Roast pig is a traditional Filipino food known as "lechon," or "lechon baboy," typically prepared for holidays and other celebrations. A whole pig or suckling pig ranging from 100 to 200 pounds is slow roasted on a spit until the skin is bright red and crispy. While the process can take several hours up to a whole day, a whole roasted pig provides plenty of meat to serve a large gathering. While it only takes one person to monitor the cooking, you'll need some extra hands to get the pig on the spit and lift the spit over the fire.
Things You'll Need
- Cinder blocks
- 1-inch diameter pole
- Non-galvanized metal wire
- Large needle
- Soy sauce
- Basting brush
- Brick or block
- Meat thermometer
- Carving knife
Preparing the Roasting Pit
Dig out the ground to expose bare soil or place fire bricks on the ground as the base for your fire. Remove soil as needed to make the ground level.
Stack cinder blocks to build a three-sided wall around the fire area, making the wall tall enough to hold the pig up out of the flames.
Turn the top cinder blocks on the left and right sides of the pit so the holes face in, toward the center of the pit. Cinder blocks are usually stacked with the holes facing up, but these two must face inward so you can insert the spit in them.
Start a fire in the roasting pit with seasoned wood such as oak, plus wood such as pecan, mesquite, or apple wood for flavor. Allow the flames to die down to hot embers before adding the pig. Spread the hot embers evenly across the bottom of the pit.
Preparing the Pig
Push the whole pig onto a 1-inch pole inserted through its mouth and out the back end. Filipinos commonly use bamboo poles for lechon, but you can use a steel pole.
Rub salt and pepper generously all over the inside of the pig. Stuff the body cavity with other seasonings as desired. Cebu-style lechon, for example, includes whole onions, bundles of lemongrass and garlic cloves. Other optional filling ingredients include halved bananas and taro.
Sew the cavity closed with non-galvanized metal wire and a large needle such as an upholstery needle. Tie its feet together around the pole with wire.
Coat the skin with soy sauce to help achieve the bright red skin typical of Filipino-style roast pork.
Roasting the Pig
Place the pig over the fire, securing the ends of the pole in the sides of the roasting pit. You can insert the poles in the holes of cinder blocks if you constructed your own pit. Other contraptions might have arms upon which to rest the pole or lock into a rotating device.
Roast the pig over the hot coals for 4 to 12 hours, depending on the size of the pig and fire. If you keep the embers low, you can slow roast it for 12 hours or more; a hotter fire or small pig cooks in as little as 4 hours.
Rotate the pole about once every 30 minutes to brown the skin and cook the pig evenly. If you build a cinder block pit, you'll have to wedge a brick or block in the hole next to the pole to keep the pole from spinning back around. The poles naturally spin so the back faces down, but cooking it with the back down for too long will burn the back skin while under-cooking the rest of the pig.
Baste the skin with more soy sauce periodically while roasting the pig. As a general rule, apply more soy sauce each time you turn the poles.
Insert a meat thermometer in several points on the pig when the skin is evenly browned and the pig looks as though its finished cooking. The internal temperature of all parts of the pig must be at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Another good way to check that the pig is close to done is to tug on the ribs; the meat should pull away from the bones easily when done.
Remove the pig, leaving the pole intact, and place it on a table lined with newspaper. You can cut the pig into sections or encourage guests to carve or pull away the desired pieces of meat.
Tips & Warnings
- A whole pig roast requires advanced preparation. Gather all materials and assemble the pit in advance. Have the ingredients readily available when it's time to stuff the pig. Chop plenty of firewood so you can keep the fire going the whole time.
- In some areas, you might be able to rent a pit made from a large steel drum to contain the fire and pig.
- Check the local laws regarding open fires to see if it's legal to roast a whole pig in your yard.
- Hook up a garden hose and have it ready to use quickly if needed. The hose can extinguish fires started by popping embers and is a quick way to extinguish the embers when the pig is done.
- The Chicago Tribune: Roast Pig Provides Filipinos in Chicago With a Taste of Home
- Serious Eats: Lechon Liempo (Filipino-style Roasted Pork Belly)
- Lovely Philippines: Filipino Lechon Recipe or Roasted Pig Pork Recipe
- Popular Mechanics: How to Cook the Whole Darn Pig
- Amazing Ribs: Goin' Whole Hog: What You Need To Know To Roast A Hog Or Suckling Pig
- USDA Food Safety Inspection Service: Fresh Pork from Farm to Table
- Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/Photos.com/Getty Images