can throw their own pig roast. I just realized with July 4th weekend ahead, everyone wants to have their own “Pig & Pinot” party like I’ve been doing the past five years. Your prayers are answered today, loyal reader. Just don’t tell my mother that I’m dispensing this kind of advice. She didn’t raise her boy to cook trayf – at least that wasn’t her intention. There is a lot of info here, but honestly, you can get nearly the same quality for a lot less effort, by simply dry-rubbing the pig the day of the roast with salt and pepper.

You can find pig roasting boxes at www.lacajachina.com

 

Recipe for a back-alley pig roast:

I recommend brining the pig for at least a day or two.  You can do this in a large Coleman cooler (150 qt).  For every gallon of water you will need:

  • 1 cup salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp cumin seed
  • 2 bay leaves

For a 60 pound pig, it needed about 15 gallons of water to cover it.  You could also throw in other spices, apple cider vinegar, etc.  There are no hard rules here.

 

1. Get pig from either Birky Family Farm in Valpo, or Peoria Packing on Lake St.  Make sure you get it: dressed (gutted), skin-on, scalded and head and trotters intact

 

2.  Two days before the roast: fill a large, insulated cooler with enough brine solution so that it will cover pig once the pig is placed inside (at least 15 gallons of water); It’s important that the first gallon or so is warm/hot water, so the salt and sugar will dissolve.  After it dissolves, continue adding cold water into the cooler.  Place the pig into the brine solution, toss a few bags of ice on it, and change/add new bags after 24 hours.

 

3. On the morning of the roast, remove pig to table (outside) and begin making tiny slits everywhere, stuffing with raw garlic cloves.  We used about about three or four heads of garlic.

 

4. Meanwhile, put 8-10 pounds of charcoal (not hardwood) onto top of Caja China box lid, flood with lighter fluid and ignite.

 

5.  Apply Jerk Marinade (recipe below), rubbing it into every possible crevice

 

6.  Place pig between holding racks that came with La Caja China box to secure it, making sure the pig is butterflied; place pig into box, skin side DOWN over drip tray.  Insert meat thermometer (also available from La Caja China website), close lid, start the clock. (Note: the roasting instructions that follow are also printed on the side of the Caja China box).

 

After one hour, add another 8-10 pounds of charcoal, spread evenly

 

After two hours, add another 8-10 pounds of charcoal, spread evenly (be sure to keep an eye on the internal temperature.  I usually flip the pig over at 140 degrees internal temp, but your cooking times may vary, depending on the heat and the size of the pig).

 

After another 30 minutes add another 8 pounds of charcoal, spread evenly

 

At the three hour mark, remove the ash from the top of the box (we put it into a mini-garbage can); open up the box and flip the pig over, skin side UP.  Cover again and add about 8 pounds of charcoal.

 

At three-and-a-half hours, check the skin to see if it’s crispy enough.  Keep checking in ten-minute intervals until skin is crispy to your liking (you can also move the lid of the box slightly ajar, if the pig is cooking too much.  Keep an eye on the thermometer; once you reach 145 internally, you’ll want to pull it out, as it will continue to cook long after it’s removed.

 

No need to let it rest very long, maybe 15 minutes.  Put on gloves and begin picking/shredding/pulling the pork.

 

Jerk Wet Rub for Pig (courtesy Rick Cooper and chef Susan Goss, West Town Tavern):

  • ¾ cup                           bottled hot sauce
  • 1/2cup                          picked rosemary
  • ½ cup                           chopped parsley
  • ½ cup                           chopped basil
  • ½ cup                           picked thyme
  • ¼ cup                           coarsely ground mustard seeds
  • 1 cup                             chopped scallions
  • 1 Tablespoon              kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon              ground black pepper
  • ½ cup                            fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup                            Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup                            fresh orange juice
  • 1 Tablespoon              ground cumin
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon        ground allspice
  • ¾ teaspoon                 red chile flakes
  • 1 cup                             canola oil
  • 1 quart                          strong pork stock (or low-sodium chicken stock)

Combine all ingredients except oil and stock in blender and puree to a paste. Add oil slowly through the feed tube and process mixture into smooth sauce consistency. Slowly pour stock through feed tube (if blender is too small to accommodate stock, scrape mixture into bowl and whisk in stock.)

Let mixture age overnight if possible to allow flavors to blend and mellow.  Rub it all over the piggy (don’t forget behind the ears!!)

