Whole hog roast

Whole hog roast

Deep South
Andy Sewell

Whole hog cooking may have been having a well-deserved moment under the spotlight of magazine editors for the past couple of years but cooking a whole young pig over an open fire pit has long been de rigueur in my part of the world. Here’s how I’ve been doing it since I dug my first pit over 12 years ago. The size specified below will feed 40–45 people, along with other fixings. You’ll need plenty of firewood if using an open or raised pit, much less if your cooking pit has a cover or hood. If you can’t cook a whole hog, you can use a wood-burning grill for smaller cuts, such as shoulder or neck.


Quantity Ingredient
1 whole pig, dressed weight 18–20kg, ask your butcher to split it along the backbone, shoulder and pelvis to allow it to lie flat on its back seasoned hardwood oak or pecan, or a mixture of both
250g sea salt
240ml cider vinegar, plus more as needed
150g light soft brown sugar

For the sauce:

Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon sea salt
480ml cider vinegar


  1. Making the sauce

    The day before you cook the pig, make the sauce. Put all the ingredients except the vinegar in a jar. Bring the vinegar to the boil and pour it over the other ingredients, then allow to cool.
  2. Constructing the pit

    Keep your approach nice and simple. All you need are a few cinder blocks and a sturdy, grated rack. Your main goal is to create a little distance (I would suggest 60cm) between the meat and your heat source of coal underneath – anything less might burn the skin and anything more will significantly increase your cooking time. Stack them according and give yourself room enough to keep the hot coals spread around the perimeter rather than directly beneath the meat.
  3. Building the fire

    Give yourself plenty of room around the fire area, so you don’t endanger yourself or others. Enough space to accomplish this may not be available in urban environments. You should check with your local council whether there are any restrictions on having open fires on your property.
  4. The most important thing is to use logs from seasoned wood for the best flavour (seasoned wood has been allowed to dry, either naturally or in a kiln). It’s also important to provide a slow trickle of smoke while applying the correct amount of heat to the hog. This is achieved by allowing the logs to burn into white-hot, smouldering embers in a separate area, then distributing them evenly around the base of the pit with a shovel as they are needed. Don’t be concerned about the deep white, yellow or black smoke that burns off in your pile. These types of smoke are full of bitter compounds and undesirable flavours. The aim is for the pork to develop flavour nuances from the open fire over hours of slow cooking. Regardless, be sure to build your fire upwind of the open pit so that once the pig is on it, it will receive as much good smoke as possible.
  5. Cooking the hog

    While the fire is burning down, splay the pig open on its back on the grill grate and centre the grate over the pit. Rub the pig from nose to tail on both sides with the sea salt. With the backside down, pour the cider vinegar into the belly cavity along with the brown sugar. Create a paste with your hands, then rub the pig all over with the paste.
  6. When your fire pile is emitting a slow, blueish smoke, it’s safe to distribute the embers in the pit with a long-handled shovel. The ambient heat around the pig should range from 93–107°C. A good way of checking this is to hold your hand near the pit, as close to the pig as possible; you should be able to keep it there for 3–4 seconds before becoming uncomfortable. Be careful not to overreach by adding too much heat at the beginning. Cooking in this way requires a certain amount of patience and the more you give in to that the better the results will be.
  7. As the pig cooks, moisture retention is important. Use a mister or a mop to wet the surface with additional cider vinegar every 30–45 minutes. In all, the cooking should take 6–8 hours, depending on how well you’re distributing the heat. I use a probe thermometer to ascertain when the meat is ready to rest and to begin allowing the fire to die down. When it registers an internal temperature of 80°C, stop adding the embers to the pit. Cover the pig with aluminium foil (or an upturned metal tub) and leave it to rest for an hour while the fire dies down.
  8. Pick all the meat, fat and crackling from the pig, discarding the bones. Roughly chop the meat, toss it with the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary. Serve while still warm, accompanied by your favourite side dishes – coleslaw, potato salad and pickles work well.
Southern cooking
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