This blog post has sat in my draft folder for 2 1/2 years. Where does the time go? We’ve been busy which means things like blog posts take a back seat. It is my New Years resolution to get back to the things I enjoy and while I’m at it, reminisce about the things I’ve enjoyed. Let’s start with this post.
The main aim of this post was to share what Mr D and I learned about doing a Pig on a Spit which was the star of the show for Christmas in July 2016 with family and friends. It never occurred to me how excited people would be about such a thing. I was excited despite being way out of my cooking comfort zone.
To say this was an ambitious project would be an understatement. It had been months in the planning which included slaughtering one of our home grown pigs, researching the process and let’s not forget the preparation leading up to the day.
I’ll start at the beginning.
On the 21st May 2016, a local butcher came out to the farm and prepared 3 pigs and 2 lambs (our livestock) for the freezer. One of the pigs (the smallest which weighed 36 kgs dressed*) was kept whole for the purpose of putting on the spit. We invested in a 700 litre chest freezer for the occasion.
The spit was purchased from Aldi for $199. Timely really, although you can buy them at Bunnings and Masters for a similar price (give or take $50). If time had allowed, we may have built our own. Their are some great designs, as I discovered, which were probably more effective than the prefab spit that we used.
Now for the research. I did a LOT of reading. You would be surprised to know that there is not a lot of information regarding spit roasting, certainly not spit roasting a 36 kg pig. A lot of forums or posts were related to each other so I found myself reading the same material over and over. One forum started off to be quite interesting and informative however quickly turned into a slanging match between the forum participants. I did manage to gather enough information from various sources and the rest we were going to learn the hard way.
The first decision was whether to use charcoal or wood. Most advice was to use charcoal. Charcoal may have been a safe option however it was going to add over $100 to the cost of the event and as we have wood everywhere, it made sense to use wood.
Building coals is important and takes time and practice. Allow at least two hours on the day (a good day with no wind and/ or rain) and plan to have a separate fire pit so that you have two lots of coals. Placing cold wood on your spit coals will affect the heat and could be detrimental to the cooking time of the meat.
Allow 48 hours defrosting time. I’m glad we did. After 24 hours, our pig was still frozen underneath. It took both of us to flip it over. I’m pretty on top of food safety and the importance of defrosting meat in the fridge however our pig would not have fit, even with everything removed. We placed the pig on a towel on top of the freezer which is in a cooler part of the house (and it was Winter). The second day, I placed ice pads and bricks on and around the pig and covered it with a wet towel that had spent time in the freezer. This practice would not work in the summer and would be dangerous to your guests with regards to food poisoning.
Cooking times vary and even though I allowed 8 hours (based on recommended cooking times) for a 36 kg dressed pig, it took over 10 hours. AND we had perfect weather on the day. Plan to start early and be flexible with your serving time. I set the fires the night before and had them started by 5.30 am.
Have a practice run. Mr D and I cooked a smaller piece of roast pork the Saturday before the big event. I wanted to see how long the coals would take to build in the base of the spit roaster, how long the roast pork would take to cook and discover anything else that might go wrong or could be done better. It was well worth the exercise.
Stuffing. I’m not a fan of stuffing (especially the bread crumb variety) however I recognise it’s purpose. The problem with a traditional stuffing is that it would have added to the cooking time which is something I didn’t want. You do, however, want to retain moisture and add flavour to the meat from the inside. I decided we would fill our pig with a mixture of apples, fennel, garlic, onion and leek.
Allow time to prepare the pig for the spit. It took Mr D and I about 2 hours the night before to stuff and truss the pig. I can’t stress enough to you the importance of trussing the pig. You don’t want all that time and effort dropping into the fire. The spit pole needs to run along the underside of the spine and be wired all the way along. We used a mild steel wire, and a lot of it, which was very effective. This wire needs a wash however is safe to use with food and it’s not expensive. Don’t be afraid to overdo it!
Have muscles available on the morning to place the pig on the spit. 36 kgs of pig, plus the pole, wire and vegetable filling left me really struggling with the weight when it came time for Mr D and I to put it on the spit.
Place the coals under the thickest parts of the meat to start. The middle of the pig will cook more quickly than the butt and head ends.
Make a pig on a spit an all day event. Our Christmas in July didn’t start until 3 pm however we really needed to have friends taking turns watching the spit and the coals over the course of the day (just so other necessary stuff could be done). You may need to provide lunch by way of a sausage sizzle or something similar. This is not a set and forget activity as some forums may have you believe and this is something we learned the hard way. By the time lunch time had come around, Mr D had grabbed a beer and just resigned himself to being the spit custodian.
Don’t plan on crackling. Like all things cooked over an open flame, they turn black. The skin and the layer of fat underneath it are important though for preventing the meat drying out.
Basting was highlighted as being important when spit roasting. It was not necessary for the pig. Something like lamb though, basting would be very important.
Have a meat thermometer on hand. Our aim was to cook the pig to a medium rare which is about 63 to 65 degrees celsius. I bought a leave in thermometer which was a waste of time and money. A couple of flare ups, caused by the fat dripping into the fire, blackened and ultimately cracked the glass on the thermometer. Just place the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat when it’s coming to the end of it’s cooking time (what you perceive to be the end that is).
Plan for flare ups. Our pig had quite a layer of fat which turned out to be a headache when it started to drip into the fire. Fat and fire equal a towering inferno. Even the cattle crush that we used as a shelter had caught on fire. I would have a photo of this if Mr D and I weren’t in such a panic trying to quell the fire before the meat was completely ruined. Hosing is dangerous. Small amounts of dirt were effective. Sand would probably have worked as well. The plan was to stem the flames without putting the fire out which would be a disaster.
Have a plan for carving. Mr D, with the help of a friend, carved the pig while it was still on the spit. This proved the most effective way given the size and weight of the pig and saved anyone from being burnt trying to remove it from the spit.
Don’t stress! That’s hilarious coming from me. Stressing was a waste of my energy as once the day began, regardless of my over the top planning, things went wrong. At the end of the night, our friends had full bellies, were merry and they had all enjoyed the spectacle that is a pig on a spit.
I think, as far as the pig goes, I have imparted all of my words of wisdom.
As for the rest…..
it was a very merry Christmas in July. Were you there? Leave a message.
Mrs D x
*Dressed..Head, trotters, tail and innards removed.
Photo of me taken by Liz.