15 Comments

  1. robert gorrell

    December 6, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    Hello, I am about to do my first pig for the company xmass party, needless to say I am VERY NERVOUS, I KEEP FINDING CONFLICTING COOKING TIMES WHEN I GO TO DIFFERENT WEBSITES, THE cAJA SITE even has conflicting times. So my question to you is, The times on the box and the times you mention is that what I should go for and if we are serving at 730 p.m I plan on staring the coals at 130 p.m to allow for resting, slicing and presenting. any feedback you have would be GREATLY appreciated. Sincerely one stressed out cook Bob Gorrell 5593621619.

    • Steve Dolinsky

      December 6, 2016 at 7:26 pm

      Bob, don’t stress. How big is the pig? If you’re in a model 1 box (up to 70 lbs) then your total cook time will be less than four hours. This is not steak so you don’t need to let it rest. I find that the charcoals and the heat tend to really burn hot so don’t be afraid to lift up the box and take a peek after two hours. That said, if you are serving at 7:30 pm, that means you’re cutting up and breaking it down by 6:45/7 pm, which means taking it out of the box at 6:30 pm, which means the pig goes into the box between 2:30 – 3 pm, which means heating up charcoals on the box (without the pig inside) at about 2 pm.

      • Steve Dolinsky

        December 6, 2016 at 7:27 pm

        By the way, no need to brine. I’ve been doing a simple dry rub the last few times and it turns out fine. One important tip: after you flip the pig over to skin side up, scatter it with kosher salt, then make slits in the skin.

  2. Rick Romero

    December 14, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    Just bought my first china box and plan on roasting a whole pig, any recipe suggestion for injection method?

    • Steve Dolinsky

      December 14, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      Don’t bother injecting. Too much stress. You will be fine just inserting a bunch of peeled garlic cloves (make small slits in the cavity, and insert everywhere). Then just dry rub it.

  3. Sherry Ray

    June 20, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    greetings. i was looking up how to brine a whole pig, pleased to see you are a local. even more pleased to see you suggest Peoria meats, which is where I always go for large gatherings like the one we are planning this weekend. last summer a friend in our congregation purchased a La Caja China we purchased our pig from T& J meats in the south suburbs.(90 lbs) called in our friends and family and 6 hours later we held our first “Pig Pickin” it was great! the only problem was under seasoned pork.but the sauce took care of that. this time we will brine the whole pig for two days. really looking forward to the outcome. thanks for your suggestions. Keep roastin bro!

    • Steve Dolinsky

      June 29, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      Thanks! Be sure to hit the skin with kosher salt before you score the skin…

  4. jim

    December 2, 2018 at 8:30 am

    Steve,
    I have a La Caja China, used it last year and had great success. However, I’d like to try something different and stuff the pig with onions, herbs, etc., wire tie it shut. Do you think I can do this with La Caja China?

    Thanks,
    Jim

    • Steve Dolinsky

      December 3, 2018 at 9:20 am

      Yes, you can, but remember you need to turn it over (skin side up) for the last 30-45 min. just to crisp up the skin. Since the pig will not be laying “flat” you might have an issue with burning/under cooking some parts of pig.

      • jim

        December 3, 2018 at 8:51 pm

        Thanks Steve….that makes sense. Do you think this is a good idea? Or too risky?

        Much appreciated,
        Jim

        • Steve Dolinsky

          December 4, 2018 at 9:10 am

          I think you’ll have to lower the temp a bit and keep an eye on it, rather than waiting 3 hours to lift the lid.
          Depends on how big the pig is too. Not sure I’d risk it.

          • jim bronzie

            December 4, 2018 at 7:49 pm

            Thanks Steve…I really appreciate your advice. I just don’t want to ruin it.

            With all your experience, what’s the best way to cook a 40lb pig while trying to make the skin as crispy as can be?

          • Steve Dolinsky

            December 20, 2018 at 11:28 am

            sorry for delay! Just follow directions. When you flip over to show the back side, sprinkle with kosher salt then score with knife. Blast it for 20 min. then check to make sure it’s browning evenly. I don’t think brining is necessary.

  5. Tyler

    June 26, 2019 at 2:43 pm

    Steve,

    I look forward to using your brine and wet rub this summer. I am about to roast a pig this summer and it appears that the top of your box is a piece of wood lined with perhaps aluminum foil or some type of foil. Is this the case? Can you share some pics of the top of your box or send them to me for ideas?

    Thanks

    • Steve Dolinsky

      June 26, 2019 at 9:24 pm

      Tyler, I sold both of my boxes earlier this year! We would use foil to cover the pig after a few hours if it got too hot. Sometimes the cavity would scorch before flipping it over to finish the skin, so we’d use foil to protect it, but you shouldn’t need it. Definitely DO NOT use hardwood charcoal as it burns too hot. Just follow box instructions; they work. Also, no need to brine the pig. We have gone back and forth. Just a good liberal dry rub seasoning, even S & P with some cumin will do the trick.
      Good luck!

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