How To Spit Roast a Pig

On the weekend of the Federal Election, in the spirit of living in Canberra we spit roast a pig in the backyard and had a party to celebrate democracy.

Here’s how we cooked the pig.

Buy a good pig

For starters, if you’re going to bother going to the effort, source a really high quality animal. Definitely free-range, probably organic is a good start. I sourced this one from Griffith Butchery in the ACT. It was 40kg dressed weight, and didn’t include a head. I paid $6 a kilo, which was quite cheap. Griffith is a terrific butchery, so good they can tell you where the animals came from, and I know this one came from Bundawarrah farm.

From Pig Party

Invite a lot of people over

Surprisingly enough, 40kg is a lot of pig. This one fed about 40 people quite easily, with a good few kilos of meat left over, which will be going into soups and curries in the next few months.

I was really lucky this time as a lot of people put their hands up to help, in the lead-up and during the party, which went for about 18 hours. All I really provided was a pig and there was food for days. This aspect was fantastic; it didn’t take much encouragement for everyone to contribute and contribute fantastic food. Owen even bought a keg of beer, but tried to devalue it by saying it ‘wasn’t his best beer’. Ha! I drank about 4L of it.

From Pig Party

The Spit

If you’re going to do this as a one off, I wouldn’t bother buying or hiring a spit; just make a dodgy one like I did. It’s not that hard.

Your goal is to truss the animal up tightly to a pole so it doesn’t wobble around and rotate it about 50cm above a fire.

Your pole doesn’t need to be anything too flash; I just bought a 32mm galvanised steel pipe. The hardest part of attaching the animal to the pole is stopping it from spinning around the pole. You can buy clamps that slide along the bar but I couldn’t find any that were even close to big enough. Using a pole that size is good because it’s easily strong enough (though I wouldn’t go below 25mm) and fat enough to drill holes through fairly easily.

To provide the torque to stop the pig spinning, I drilled holes in a couple of spots, after marking it against the animal. I then put 300mm pieces of threaded bar through and secured them with nuts and washers on either side.

In hind sight I think this was a good system and the positioning worked pretty well. I would probably run the long pole through a different orientation next time, running it up the bum closer to the spine, unlike above the groin, as shown here:

From Pig Party

This would have made the pole harder to remove later though, so maybe the answer would be to cut that section so it can be lifted in and out.

I thought a lot about how to attach it. Most texts recommend butchers string but the idea of the string burning through after 8 hours of rotating above a fire gave me the fear. In the end I went for gal steel wire, essentially just fencing wire. We spent most time securing the pelvis and shoulders to secure the beast from twisting. Once they were locked in place we did a few long wraps to keep the unsecured muscles along the belly in place. The tight bands in the middle were also good to secure the spine to the pole as there are few bones there to get in the way.

From Pig Party

This operation took about an hour, maybe more? Make sure you’ve got at least one friend to help as it can be a bit unmanageable solo. Owen was excellent and further proof that mechanical engineering trains one in all the skills required for modern life.

For pivots, slip a brick with a hole in it over either end, and do this before you attach the handle! Bricks are terrific for this. Fire proof, sturdy, plentiful and eay to adjust for height. The sleepers worked really well too, but they might be a bit unmanageable for some people. But a good sturdy pile of bricks (make sure it can’t fall over sideways) would be excellent.

From Pig Party

To make it spin I made a dodgy handle out of a piece of pine and the end of a broomstick. Over engineer the handle, it’s going to do some work. It’s extremely hard to balance an animal that size so it’s good to have a sturdy handle to lean against. Next time I would consider using a 3rd rod with a weight as a balance, but this worked out fine.

From Pig Party

Pete putting in the hard yards on the handle.

The fire

This one worked well, so I’m going to recommend it. I dug a pit only 15cm deep or so and lined the edges and bottom with some bricks I literally had lying around. It was about 30cm across and 1.2m long or so. About 20cm longer than the animal overall.

I got up at 6am to start the fire. I had some good lumps of firewood, a bunch of pine off cuts (don’t use treated!) and a lot of twigs from around the yard. I also had about half a litre each of metho and turps. Now, I like fire, and this one was pretty good fun. You really want all the flames gone and a good bed of coals before the beast goes on, which meant running the fire flat out for almost 2 hours to get there.

From Pig Party

For the actual cooking I used almost exclusively natural charcoal bought from a hardware store. It seems expensive, maybe $60 worth for the cooking time of about 8 hours, but it burns so cleanly it’s worth it. Again in hindsight, I recommend an almost constant stream of fuel addition. We tended to go bag to bag, which made the fire a bit peaky. There’s a period after new fuel goes on when it’s slowing the fire down, while the fuel is being heated to ignition. If you put a lot on at once the fire slows down a lot. You can combat this a little by keeping a fan (a small light stiff piece of ply is ideal) on hand to push some oxygen through it. Next time though I’m going to make replica 17th C bellows out of timber and leather.

From Pig Party

Owen using his gloved hand to hold the bag and his bare hand to put charcoal on the fire.

Cooking

I read somewhere that you want the temperature at the cooking surface to be about 200deg C. You can estimate this by holding your hand there and you should be able to tolerate 8-10 seconds. We used this rule all day and it was surprisingly useful.

