Go the Whole Hog: A Pig Roast Primer

Nobody wants to get trichinosis at your backyard barbecue, so here's our handy-dandy tips for having a safe, tasty — and fully cooked — pig roast.

Nobody wants to get trichinosis at your backyard barbecue, so here’s our handy-dandy tips for having a safe, tasty — and fully cooked — pig roast.

A friend recently returned from a pig roast only to get quite ill with food poisoning — we’re talking a hospital stay and all. Though he is unsure if the pig was indeed the culprit, I have been to perfectly executed pig roasts and others that did not go so well.

Getting an entire party sick from undercooked pork — or any food, of course — will really harm your hosting reputation, not to mention possibly sending some of your guests to the hospital. Hungry and annoyed guests who are waiting to finally eat should be the last of your worries.

With the unofficial start of summer kicking off this Memorial Day weekend and the whole hog roast being an in thing to do, here are a few things from nose to tail to be cautious of that will help make your event absolutely fabulous.

LIMIT THE SIZE OF YOUR PIG

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Slaughtered between the ages of two to six weeks, a suckling pig is ideal for a roast. For cooking time and yield of meat, choose a weight you are legitimately confident can be cooked in a matter of hours and one that won’t yield a mountain of leftovers.

USE AN INSIDE OVEN IF POSSIBLE

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Roasting in the oven is preferable to erecting an apparatus in a backyard or digging into the Earth to bury the swine. It may sound less festive or messy to bring the cookout indoors, but if you are lucky enough to have the space outside, reserve it for eating, drinking and merriment. Digging a pit, erecting a spit or cooking box to roast a pig can be time consuming. Instead of adding to the enjoyment, it can also feel like a lot of work with not much benefit.

DON’T FORGET ALL THE STEPS

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Roasting a pig is not as simple as buying one and then throwing it over heat. Don’t forget all the other work that goes into the roast. The feast doesn’t only consist of cooking, then smelling the deliciousness and eating until you pass out in grease-smeared, porcine bliss.

The labor takes time. Don’t forget to budget to include transportation of the edible guest from your supplier, cooking setup, actual cooking time, fire and fuel management, the dangerous sparks from coal and ash, copious amounts of grease and possibly editing the cooking schedule.

BE WILLING TO GO PIECEMEAL

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There is undeniably something irresistibly primal about roasting a whole pig on a spit, in the ground or in a specially designed smoker. But provided your outdoor space is limited, it’s not giving in or being uncool to buy the roaster in pieces so the meal can be cooked in a reasonable amount of time and in a conventional oven. After all, this method might save a lot of time and energy. And in the end you will have a succulent meal without as much muss or fuss.

TAKE YOUR TIME

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Whole pigs, even small ones, take time, so don’t try to rush it. Allow enough space before people are scheduled to arrive and for proper cooking time. No one wants to leave hungry, of course, but making your guests ill is obviously much, much worse. It takes a while to roast even a smallish, 12- to 20-pound pig, so just chill and have a few cold ones while waiting. (And, of course, have something else for everyone to snack on until the big pig reveal.)

BASTE & SEASON

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Experts say to use a sauce or rub, but simple lemon slices, citrus zest, herbs, salt and a baste base of cream and butter works well, too. With the extra time some say you should inject a marinade into the flesh or use a salty brine to add extra flavor. Most recipes suggest marinating for at least 24 hours prior to roasting. Baste frequently with sauce or simple mixture for tender and flavorful meat.

COOK THOROUGHLY

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Testing the internal temperature of the most interior meat in the hams and shoulders is very important. With a meat thermometer, it should read at least 160 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit for best results.

SEEK ADVICE

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As the tradition of a pig roast has regained popularity, countless blogs and websites have become devoted to getting the most of your roast. Seek help if unsure about any of the above. After all, it’s your party, but even so, you don’t want screw it up and make yourself cry because something went wrong.

CARVE, EAT & ENJOY

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Pulling the pork off should be easy if it was cooked right, but there are also methods for getting the constituent parts into manageable sections. Consult a butchering book, online materials or ask for a cutting guide with parts outlined from your meat purveyor.

AND NOW THE WORST PART: CLEANUP

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Maybe some guests will stick around after a pork-induced nap, but in case they don’t, no need to worry. If you’ve gotten this far, it was most likely a success. In case your friends didn’t stick around for the messy part, get a powerful grease cleaner, some gloves and just get to it with some elbow grease.

Hopefully the cleaning can be done with the knowledge that you have pulled off the pig roast of the summer. And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back — and thank anyone who helped — and maybe plan to do it again as summer has only just begun!

Noah Zuss is a reporter for TheBlot Magazine.

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