Learn all the best ways to roast a pig right in your own backyard.
We cover every method for Backyard Whole Hog BBQ, whether you want to use a Spit, a La Caja China, or build your own Cinder Block Oven, we'll help you find the best way to roast a pig for your next large gathering.
So, you consider yourself a real pitmaster, huh?
Well, when was the last time you roasted a whole pig?
Roasting a pig in your backyard is the pinnacle of challenges when it comes to outdoor cooking, and if you want to really attain the Ultimate Pitmaster title, you are going to have to tackle this challenge sooner or later.
Luckily we have all the information you need to both get started and be successful, so why not start planning today?
Finding a Pig to Roast in your Backyard
Before you can roast a pig, you have to get your hands on one, and if you don't raise them or know someone who does, that's not always so easy.
Sometimes you can find whole roasting pigs at specialty grocery stores and meat markets, but you will pay a premium.
The easiest, least expensive option is to buy one online.
But like anything you buy online, you need to not only know who you are buying from but precisely what you are getting.
The terms can be confusing. Here are a few you need to know:
- Suckling Pig: A pig that wasn't yet weaned from drinking milk when slaughtered.
- Hanging Weight: The weight of an animal after removing its organs.
- Butterflied: The animal is butchered in a way to help it lay flat while cooking.
- Scalded and Scraped: A method to remove the hair of a pig.
How Big of a Pig Should I Roast?
Remember that the pig you are ordering will still have its head, feet, and bones intact.
So, make sure you order enough to feed all your guests while accounting for this wasted weight.
A quick rule of thumb is that you need 1.5 pounds of "Hanging Weight" per serving.
So, if you are hosting a party for 20 people, you will want to order a 30 lb pig.
Of course, you can always order bigger to avoid running out.
What's the Best Method to Roast a Pig?
With the pig ordered and on the way, it's time to decide how you are going to actually roast it.
There are many different styles of setups and options for roasting a pig in your backyard, but some are better (and easier) than others.
The following are a few of the most popular methods of cooking a whole pig, so you can choose the method that is right for you:
- The Polynesian Pit Method
- The Spit Method
- The Caja China Method
- The Cinder Block Oven Method
Each method has its own pros and cons, whether its cost, speed of cooking. or just overall coolness factor, and we are going to break down each method for you here.
The Polynesian Pit Method
The Kalua Pua'a, or Kalua Pig Roast, is the main attraction at any Hawaiian luau and is what most people think of when they imagine roasting a pig.
Cooking in an underground pit oven called an imu produces some amazingly tender and delicious pork, but you really have to know what you are doing, or things can go bad quickly.
From digging the pit to timing the roast, you only have one shot at getting everything right, and making just one mistake means a ruined meal and disappointed guests.
Despite the "cool" factor, it is probably best to leave this pig-roasting method to the experts who have done it many times before.
The Spit Method
It is hard to beat roasting a pig on a spit over an open fire for pure caveman appeal, right in your own backyard.
There is just something so seductively primal about the idea of slowly turning a pig over glowing coals as the skin crackles and the meat steams in its natural juices.
The only problem is that while the idea is lovely, it's a little more complicated than you may realize in practice.
Spinning a spit and tending a fire for 10+ hours can be fun at first, but then get a bit tiresome.
Sure, lots of folks love cooking their pigs this way, but for your first attempt at roasting a whole pig, there are some easier ways that will still give you excellent results.
However, if you are committed to roasting a pig in your backyard using the spit method, here's how to do it:
Get a Heavy Duty Rotisserie Spit Setup
Start by choosing a spit roasting system like the SpitJack CXB85 Pig, Whole Hog, Lamb BBQ Spit Roaster Rotisserie Kit.
Spit roasting works best for smaller pigs, so if you plan to cook a pig weighing more than 80 pounds, double-check that your spit can handle the weight.
Prepare the Pig for the Spit
Prepare the pig for roasting by removing it from the fridge and bringing it to room temperature a few hours before you plan to start cooking.
