I've Done It Now!

moosemacAugust 7, 2012

I volunteered to smoke a pig for the family Labor Day party. Let me start by saying I'm not a neophyte at smoking meats, fish, veggies, etc. BUT I have never smoked a whole pig.

Here's my set up: A small wood stove with the chimney out the back of the stove connected to a smoker box the size or an apartment size refrigerator. I regulate the temperature by the length of the pipe I use between the stove and the smoker box and can further regulate it by the vents on the stove. I have an instant read meat thermometer in the side of the smoker box so I can keep an eye on the temperature inside the box.

My thought is I would hang the pig inside the smoke box. Ideally I'd like the pig to be cooked to a nice juicy, sliceable temperature rather than well done like pulled pork.

My questions are:

1. Can I stuff the cavity with something like maybe potatoes, onions, sausage or whatever to promote a more uniform cooking? Or would that be unsafe? If it can be done then what at what temperature should the pig be smoked?

2. If I thread a wire either around the neck or under the front legs will that hold a 50-60 lb. pig hanging? Any suggestions on hanging the pig would be appreciated.

3. I plan on using a dry rub on the inside and oiling the outside of the pig. Do you think brining a day ahead would be helpful or should I plan on injecting the meat? I was thinking of using Linda's cider brine for pork roast.

I'm expecting it will take 12-14 hours to smoke the pig but that will depend on the smoking temperature I decide to use. I plan on using an instant read thermometer to check for temperature through out the pig.

Your thoughts?

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I'm not sure whether to offer congratulations or sympathies. This is a BIG job.

What temperature range can you get with your setup? I've never done a whole pig, but I regularly smoke large joints, most recently a 20 lb leg to make pulled pork. For 20 lbs, it takes at least 10 hours at 225F in our electric smoker to reach internal temperature of about 165F. I think a 50lb whole pig will take a lot longer.

We've hung smaller joints and whole ribs from meat hooks. If you use a wire, it should be stainless. You can ask what the maximum weight the wire can bear to be sure it will hold 50lbs.

I would brine for at least 3 days to be sure the brine penetrates deeply. This is what I used to brine a 20lb crown roast, actually two loins roasts. If you brine, make sure you rinse off, then allow to dry out a little or the rub won't stick. I like LOTS of rub since it's only on the surface.

Finally, I would not stuff the cavity. Smoking is slow. Adding extra bulk will extend cooking time for a job which is already very long. If you like, you could pre-cook a stuffing, and either stuff the pig before it's completely done, or place it in the smoker to pick up smoke flavors.

What kind of wood will you use? I found some wine barrel wood ages ago, I think Steve Raichlen's name was on the label. It's from oak barrels used to age wine. That adds a very nice flavor to slow-smoked meats.

Have fun!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 9:59AM
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We've hosted pig roasts on our property for charity events but all I know about how it's cooked is what I've observed the pigman doing. There's no stuffing but he heats up smooth rocks about the size of tennis balls and puts them in the cavity and closes it with metal clips. He uses a garden sprayer to spray the pig about every hour or so with cider vinegar mixed with Worcestershire sauce, paprika and black pepper.

That should be a great adventure!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 11:03AM
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It is not much of a big deal in having nice tasty tender meat. The biggest challenge in roasting a whole pig, IMHO, is the skin.

Melting crispy bubbly airy skin on a roasted pig is the ultimate gastronomic delight, and it takes a lot of skill and work to achieve that kind of heavanly treat.

That should be the focus if you have not done one before. Reseach how to end up with perfect crispy crackling skin is the Holy Grail.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 12:26PM
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I can run the smoker at just about any temp by lengthening or shortening the pipe between the stove and the smoke box. The key is lower temp in the beginning so the meat absorbs the smoke. Then I can boost the heat to speed up the cooking. But slow is still the name of the game. Maybe I am being too optimistic at 12-14 hours. I'll continue to research it. Over the past 30 years or so, I've done briskets, turkeys, racks of ribs, pork butts, salmon, shrimp, pheasants, corn, etc in this smoker. Great idea to use meat hooks! I usually use racks but the smoker is taller than it is wide so a whole pig just won't fit on the racks.

I'll definitely plan on brining for 3 days. The only reason I was thinking of stuffing the cavity is because there's less meat thickness in the carcass as oppose to the shoulders and hinds and I didn't want it to dry out. I plan on using a mop through out the process so that should help.

For wood I use a mixture of dry and green oak (to help regulate temperature), corn husks and shaggy bark hickory shells. I also use alder for salmon but I find it to astringent for meats. Once in a great while I can get apple or sugar maple wood from my wood supplier. Yum!

I plan on using a mop of vinegar, hot pepper powder (my own), smoked paprika, garlic, black pepper, and maybe cider and wine or just a flavorful beer. Whatever moves me that day and I feel goes with the brine will be what I mix up. LOL

Good point about the cracklin' skin. I'll research it. That would mean I'd probably have to back off the mop and boost the heat up the last 3-4 hours. I know most roast pigs are lathered with oil before roasting to get the nice crisp skin. I'm wondering if I oil the skin at the beginning if it will inhibit the smoke absorption.

This is going to be such a fun and I'm sure curse filled adventure! LOL

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 1:34PM
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I've never smoked a whole pig before either, but a leg or two. I think the biggest concern is how to hang it. It can be done, but here are my thoughts: Even if you use wire that can support the pig's weight (or a meat hook), once the fat starts to render and the meat cooks, the sheer weight of the pig will likely pull it from the hook. I suggest creating a wire "cage" around the pig, with a mesh you create at the bottom of the cage, and attaching the hook to the cage. Yes, that sounds like a lot of work, but you already knew this would be a lot of work, right? Otherwise, I'm afraid you might end up with a pig on the bottom of your smoker and no way to hoist it up.

And I go for not stuffing it either.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 1:46PM
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For several years, SIL/BIL hosted pig roast for volunteer firemen friends in their back yard... after they finished their "games" with other fire companies on 7/4. The fire guys/gals bought the pig and rented a large box cooker... set up in bil's back yard. It looked like a LARGE wooden coffin?!? It had no bottom and sat over some kind container for the wood. The fire was started maybe 2-3 o'clock on the 3rd and burned down to HUGE heap of red hot coals. There was a BIG metal pan with 4 handles... kinda resembled a gurney?!? Handles fit into slots and lid went on top. Pig went on maybe 9-10 the night before and by 4-5 the next afternoon... was falling apart. My first thought was, once pig starts to get super tender... needs to be on something relatively solid or it's just gonna fall apart.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 2:42PM
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Our marina has an annual shingdig where we roast a whole pig & fresh caught whole tuna. We pit roast so our procedure is different but I think a few things might apply to your situation.

We do fill the cavity with hot stones (our pit is lined with bricks) to help with even cooking. Might be too heavy for your application?

Remember to put an apple/rock in the mouth - keeping the mouth open allows the heat to better penetrate the interior.

We wrap the pig in multi-layers of foil & then cover it tightly in wet burlap. This technique holds the pig together as it cooks. Last, we wrap chicken wire around the pig so we can get it out of the pit.

Obviously, you won't get the crisp skin but nobody at our marina eats the skin anyway - we're more interested in moist, tender pork. We do rub olive oil over the entire pig & season before preparation to roast.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2012 at 3:06PM
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