Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes
Editor's note: The following is one in a series of tailgating articles that will be posted weekly throughout the football season. SALT LAKE CITY — Man, we hate Utah football bye weeks. I know they’re great for our coaches and players to prepare for the next big game, especially when facing a team with as storied a history as Michigan, and especially when playing at a temple of college football like the Big House. But once we get in the groove of our weekly tailgate, it just seems to throw us into a funk.
So what do we do to combat this? We do exactly what the team does and take the time to clean and maintain our gear and ready our game plan for the coming week.
We warn you that we will be discussing the preparation and cooking of a whole hog. If this grosses you out in any way, shape or form, we’d recommend you turn away now. For those of you who can practically smell the delicious pork cracklins wafting through your screen, read on!
We mentioned our favorite piece of cooking gear in our last article, our cherished pig box — La Caja China. Literally translated to “The Chinese Box,” the origin of this magical cooking box is mysterious, but it seems to have been invented by Chinese laborers who migrated to Cuba in the 1850s to build the railroad. The innovative technique for cooking a whole pig without having to dig a pit or deal with weather issues that impact open air rotisseries quickly spread through the Caribbean and Latin America in many variations.
There are many ways to cook a pig in the middle of a parking lot. The spectacle of a whole hog being roasted before the game can’t help but evoke imagery of warriors feasting before battle. Sure, these tailgate warriors will all be watching from the sidelines, but serious injury from overzealous cheering isn’t unheard of. Be sure and stretch, people. Stretching’s important. But like we were saying, if you want to cook a whole pig at a tailgate, you’ve got a few options:
The simulated pit
Because Parking Services frowns on busting out the backhoe and actually digging up their fine asphalt, some folks use cinder blocks to build the closest thing to a pit you can have above ground. The cinder blocks actually create a pretty good insulator, not unlike burying the pig, and the process is remarkably similar with hot stones and coals, paired with wet burlap and/or banana leaves to provide moisture, helping to steam the pig. But hauling the 30-40 cinderblocks needed to build the pit is a major chore, and the mess left behind can be unpleasant, as demonstrated by several scorched patches in the asphalt around the tailgate lot. The upside is you can build as big a pit as you like, so when your friend bags Hogzilla on his boar hunting trip to Texas, this is your choice.
Or spit for the uncouth. When most people think of roasting a pig, this is what they think of. The technique is as old as human civilization. Kill a pig, strap it to a stick, throw it over a fire and eat when golden brown. This technique creates an undeniable spectacle, with crowds gathering to watch the primal process, and vegetarians protesting and crying in horror (We know, we know, meat is murder. Tasty, tasty murder. We promise we’ll make something out of tofu for you this season).
But with the wind and cold of fall weather that generally accompanies football season, this makes for a very long and slow cooking process. This combined with the anxiety to feed people before they head off to the game has led more than one overanxious tailgate chef to carve that swine before it’s time. We have slapped the uncooked pork from the mouths of more than one oblivious tailgater, lest they miss the second half of the football game for gastrointestinal distress. Trichinosis is not our 12th man. Remember that, people.
The Caja China
The beloved pig box as we know it is essentially a plywood box lined with metal, a tray for catching the grease, a rack to hold the pig off the tray, and another tray on top to hold the coals. Pretty simple, though since we ordered our first box 10 years ago, the company has added some pretty high-tech features. The highest-end offering on their website barely resembles the simple cooking box we’ve come to love. It’s self-contained, the coals are placed on top and can actually be used to cook other food items or warm your guests, and the cleanup is pretty straight-forward. The unfortunate downside is that, in order to fit a 90-pound pig, it’s necessary to remove some of the less edible portions … in this instance, removing the pig's head makes for a great fit but can be somewhat gruesome if your butcher fails to do it for you, and it does reduce the spectacle somewhat. The Caja China also makes it easy to use pretty much all the edible parts of the pig, and the pulled-pork sandwiches are amazing.
Next week, we’ll talk about tailgates at other schools we’ve visited and discuss a bit more about how you prep a whole hog for roasting … unless we receive a flood of offended and grossed-out comments, in which case we’ll talk about something safe. Like knitting.
We’ll keep writing about tailgating as the season rolls on, and we’d love to answer any questions you might have. Visit www.utahpigbus.com for more info or follow us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Welby Evangelista (@utahpigbus) and Ryan Lufkin (@ryanLufkin)