Now is the time to marinate, apply a rub, or flavor-inject to your heart's desire.
You want a steel injector needle that will hold up to the thick skin of the pig as you work your way through various cuts of meat.
How to Place the Pig on the Spit
Now comes the most challenging part (physically and mentally) of the whole process: securing the pig to the spit.
If you have never done it before, it is worth asking someone to show you how.
There is nothing worse than your pig slipping off the spit halfway through cooking.
But if you are on your own, try the following technique.
- Push the main crossbar of the spit through the pig's anus, as close as possible to its backbone and out through its mouth. Getting some help with this part will make things much more manageable.
- Attach the spine of the pig to the spit with a back brace. If your spit set didn't come with a back brace, you could use heavy-duty food-safe wire.
- Attach the rotisserie prongs to the head and the hindquarters of the pig. This will stop the pig from flopping on the spit. Don't forget to lock the rotisserie prongs in place.
- Secure the hind legs of the pig using a leg bracket or heavy-duty food-safe wire. Use the same wire to tie the forelegs together.
- Rotate the spit for a minute or two. If the pig is unbalanced, adjust the position or add the counterweights that came with your spit roasting set.
How to Roast the Pig on the Spit
After securing the pig to the spit, it's time to get the fire started.
It is a good idea to use charcoal briquettes because hardwood charcoal can burn too hot.
A charcoal chimney starter, like the Weber 7429, is a fantastic way to get the fire going.
Make a ring of unlit charcoal under the pig roasting area so as not to provide too much direct heat right underneath and perpendicular to the animal
Once the charcoal in the chimney burns down to white, spread it out on the interior of the ring you created to slowly burn and light the unlit charcoal.
Adjust the height of the pig until you can hold your hand just below the bottom of the pig for only 7 seconds before it gets too hot.
Be prepared to adjust the height and add more charcoal (to the interior of or on top of the ring) as needed to maintain the correct temperature.
How Long Does it Take to Roast a Whole Pig on a Spit?
You need to roast the pig until it reaches at least 165°F in the thickest part.
Ideally you want the internal temp of your hams to be 187°F and the smaller shoulders closer to 200°F.
Cooking times will vary, but a good rule of thumb is to allow an hour and 15 minutes for every ten pounds of weight.
So an 80 lb pig will take roughly 10 hours.
The Caja China Method
Another method for roasting a pig, known as the Caja China method, actually translates into Chinese Box, and despite its name, it comes from Cuba, not Asia.
The Caja China method is a traditional way of roasting pigs that uses metal-lined boxes with tight-fitting lids and can cook a whole pig to perfection in less than half the time of other methods.
Because of the shorter cooking time, some people call this method the "Cajun Microwave" in the US.
Using a Caja China is a fantastic way to cook a whole pig because it is quicker and less complicated than using a spit roaster.
Where Can you Buy a Caja China?
A quality Caja China like this La Caja China 70 lb Pig Roaster can be a little pricey, but usually not much more so than a high quality heavy duty spit roaster set up.
And while you may find cheaper options elsewhere on the internet, be forewarned many of them contain toxic galvanized steel which is NOT considered food safe to cook with like aluminum.
So choose carefully.
How to Roast a Pig in a Caja China
Prepare the Pig and and Place in the Box
To use a Caja China, start by bringing the pig to room temperature and then butterflying it by splitting the spine between the forelegs.
Don't try this with any old kitchen knife.
If you are serious about preparing and carving a roast pig, you need a good quality meat slicing and carving knife set like this one from EUNA.
Since a Caja China cooks the pig at a much higher temperature than other roasting methods, you should protect the meat from drying out by using a meat injector to inject about five ounces of liquid into each of the hams and about three ounces into the shoulders of the pig.
You can use your favorite pork injection liquid or try this Victory Lane BBQ Pork Injection--Award-Winning Pitmaster Recipe.
