Pig Roasting Reflections
By Morgan Weber
In my mind, the decision to pull the trigger on cooking a whole pig at one of our joints is not that dissimilar from the decision it takes to actually go through the process of opening another restaurant. I’m not saying that cooking a whole pig is as difficult as opening a restaurant, so don’t misunderstand. I’m saying that there are a lot of similarities in the madness required to pull off both.
In the weeks leading up, you dream, you plan, you talk yourself into how easy it will be.
Enough time has passed since the last one wherein you forget the real details.
So why do we do them? Because they are so, damn, satisfying.
Every time we do it, we learn more—from the variety of pig, to the weight, where and how it is split, the type of cooker we use, when and how the pig is seasoned, how long it is cooked, what kind of wood, the temperature—everything matters. Those details are what ultimately make such a savage thing so satisfying.
What we have learned:
Roasting a 100 pound pig takes about the same amount of energy and effort as roasting a 250 pound pig, so we always go big. The bigger the pig, the longer it needs to season. Typically we will begin by injecting a whole, skin-on pig days beforehand with an equilibrium brine that we make in-house. Sometimes we even begin this process a week before we plan on cooking it. This allows time for the salt to penetrate the entire muscle.
10pm the night before the pig roast
Fires get built. This time we are using what is becoming my favorite medium for cooking a whole animal—it's more or less an insulated steel box on a trailer. Chris Shepherd has graciously let us borrow his for the upcoming event. The steel box has a grate at the top and a hydrualic lid that makes for easy opening. When cooking a pig over live fire, the biggest danger is to let the fire get out of hand. When the pork fat begins to render during the cooking process and drips onto live coals, the fire flares up and within seconds, if unattended, the whole animal can be destroyed.
This particular cooker has doors on the front of the box and space on the exterior sides for which coals or live wood can be set to provide heat and smoke. The vents around the firebox also encourage enough inflow of air, that it almost acts like a convection oven. It’s a brilliant design because no matter how big those fires get on the sides, the pig and subsequent fat are in the middle. There is a zero percent chance of that pig catching on fire under these circumstances.
All we have to worry about now is not drinking too much beer and falling asleep.
11:49pm the night before the pig roast
Energy is high. [Culinary director] Vincent [Huynh] just showed up with reinforcements of booze. Music is jamming. Everybody is feeling good.
2am the day of the pig roast
Layne (Revival Market GM) and Alex show up. Dominoes come out, and a pretty intense game ensues. Everybody is still feeling good. Pig is getting mopped with a loose mix of sugar, vinegar, mustard and Worcestershire every thirty minutes or so. The pig has been facing up and someone suggests to flip it over to get some good smoke on the inside cavity. Good call.
2:15am the day of the pig roast
Vincent peeled off and is taking a nap on the couch in the office. Pete (Revival Market chef de cuisine) is out of words but maintaining pretty well. Matt Tanner and Bryan Davis just closed down the Shiloh Club after having polished off the rest of the bottle of Galliano that has been sitting on their backbar for the last year and half. They are not in good shape.
4am the day of the pig roast
Tanner and Davis realize that the Uber drivers aren’t really out en masse anymore and fall asleep in their chairs. Pete gets tagged out by Todd who shows up, looking fresh as a daisy. Vincent is still asleep on the couch in the office. The pig is starting to look reeeeeal nice.
5:30am the day of the pig roast
Everybody regrets this decision. Everybody is cranky. Tired. The pig is on-point.
8am the day of the pig roast
Tanner and Davis start to wake up. Tanner is drinking out of the water hose as if it’s water from God’s own riverbank. Galliano was a bad choice. Ben has shown up to open Coltivare for morning prep. He brings coffee and Kolaches. Day-saver, right there.
11:30am the day of the pig roast
Everybody in the company is curious and is making their way over throughout the morning to check on the pig’s process. We’ve knocked the temperature down to just below 200 degrees. The pig is cooked through, and we are now just letting that collagen and connective tissue break down. This was a super fatty pig from Yonder Way Farm (Jason knows what he is doing). All that fat stands up beautifully to those long, slow cooks. The energy is back in the air. Just a couple of more hours until the real fun begins.
1:00pm the day of the pig roast
The pig comes off to rest for an hour or two before it is served. A good long rest allows it to cool a bit and really come together. This is a massively important step that we never skip.
2:00pm the day of the pig roast
The masses are showing up and everyone gets their second wind. The pig gets pulled and sauced. We are open for business.
What have we learned the most about this whole process that we pull off a couple times a year? 1) We have mad respect for all the bbq joints splattered across Texas that have been doing this every single night for decades.
2) In a company like ours, none of this could happen without the team effort by everyone involved.
3) We never want to do one of these again…
…until we have enough time to forget…and plan another.