What did we learn from spit roasting our first suckling pig?
- Buy a quality spit and motor. Make sure that the spit you buy can handle twice the weight of the pig you purchase. If your pig weighs 20 pounds, your spit should be able to handle at least 4o pounds. Or else it will fail.
- Order your pig early. It is not easy to find a suckling pig these days. Even if you find a consistent purveyor of suckling pigs, they can often take weeks to deliver. Order at least a month in advance.
- Brine your pig. I found it gave the pig excellent flavor, and helped to season the entirety of the pig — especially the thicker pieces of meat, and those that were hard to get to, or covered in thick skin, like the ribs. Brine it the night before.
- Build a good fire with solid coals. Give yourself plenty of time –maybe 2 hours — just to build your fire. You want to have two sections: a section that burns hot and created coals and flames, and section with just coals over which you cook the pig at about 250-275.
- Stuff your pig with aromatics, hold the stuffing in with bread, and tie it with butcher’s twine soaked in water. Choose a theme (I went with French country) and add aromatic herbs, vegetables, and maybe some citrus or other acidic item so that the flavors perforate all the meat (I ended up using thyme, sage, lavender, lemon, and garlic, though I forgot the lavender and garlic). Also, buy a loaf of bread to stuff in last to hold everything else in. The bread will also toast nicely, and absorb delicious juices.
- Center the weight of your pig on the spit. This may take a few tries, but make sure you get that sucker centered, or it will rotate too fast and too slow, alternately. Or you get a robust spit motor, and it won’t care (See #1).
- Don’t panic. In all likelihood, something will go wrong. Don’t panic. Remember, even if you drop it in the fire (which we did) you don’t eat the skin anyway. Plus, if everything goes wrong, you can always stick the sucker in the oven. If it won’t fit, cut it up and stick it in the oven.
- Be patient. This will take a while (at least 5 hours) so give yourself plenty of time. I would even suggest cooking it to 200 degrees so it’s fall off the bone, or to 150 so that it’s at medium (the temperature of the meat will raise an additional 10 degrees once you remove it from the fire, so it will end up at 160. We cooked it to 175, as some recipes suggested. This left the meat in the after-medium zone where it is tough, not as flavorful, and not cooked enough to be fall-off -bone tender.
Keep the dogs away from the ingredients.
- A suckling pig, 10-20 pounds
- A quality spit with a good, plug-in motor
- Plenty of butchers twine, soaked in water
- 20-80 pounds of coals — I would buy at least 60 to be safe, but you can also use wood
- Oven thermometer
- Small boning knife to butcher the pig
- Quality rubber gloves to remove the pig from the spit
- Large cutting board
- Lots o’ salt
- Fresh herbs
- Appropriate veggies
- Citrus or other fruit
- Stuff for a sauce
Ultimately, it’s a wonderful male-bonding experience, even if you completely alienate your wives.