Apply a liberal coating of Kosher salt on both sides of the pig and place it inside the wire rack that came with the Caja China.
Put it inside the box with the skin side down and cover it with the lid.
If you want, you can insert a heat-proof probe like the MEATER Wireless Smart Meat Thermometer into one of the hams.
The MEATER works right with an app on your phone and you can set the alert on the app to 187°F.
Make sure the probe is set now, because once you place the charcoal, you will not be able to open the box again.
Light and Spread the Coals on the Caja China
The Caja China box work similarly to our Trash Can Turkey set up by taking advantage of lit charcoal on the outside to create an oven on the inside.
Use a chimney starter to light about 12 pounds of good quality charcoal, such as Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes.
Place the charcoal in two equal piles on each end of the lid.
After about 20 minutes, spread the charcoal over the top of the cover.
Use long handled BBQ tongs to spread the charcoal!
Absolutely NO BBQ or grilling gloves, no matter how highly temperature rated, can withstand the direct heat of a lit piece of charcoal.
Add about 6 - 7 pounds of unlit charcoal every 30 minutes on top of the hot coals for the next three hours or until the temperature probe reads 187 degrees.
Push the hot ashes into a metal trash using the BBQ tongs and lift off the lid while wearing heavy duty high temperature grilling gloves.
While wearing the heat-proof BBQ gloves, flip over the wire rack.
Cut an 'X' on the skin inside each of the rack grids.
Replace the lid and let the pig continue to cook until the skin crisps up, about 30 - 40 minutes.
The Cinder Block Oven Method
The Cinder Block Oven method is a popular choice for many people when they start roasting whole pigs.
Perhaps this is because it's easy to construct, cheaper than buying a brand new automatic spit setup or Caja China, and kind of fun to build and show off to guests.
You can get everything you need for less than a hundred bucks, and most of the materials are reusable for other projects if you decide that roasting a pig in your backyard is not something you want to necessarily do all the time.
But affordability isn't the only reason to roast a pig in your backyard using the cinder block oven method.
Since you can build and break down the oven in at most a few hours, you don't need to find a place to dedicate to cooking.
And finally, a cinder block oven is pretty forgiving yet still delivers succulent pork that will earn you the kind of reputation you want.
The "Low and Slow" method is very similar to using a conventional smoker or pellet grill and many backyard chefs familiar with smoking large cuts of meat find this method familiar to what they already know and understand.
Building the Cinder Block Oven
There are dozens of different cinder block oven designs online.
It is important to note that you should never use galvanized metal for cooking, because not all builds mention it.
If you are looking for a food-safe cooking grate, this one is a good option.
Preparing the Pig and the Cinder Block Oven
To prepare a pig for cooking in a cinder block oven, you need to butterfly it first by cutting through the spine between the forelegs.
However, seasoning with kosher salt or a good BBQ rub on all sides is a must.
You are going to need A LOT of charcoal for cooking in a cinder block oven.
If you want to be sure not to run out half way through the day, buy enough charcoal to equal your pig's weight, although you probably won't use it all.
Use an extra large charcoal chimney starter like this one from Oklahoma Joe's to light about 30 pounds of quality charcoal.
Once the coals are white-hot, rake them with a long handled charcoal rake into the corners of the cinder block oven to create an indirect cooking environment.
Roasting the Pig in the Cinder Block Oven
Place the pig skin-side up on the grate and cover the pit.
Depending on the size of the pig, you are looking at a 6 - 8 hour cook time.
You can monitor the temperature of the cooking chamber as well as various parts of the pig such as the hams and the shoulder by using a multi-probe wireless thermometer like the 4 Probe ENZOO Wireless Meat Thermometer.
No wires to deal with and you can keep track of all your temperatures right on the Bluetooth display.
Maintain a temperature between 225-250°F inside the cinderblock over degrees by adding about 10 pounds of charcoal, divided up into the corners, every 50 minutes or so.
