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You don’t need a pit—or a spit, for that matter—to throw a pig roast. My friend Rupa and I managed to pull one off in Manhattan yesterday, thanks to a clever contraption called La Caja China and a whole mess of charcoal. Here’s our six-point plan:
1. Buy La Caja China. These metal-lined roasting boxes, which are of Cuban descent, can cook up to 100 pounds of meat at a time. Although they work somewhat counterintuitively—the charcoal burns in a tray on top of the box—they’re near-foolproof and very fast: A 50-pound pig takes about 4 hours to cook.
2. Buy a whole pig. Ask your butcher to butterfly it, and kindly ask him to remove the eyeballs. You (probably) don’t want to do this yourself, and you definitely don’t want to see what happens to pig eyeballs at extreme temperatures. Figure on one pound of pig per person: Our 40-pounder needed about 40 pounds of charcoal and fed 40 people, with enough leftovers for a Cubano or two.
3. If you can, pick up the pig on the day of the roast. The hardest part about cooking a whole pig is finding a place to keep it cold. Mine started out in the shower covered with ice, but—unless your name is Kermit—it’s not appropriate (or even legal, in most states) to bathe with swine. The refrigerator was too full, so I emptied the wine fridge and stood her up inside. It made the living room look like a carnival sideshow, but at least I could shower alone again.
4. Cook the pig. Figure out what time you want to eat, then work backwards, following the instructions printed on the side of the cooker. It took our pig an extra 45 minutes to achieve that perfect combination of brown and crispy skin/sweet and juicy meat, because we had rubbed it with an achiote-garlic mixture beforehand.
5. Carve the pig. Or rather, hack at it. We cut the the whole thing into little pieces and served it with taco fixings: refried beans, pickled onions, limes, etc. Set aside cheeks, ears and feet for more adventurous eaters.
6. Start planning your next roast.