Something Really Old V: Adventures in Pig Roasting
From the AOL years (1996 – 98).
Last week I mentioned to a co-worker of mine at America Online that I was going to attend a pig roast that weekend. This being the first time I had been invited to one, I was unsure of what exactly was going to happen. My co-worker, apparently a veteran of the pig roasting genre, was only too happy to fill in the details.
“It’s the only way to cook a pig,” he declared, negating thousands of years of bacon, pork chops, Spam and potted meat food product with one imperious sweep. “What you do is you take a pig, stick a rod in it from mouth to tail, and cook it in an open pit for several hours.”
“So you even cook the head?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” he said. “In fact, you can tear a chunk right off the pig’s forehead and eat it while it’s still cooking.”
“That sounds sort of disgusting,” I said.
“Disgusting?” he appeared shocked. “Man, that’s the best part!”
I came away from this discussion with two thoughts. The first was simply the observation that there’s a certain class of folk who seem drawn to eat the most disturbing parts of an animal (“Pig forehead/orangutan lips/fish genitals? Man, that’s the best part!”).
While one can appreciate this in that sort of Native American, “use all parts of the animal” sense, it’s still unsettling. If God had truly meant man to think about the fact he was eating pig forehead/orangutan lips/fish genitals, He wouldn’t have invented the hot dog. My second thought was that this pig roast thing might be more complicated than I originally suspected.
Indeed, it is. The flame-broiling of an entire mammal is not something to take lightly. You don’t approach the task of cooking a whole pig like you would approach a hamburger. You can’t just slap it on the grill, flip it over a couple of times, lay some cheese on top, and then accidentally drop it into the flaming briquettes and end up trying to fill up on potato salad. There’s some serious planning involved.
Here’s what you need to cook an entire pig:
1. The Pig. This no doubt to the great displeasure of the pig itself. Our pig was neither one of those polyploidal monstrosities that show up at county fairs, looking horrifying like the farmer that brought it, nor one of those toupeed piglets that were so darn cute in “Babe”. It was medium-sized, which in human terms is about the size of Macaulay Culkin or Labor Secretary Robert Reich, take your pick.
Our pig came without the head, which meant we had to forgo the forehead-gnawing portion of the day, but which also made it easier for most of us to get through the food preparation process without thinking of Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web.” Our pig was also spared the indignity of having a metal rod pinioning it through its anterior and posterior orifices. On the other hand, it was split right down the middle and halved like a red banana, so I wouldn’t suppose from the pig’s point of view that that was any better.
2. The Cooking Apparatus. Entire pigs are generally cooked over a pit, which is dug in the ground, filled with some sort of long-burning flammable object (charcoal briquettes, mesquite logs, Kenny G compact discs) and set ablaze. For our pig roast, digging a hole in the ground wasn’t practical, so we had a huge, industrial-strength grill, large enough to grill a Ford Explorer, if one were in the mood (“The alternator? Man, that’s the best part!”).
3. The Pig Roastin’ Guy. Unless you’re itchin’ for a Family Fun Pak of trichinosis, you want the guy who’s roasting your pig to have some experience, a Pig Roastin’ Guy who comes from a long and proud line of Pig Roasters. Our Pig Roastin’ Guy was “J.D.”, whose pig roastin’ skills were not in dispute: Every July 4th, J.D. would roast three entire pigs over a pit and invite most of the county for a party. Pigs were known to run squealing if he came within 30 yards.
J.D. came complete with seasonings, barbeque sauce, and a dazzling array of electric utensils, but the most interesting things about J.D. were his gloves — thick, black galvanized rubber monsters, glistening with grease, just the sort of thing you’d want to wear if you were handling live high voltage wires or planning to strangle the mailman.
For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what they were for until J.D. put them on, hopped over to the grill, grabbed the pig with both hands and flipped the entire thing over in one disturbingly graceful motion. This was the Greg Louganis of the pig roastin’ world.
Once you have all these things in one place, the pig roasting pretty much takes care of itself — all you have to do is stand around with the other guys, drink beer, and every now and then nibble on the steaming hot chunk of flesh your Pig Roastin’ Guy offers you in advance of the formal pig devouring.
Each time you get an advance pig chunk, you should chew appreciatively, gazing out into the distance, as if lost in thought, then turn to your Pig Roastin’ Guy and say “now, that’s damn fine pig!” It’s the standard response. Any deviation from the norm will cause your Pig Roastin’ Guy to look at you with suspicion; the next time he offers you a pig chunk, it’ll probably have come from some part of the pig you’d’ve rather not known about.
Take it anyway. Because, man, that’s the best part.