One Magical Animal: La Caja China

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.

21 thoughts on “One Magical Animal: La Caja China”

  1. Good Lord, that is no less amazing today than it was a couple of weeks ago.

    I will add that aformentioned bones make a delicious pork stock.

    And also that if humor dies, the terrorists have won. Have they won, Dan?

  2. It was an honor and a pleasure to carve that cute, tasty pig, even if it was a little unnerving for the rest of you. Sometimes a man just feels a little bit more like a man when he has a giant knife in his hand.

  3. Clean out the box? But that’s what gives it that special flavor.

    Awesome job. You guys are whole hog gods. You have given this little man something big to aspire to.

  4. Thanks for all of the great tips and photos. I’m roasting a first pig in La Caja on Sunday and have two questions:

    1) How big was the pig you roasted?
    2) What was the outside temperature on the day of the roasting?

    This will help us better guage our times. Thanks in advance.


  5. Thanks for reading, Jon. The pig we roasted was 60 lbs. I’m not sure where you are, but we ordered ours from Gartners Meat in Portland, and it was sold as a Luau pig. The temperature was about 60 degrees outside, as I recall.

  6. Thank you, Dave. I’m in Salt Lake City and it is predicted to be about 60 here this weekend. Were there any other “aha’s” you took away from the experience other than follow the directions and use the thermometer? Would you change anything in the Mojo brine they provide on the website?

    I ordered a 50 pound pig from a guy out here who slaughters pigs professionally (can you say “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”)? Much to my wife’s dismay, we’re doing this for my 4 year old daughter’s birthday this weekend (who loves the idea). I’ll probably take off the head so as to not cause any irreprable damage later in life. I probably come up in enough pschiatry couch conversations already . . .

  7. Ha. Remove the head? And remove the delicious ears? What kind of necklace will you wear if not a ceremonial pig’s tooth necklace?

    Okay, I am really just kidding. I made a double batch of marinade, which seemed great as far as quantities go. Other “ahas” … hmm. I’d definitely suggest a remote digital thermometer, if you don’t already own one … That way you can monitor the internal temperature without actually opening the lid, WHICH IS IN BIG RED LETTERS! DO NOT OPEN THE LID. You can find one in our holiday gift guide:

  8. We did a 100lb pig the day after christmas in one of these things and it took us about 2 hours longer than their directions, but it was awesome!

    Trying your bacon recipe. Been in the fridge since the 30th. Googling around looking for bacon recipes and found your blog, thought Id try it out. Using shoulder though, not the belly.

  9. Looking at the photos you published it appears you had your racks on the wrong side. This would account for the slow cooking time, and the way the skin looked when you flipped the pig over, as it was pressing against the drip pan instead of being suspended above it. It looks like it turned out ok, after all was said and done. I plan to order a box of my own soon, and can’t wait to take a crack at it!

  10. I could use some help. I “inherited” my La Caja China from a neighbor that has moved out of state. There were no instructions on how to use it. And the more I look on the web, the more confusing. Also, I can’t use the video’s outside.
    Anybody know where I can get instructions on usage and maybe recipes – either online or by mail?

  11. Mmmmm…baaaacon….we have just started curing our own bacon and was surfing for recipes when i came upon your site. LOVE the idea of the caja China – I’m sure the chattering classes in downtown Toronto won’t mind!

    BTW do you know of any carb-free bacon cures? We got into doing our own is our daughter is on a diet for her epilepsy that allows her 10g carbs a day. We have done two batches so far; first was rather salty, second included star anise and has been thoroughly rejected by the girls. All suggestions warmly welcomed…



  12. I am going down to Miami to pick one of these up later this month. I enjoyed reading your post. Have you cooked any other types of meat in it yet. I am most interested in ribs. But I understand that turkey, chicken, roasts and almost any other kind of meat can be prepared in the box.

  13. this isnt a comment but could you show samples of other pig-liked animals or show the same thing but
    alive creeping in someones backyard.thans!

  14. Awesome post!

    FYI…the new “Semi Pro” model has a drain and a spigot, so clean-up is WAY easier, plus you can save the broth of beans and such!

    Burnin’ Love BBQ

  15. It’s way too different how we roast pork without using Caja China. We don’t slice the pig in half, and then we skewer it on a bamboo pool and then turn it every now and then near the coal. Caja China is a marvelous invention.

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