Note to vegetarians: This is a post on my experience learning about whole animal cookery - it is respectful but has pictures of how an entire pig is roasted. If you love barbeque, roasting and everything meaty, keep reading and get ready for your mouth to water.
Almost everything I know about cooking meat I have taught myself.
I was raised in a completely vegetarian household and was very impressed with how my mom created a plethora of meat-free recipes for our family of six back before grocery stores became stocked with everything the modern vegetarian needs to survive. But that didn't stop me from harbouring a secret love for all things roasted, seared, basted and grilled, and I have fond memories of sneaking out with my dad for burgers and steak dinners.
I've gotten over most of my meat cooking phobias (which took a long time, and I still prefer J to yank the bag of 'parts' out of the turkey at Thanksgiving) and I'm proud of the wide variety of meat-based recipes I've conquered. But any sort of large-scale butchery or whole animal cooking has always been a bit intimidating for me. However, you know that these days if it scares me, I want to learn about it or try to cook it even more.
Enter my local Vancouver Island friend Guy, who mentioned casually to me a few months back that he does catered pig roasts in the summer with his catering company Island Grillbilly. I asked him if I could come along one day and see how it all works, and last weekend he invited me join him and help out slow-roasting a 100 pound pig for a country summer party he was catering.
Roasting an entire pig is, as you might imagine, an all-day event and I met Guy bright and early at 6 am to get started. We set up the grill and rotisserie spit and Guy got the charcoal lit. He uses a beautiful Ontario hardwood charcoal for roasting instead of chemical-laden brickettes, and we were soon surrounded by wisps of aromatic smoke as we prepped the pig for the spit.
Getting 100 pounds of pig properly secured, balanced and mounted on the spit is hard work, especially at 6 in the morning! But after a reasonable amount of pig wrangling, everything was ready to go. I was happy to find that after a few internal moments of "Yikes, this is a lotta meat" and "Whoa, I'm handling an entire pig with, like, ears and stuff", I had no problem getting right in there to get everything ready for roasting. I wish I had some pictures of us prepping, but our hands were a tad busy and I couldn't take any pics until we were done.
After the initial flurry of activity to get the pig up and roasting for an entire day, everything slowed down as the pork began slowly rotating on the spit over the coals. Guy would get up from time to time to baste with pineapple and apple juice, sending up mouth-watering fragrant clouds of steam. Although all that's happening for hours on end is a slow round and round circle, the pig always needs someone keeping an eye on it, ensuring that all is well. We sat and chatted as the time passed, and Guy told me more about the kinds parties and events Island Grillbilly cater - from West Coast seafood and salmon extravaganzas, to deep-fried turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Our pig slow roasted all the way through a beautiful Vancouver Island summer day and by the time guests began to arrive for the party in the early evening, it was starting to look damn tasty. I loved hearing the oooo's and ahhhh's from people arriving, as the party hosts Andy and Margy hadn't told their guests about the surprise of a whole roasted pig!
Fresh local corn and potatoes joined the grill for the end of the cooking time, and the pig, who had been named Gertrude by this point by a guest who mentioned it is respectful to name the animal you eat in this way and had the honour of picking her monicker, was looking golden brown and smelling fantastic. After a final pineapple juice basting and a check of the meat temperature in different sections, it was time to lift everything off the spit and cut it up for dinner. While I'd had no problem lugging the 100 pounds of meat on and off the spit in the morning, I was a little nervous to do it again now that it was perfectly cooked and ready, in front of a crowd, no less. But Guy and I got it off the spit no problem, and I enjoyed the collective "Oooooooo!" from the crowd as we carried it over to the table.
Guy went to work expertly cutting up the pork with a skilled hand, this Island Grillbilly knows his stuff! In what seemed like no time at all, he had juicy slices from different parts of the pig piling up in the serving platters. As pork connoisseurs know, contrary to outdated belief, once your roast pork comes to the appropriate cooked temperature, it is safe to be eaten either medium or well-done, and Guy cuts a variety of choices in done-ness for party guests. I helped get everything to the table and sliced up a pile of the much sought-after crackling skin, which is a delicacy to many and in this case was covered in a sticky, caramelized coating of roasted pineapple juice, making it even better. Mmmmm...
I loved every minute of that very long, hot day by the coals, learning about the amount of work (with a few hours of rest) that go into roasting an entire pig on an outdoor spit. It's an authentic way of cooking (and eating) that respects the whole animal, and brings out the beautiful, natural flavours of British Columbia-raised pork.
Thank you so much to Guy, the Island Grillbilly, for sharing his love for the craft of slow roasting with me. Another thank you goes to Andy and Margy, along with their family and friends, for making me feel so welcome at their beautiful acreage for a lovely west coast summer celebration of food and friendship.
If you're on Vancouver Island and interested in hosting your own memorable pig roast or catered event with the Island Grillbilly, use this link to get in touch.