In the summer when we aren't drawing up hog barn designs or installing equipment, you can often find us at the BBQ. Whether it is whole hog roasts with the entire neighborhood and everyone else you know or flipping burgers for the family, you can't beat relaxing by the grill, enjoying the longest days of the year. Although we only do it a couple times each year, our favorite BBQ is whole hog BBQ. That's why we want to share our top 5 helpful hints for whole hog roasting.
We aren't whole hog roasting experts, so we won't guide you through the whole process and tell you exactly how to smoke or roast your pig (there are plenty of pit master videos out there for that). We just want you to know what whole hog roasts are all about and give you a few of the helpful hints we have learned and follow.
1. The Pit: Build, Buy, or Borrow
If you are roasting a whole hog for the first time, the biggest question is, "How are we going to get this thing cooked?" The good news is you have options. You can build your own pit in your backyard, buy a whole hog roaster or borrow/rent one from a BBQ restaurant or equipment rental shop. Building your own pit can be labor intensive, but you will have so much satisfaction when you are done. When done right, it doesn't have to be very expensive either.
You can go out and buy a roaster if you plan on hosting whole hog BBQs often, otherwise this might not be the best investment. If you don't want to take the time to build a pit or invest in a roaster, your best option is to rent the equipment. Search for your nearest BBQ restaurants or equipment suppliers to see if they rent out their whole hog roasters. If they don't have these specific roasters, they may also have pits large enough to fit a whole hog.
2. The Seasoning: Don't Be Afraid!
You may be scarred from a time you had a piece of meat where the cook went overboard with the salt. Don't let that scare you with your whole hog. There is plenty of meat to absorb the salt in your rub and much of it will run off. While there is no agreed upon "right" way to season (the wrong way is to not season) your meat, many experts prefer to use a sauce or wet rub and plain salt. Make sure to season the whole hog liberally, including the interior cavity. You can use your favorite rub or sauce, just make sure it has little or no sugar in it. Over the long cooking process, the sugar will burn and make the skin unpleasant to eat.
If you want your pig to be sweet, spray a sweet sauce on the skin towards the end of roasting or add some sweetness to your injection.
3. Injection: This is a must.
Whether you believe in injecting your meat for single cut BBQ or not, it is a must for whole hog BBQ. Since every cut is still connected, it is hard to get flavor into the meat without injecting it. You can flavor your injection however you would like, just make sure you don't go overboard with sugar or strong flavors like garlic. You don't want to lose the flavor of the pork. There are a lot of great injection recipes out there, so find one that sounds good to you.
Even though injection does help with moisture retention, you shouldn't have to worry too much about that with whole hog roasting. There is enough fat in the animal to keep everything from drying out.
4. Cooking Temperature
When smoking a single muscle, it is usually best to keep your temperature low (in the low 200's) but if you did that with a whole hog, you might be there for much longer than you planned. It is best to keep your temp around 250 degrees so you still cook everything slowly but also get the internal temp of the animal up to where it needs to be within 6-24 hours (depending on the size of the animal and the style of coocking).
The trickiest part of cooking a whole pig is getting the internal temperature of each muscle where it needs to be. Some cuts are better at lower temperatures in that 145° range, and the fattier muscles are better when they are cooked to a higher temp around 200°. So how do you balance this so you don't overcook the leaner muscles? The simple answer is you really can't. The best way is to roast the pig until the larger muscles reach about 160° and then reduce the heat or remove the hog from the heat and let it rest. This allows some moisture to reset in the meat and the temperature will rise some after removing the heat anyway. There are techniques out there that may keep the leaner areas cooler, but it hard to achieve a variety of temps in the pig. That's okay though because you will be chopping everything up for pulled pork anyway!
5. The tenderloin stays at the cutting table for the grill master and crew.
While all of these other points are tips, this is our one rule. If you put in the work to roast the pig, you keep the tenderloin. You know it’s the best and most tender meat, but most of your guests probably wouldn't even know the difference when it’s mixed with everything else. So, make sure this doesn't end up unappreciated. Keep it back for you and all your roasting crew. You deserve it!