After four hours, score the pig's skin lightly with a knife (but don't use crosshatches) and flip the pig over.
After about six hours of cooking, check the internal temperature.
When the hams are at an internal temperature of 180°F, remove the pig and let it rest.
How to Serve a Roasted Pig
Resting and Carving
Like all large cuts of meat BBQ and things such as prime rib and ribeye roasts, let the pig rest for about 30-45 minutes before carving and serving.
With the help of a couple friends, all wearing protective BBQ gloves, move the whole metal rack with the pig on it over to a separate area for serving away from the hot coals.
You can use a picnic table covered in plastic wrap then newspaper or use some additional cinder blocks to create 4 posts to support a large piece of plywood for your roasted pig.
Just keep in mind there is going to be fat and juices EVERYWHERE, so the more disposable a table, the better.
Make sure everything's is sturdy and secure so your beautifully roasted pig doesn't fall to the ground.
You can leave it up to your guests to carve their meat out themselves directly out of the pig using tongs and knives provided.
Or, if you don't think that's their thing or might get too messy, you can carve out some ham, pork shoulder, ribs, pork belly, and pork tenderloin yourself to create a nice spread for your guests to easily choose from.
A third option is to chop everything and mix lots of areas of the hog together Carolina whole hog style, including crispy bits of the skin.
This creates a more homogenous pulled pork style mixture, but is very delicious and probably different from what many of your guests have had before.
It also covers up a lot of mistakes if you overcooked the loin or dried out the hams.
The fattiness from the other areas will offset those errors and will go largely unnoticed by your hungry guests.
Putting it All Together
A pig roast isn't a fancy affair. Disposable tablecloths, paper plates and plastic cups are just fine. Just make sure you have great side dishes and plenty of drinks.
You can provide sauce on the side such as our favorite vinegar based spicy Blues Hog Tennessee Red.
It cuts right through the fattiness of the pork and has great flavor for serving on whole hog.
Some side dishes you may want to make for your pig roast include:
Beer and soda are just about the perfect beverages to drink with the hot pork.
So, when are you going to host your own backyard pig roast?
How to Roast a Pig in Your Backyard
- A Large extra refrigerator to store the pig until you are ready to prep and roast
- La Caja China Pig Roaster (or build a DIY oven with cinder blocks, see below)
- An Extra Large Charcoal Chimney
- Multi Probe Leave in Thermometer
- Heavy Duty High Temperature Resistant Grilling Gloves
- A Long Handled Charcoal Rake
- A Quality Meat Carving/Slicing knife set
- A Heavy Duty Meat Injector Syringe
- A Large table covered in plastic wrap and then newspapers for resting and carving the whole hog.
- 48 Cinder Blocks if not using a La Caja China
- 1 Heavy Duty Aluminum Metal Wire Rack (NOT galvanized steel - toxic), roughly 24" x 48" if not using a La Caja China
- 1 Large piece of Aluminum Sheet Metal to cover the cinder block oven, roughly 40" x 88". if not using a La Caja China
- 2 Smaller pieces of plywood or sheet metal, roughly 12" x 24", to control air flow. if not using a La Caja China
- 6 Bags Charcoal the more on hand, the better
- 1 70 lb Whole Hog scalded and scraped, and preferably already butterflied
- Seasonings, marinades, and BBQ sauce for serving
Prepare the Pig for Roasting
- Remove your whole hog from the refrigerator and ideally bring it to room temperature a few hours before you plan to start cooking.
- Butterfly the pig down the belly from the chin to between the legs and spread apart as flat as you can get it. You may need to separate some ribs from the spine to flatten them out more , this is ok.
- Inject the hams, shoulders and loins (running along the ribs) with your favorite bbq pork marinade injection.
- Apply your favorite pork rub or marinade to all the inside and outside areas of the whole hog.
- Place the pig on the wire rack and position your leave in thermometer probes into one of the shoulders and one of the hams.
