We at BS Brewing firmly believe no animal is worth cooking unless it’s been injected with at least a gallon of tasty brine (post-mortem, when possible). Selden agreed to make the brine for our hog (sour oranges, garlic, blah blah blah) ahead of time, since he was going to miss the actual pig-prep on Saturday. In terms of comparative manliness, this process barely warrants the single picture above. Selden, however, redeems himself later…
I can’t explain exactly how the American taxpayers provided these, but trust me, they did. Totally necessary, by the way, for pig prep, unless you grew up in the Appalachain Mountains raised by your mother/sister, in which case you’re used to stuff like this.
Oh, hey, speak of the devil.
Grabbing this cold, dead hog by the arms ‘n legs and hauling it out of a cramped cooler was very Tommy DeVito. “Hey, what do you like, the leg or the wing, Henry?”
Selden was a little surprised that they hadn’t taken anything out of this bad boy, not its eyes, not its tongue, not its brain, and most disturbing, not its teeth. Keep in mind the pig’s teeth aren’t inherently that bad, but it’s hard to give a good smile for the camera when your lower jaw is in two pieces.
Something warmed deep in my heart as I stood over Mr. Pig and realized that while this was the first animal flayed in half in my backyard, if all went well, it wouldn’t be the last. I looked at Hay and Selden and just smiled, proud of my ability not to say things out loud.
While there might be easier ways to weigh out 9 pounds of charcoal from a 22-pound bag, Selden insisted on the hold-the-bag-and-weigh-yourself method just because it would look dumber in pictures later…
…and here we are, proving him right. Actually, this method (combined with Selden’s ability to eyeball charcoal mass) worked very well, and we were never off by more than half a pound. Considering we ended up throwing an extra 10 pounds on by the end of the night, we probably didn’t need to be this precise, but we didn’t know that.
Selden made a horribly off-color joke as we were standing and looking at these charcoal towers. Hay and I stared at him, to which he said, “What? Too soon?” I’ll give you three guesses as to the nature of the joke, and the first two don’t count.
But again, Selden redeems himself by bringing his home-kegging system and accompanying homebrew. The beer is absolutely fantastic, the best homebrew I’ve ever had. I can say that because I had zero part in the brewing process, it was all them other boys. One of my high school friends and I were still talking about this beer a week later.
The pig’s been cooking for precisely 3 hours at this point, during which span we’ve been forbidden (by bold red lettering on the Caja China itself) from checking on the animal’s status. Not even a peek. So a small crowd starts to gather. How awesome will it look? Will it smell great? Can I stop myself from trying to eat it before it’s totally done? Make no mistake, we had high hopes here.
The moment of truth. The guests are seeing the pig for the first time.
Uh, let’s just say, mixed emotions. The color’s not quite like the website. The pig in that one certainly didn’t have unhealthy-looking pools of liquid in its ribcage. But it’s real life, so we figure, let’s turn ‘er over and maybe the skin on that side will have the color we’re looking for. Note also that the Caja China is not exactly a precision instrument. The two categories of pig weight are 0 to 40 pounds, or 41 to 80 pounds. There must be some big physiological change between 40 and 41 pounds, because it’s essentially more important to the cooking process than the difference between a 1 pound hog and a 40-pounder.
You remember the pictures of the pig raw? Looks no different now, underneath. It’s wetter, and maybe a little warm, but this is not what we were hoping for. 3 hours? It looks like it’s been in for 15 minutes. Is this why they didn’t want us to look at it ahead of time? Is this a sick joke? Who would taunt a man with misleading meat preparation? It’s just wrong. The others remain confident, but I am concerned.
The instructions say to score the skin on the back to promote maximum crispiness. Look on the Caja China website for a hilarious depiction of this process that makes it appear not horrifying. “Crispiness” is not on the radar at this point, and so the scoring is really a process of firm stabbing and then slicing through soft tissue. The skin and flesh are resistant to the knife, like I presume a live animal would be, and the meat (which bursts forth, Tauntaun-style, with every incision) looks fatty, gray, and raw.
Check out all the cameras. It’s kind of like when you’re walking down the street at night, and somebody’s getting stabbed to the ground in front of you, and instead of helping you just pull out your phone and take pictures.
After the pig is scored, it’s left backside-up. We replace the coals, as directed, in hopes that the heat will start hitting the actual pig soon. According to the instructions, the pig should be done in only 30 more minutes. Note the remote meat thermometer we’ve inserted into the haunches. It’s safe to say we’re not trusting the instructions on the Caja China 100% by this point.
About an hour and fifteen minutes after the last picture, and after adding an additional 10 pounds of charcoal, we feel good about checking the pig, and finally, it’s beautiful. I think rump temperature reached about 180, which we all felt would keep trichinosis at bay.
There are all kinds of funny things to say about this picture, but if you look at it for too long it makes you uncomfortable about your own mortality. Let’s get out of here.
Oh sure, NOW we’ve got friends. Where were you all when Hay and I were breaking hypodermics on this beast’s ass and rubbing salt into its brain?
I know you’re drooling. I am too. Isn’t that gorgeous?
You can see how the right side of the pig is starting to disappear. We had two guys armed with steak knives and long forks who were unnervingly efficient at cutting our hog into delicious pieces. Some of the meat falls away like butter, and some comes off in beautiful steaks. After two days of prep, any jitters you had about eating a totally recognizable animal complete with feet, a tail, eyes, tongue, etc., are long gone, and it no longer seems weird to reach in and grab the good pieces as they are revealed. In 20 minutes, there was nothing left but a head and some basic, unconnected bones. Total victory– we would recommend everyone give this a try if you can get a hold of the Chinese Box, because we heard a lot of unsolicited: “Oh my god, this is the best pork I’ve ever had.” And all we did was follow the directions–though for a little longer than they said–so we thanked the pig and the Caja China for the praise. There’s only one drawback, really. Imagine how difficult and gross it is to clean the Caja China of all the pig fat and juices afterward, when it’s cooled. Seriously, get a picture of that in your head. Without hyperbole, the process is actually around a bazillion times more disgusting than you’ve imagined, and almost impossible. But who cares? We cooked and ate a pig, which was both fun as hell and freakin delicious. And in the end, that’s all that matters.