Cooking something this thick and heavy over a fire is an interesting thermodynamics problem. The fire is pretty hot, but it’s radiant heat off the coals, so it’s directional. It takes time for this heat to penetrate all the way into the centre of the big lumps of meat. We used a meat thermometer and measured up to 65deg in the centre, but we should have waited a bit longer, maybe even waiting until 70 in the centre.

So, because it’s so hot if you leave the animal in any one position the skin burns pretty quickly, so you really do have to keep turning it. Slowly is fine. But you need to keep it over the heat long enough to heat all the way through, without burning the outside.

That said, don’t fret too much if the skin takes on some colour or even looks to burn quite badly. It’s quite tough skin and and won’t become crackling without a lot of salt. So, just think of it as a bit of a heat shield which accepts the searing heat of the fire and re-radiates this into the animal. It’s going to get burnt. I should have scored the skin to make it shrink more uniformly, but it went okay otherwise.

From Pig Party

An early photo, after a couple of hours.

And, almost finished

From Pig Party

Marinating

We didn’t do any marinating over night, preferring to baste marinade on during the cooking. Next time I might do this differently, but I doubt it will make much difference.

For the marinade I mixed a couple of longnecks of dry apple cider with a couple of big handfuls of dry herbs, lots of salt and ground black pepper. We just brushed that on during the day, going through about 3L over the 8 hours.

Resting and serving

We moved the beast off the heat after 7 hours when it was about 60 deg in the centre. We were getting nervous the outside was drying out too much but on reflection it should have got another hour. There were very few bits that had dried out at all and some of the drier bits were really tasty, becoming almost jerkied in places. mmmmmmmmmm.

We rested on the spit, wrapped in alfoil for an hour, which rested the meat beautifully, but let it get a bit cold. Not sure how to solve that in future, maybe a quick reheat after resting?

Then I gave everyone a carving knife and we went for it

From Pig Party

Overall?

It wasn’t *that* big an effort and actually a really nice way to spend a day. We spent the day sitting around a fire chatting and drinking beer, with a few people dropping by to say g’day and turn the handle. There were some logistics during the week and it’s pretty committing, but there is no more spectacular way to feed a lot of people. Don’t tell Bec, but I’ll probably do this again one day and essentially will do everything the same.

From Pig Party

Sage and Arthur celebrate democracy.

3 things that are critical
1. Buy a good animal; free-range, healthy, well killed and hung. I’ll make sure mine has a head next time.
2. Use proper charcoal. It’s worth it.
3. Make sure everything is strong. Losing a 40kg beast into the fire with 40 people standing around could lead to mutiny.

One last thing; I really liked the way that an extravagant meal bought people together. I met a few locals I’d never met before who came bearing gifts and drawn by the idea of a big pig. Excellent stuff.

So, go on, do it. Give yourself a month to advertise and make sure enough people come, ask them to bring salad and go for it. It’s worth it.

From Pig Party

And here’s what was left. It reminds me of a scene from Robocop.

EB

Post Edit:
The delightful @CrazyBrave took some fancier photos of the pig and its final fate. Have a look here.

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About evcricket

Extreme gardener, engineer and bird nerd.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to How To Spit Roast a Pig

  1. Wow nice information. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Sylvain Bouche (Australia) says:

    Hey Man thanks for all the tips, attempting a combo 20Kg Whole Pig / 20 Kg Whole Lamb. And I’ll be off first thing to get some wires 🙂 Ta. Your day sounded awesome.

  3. mark krawczuk says:

    hi, it wouldnt be real good using galvanised pipe or wire on meat, especially with the heat m,m the galv coating is poisionus.. we have a stainless steel shaft, , maybe you could also use normal black pipe ?

    • evcricket says:

      HI Mark, yeah I wondered about that. I figured in the end though that the gal coating is just zinc and hoped it wouldn’t be too much of a problem. But you’re right, probably not the best choice long term.

      EB

  4. vivzilla says:

    Awww yeah, I’m catching up on my RSS feeds and it was good to relive the joys of #pigparty

  5. Don’t worry about making bellows, make a 17thC dogwheel http://www.patrickchaplin.com/Turnspit.htm

  6. bettiwettiwoo says:

    Struck me suddenly that oh, about 100 years ago, I had spit roasted pig at a viking fair in Denmark. Hunted round for ‘viking’ recipes without much luck. Did however conclude that spit roasting whole pigs is now a favourite Swedish pastime (there’s even a Facebook group: http://bit.ly/bGuSDW ). FWIW, ALL the Swedish recipes I looked at used steel wire for the trussing. Many of them recommended dividing the fire into two to avoid over-cooking the thin, mid-part of the animal. (See the little drawings here: http://bit.ly/crUuK6 ) A recipe for spit roasting a whole lamb even recommended making the ‘front’ heap a little big larger as the carcass is thicker there.

  7. Steve says:

    The day of the pig, an excellent and captivating summary just sorry I couldn’t make it.

  8. Tesska says:

    Absolutely fantastic, feel like I missed most of it. Next time I reckon you should do it in early spring and I’ll be there from go to whoa.

  9. Bells says:

    so glad you wrote it all up. I love seeing info about the parts we weren’t there for. Well done! I presume one thing you’d change next time is not being sick as a dog?

  10. ellymc says:

    I don’t even eat pig, but I enjoyed cranking the pig! And the company was ok too….

  11. Zoe says:

    Fantastic post, Ev and a fantastic party. I had pig for dinner last night and lunch today 🙂

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