Option 1: Use a La Caja China
- Use a chimney starter to light about 6 pounds of good quality charcoal.
- Place the pig into the La Caja China with the skin side DOWN, and place the lid and Caja China metal rack that holds the charcoal on top.
- Create 2 piles on unlit briquettes on top of the la caja china, one on either end.
- When the charcoal chimney of briquettes is lit, pour half of them on top each pile to help light the other briquettes.
- After about 20 minutes, spread the charcoal over the entire top of the cover using a long handled charcoal rake.
- Add about 6 – 7 pounds of unlit charcoal every 30 minutes on top of the hot coals for the next three hours or until the internal temperature probes in the ham and shoulders reads 187°F.
- Push the hot ashes into a metal trash using the BBQ tongs and lift off the lid while wearing heavy duty high temperature grilling gloves.
- While wearing the heat-proof BBQ gloves, flip over the wire rack. Cut an ‘X’ on the skin inside each of the rack grids.
- Replace the lid and let the pig continue to cook until the skin crisps up, about 30 – 40 more minutes.
Option 2: Use a DIY Cinder Block Oven
- Make sure to build your cinder block oven in an open area cleared of all vegetation with a nice flat dirt surface as a base.
- Build the perimeter of the oven with the cinder blocks about 4 cinder blocks lengthwise and 2 cinder blocks widthwise, and 4-5 cinderblock high, adjusting as necessary to accommodate the size of the butterflied pig you are roasting. On either short end of base, position one of the cinder blocks so that the open cavities are visible to allow airflow through the oven from one end to the other. (See picture).
- Stack a column of cinder blocks inside each interior corner about halfway up the height of the oven to act as support posts for the metal rack that will hold the whole hog to roast. Create 2 more columns halfway down each long side if necessary as well for added support
- Light an extra large chimney of charcoal.
- Spread a ring of charcoal around the inside perimeter of the cinder block oven, about 3-4 briquettes high and wide, but NOT directly below where the pig will be positioned.
- When the charcoal in the chimney is lit, pour about half the lit briquets on top of the ring at one short end and half on top of the ring at the other short end. This will create e low and slow burn towards the center of each long side.
- Wearing protective gloves, place the aluminum wire rack and pig, skin side DOWN, on the support columns in the cinder block oven.
- Make sure your temperature probe sare in place in the shoulder and ham and place another temperature probe near the pig to monitor the cinder block oven chamber cooking temperature.
- Place the large aluminum sheet metal on top of the cinder block oven with a brick or two on top to keep it from blowing off.
- Position your smaller sheet metal or plywood prices near the open cinder block cavities to positioned at either short end of the base. Start with them covering the openings about halfway and adjust as necessary to maintain a cooking chamber temperature between about 225°F and 275°F.
- You will need to remove the lid and add additional charcoal to the corners and inside perimeter every 1-2 hours as necessary. Depending on the size if your rack you may need to lift it up temporarily with the hep of some friends wearing protective gloves, or sprinkle the charcoal in around the edges between the rack and the cinder blocks if there's room.
- Continue roasting the pig until the internal temperature probes in the ham and shoulders reads 180°F.
- At this point, open the cinder block oven and flip the pig over carefully with the help of some friends. Score the pigs skin with a sharp knife and continue cooking until the internal temperature of the hams and shoulders reaches 187°F.
Remove, Rest, and Carve the Roasted Pig
- Once the internal temperatures read 187°F, remove the whole hog from the La Caja China or Cinder Block Oven carefully, with help from others, while wearing protective gloves.
- Place the whole hog on a large table, skin side down, ad let it rest for 30-60 minutes.
- Carve the roasted whole hog removing portions of the hams, the shoulder, the back loin, and the ribs.
- You can serve these individually to guests or chop them into a carolina style whole hog mixture using a good chopping knife.
- Serve with a vinegar based BBQ or mustard sauce on the side for your guests.