>> Here’s a primer on whole pig cookery. “But I don’t care about that,” you say. “Just tell me how to build a caja china, dangnabbit.” OK, then, skip right ahead to Step 2. But watch your language.<<
When I first researched how to roast a whole pig, I found four basic methods. I chose #4.
1) “Hawaiian” methodBury the pig in the ground with hot coals and hot rocks. Dig it up when it’s done. Luau. PROS: once the pig is in the ground, requires no active work. CONS: very long total time, requires digging a pretty deep pit, burning a fire down for hours to produce hot coals, finding suitable rocks that can be heated in those coals and inserted into the pig, then burying it completely. Pig comes out moist, but skin isn’t crispy. It essentially bakes/steams in the pit. Biggest problem, though, is not having any way to control the heat. You just bury it, then dig it up and pray it’s done. If it’s not, you’re screwed. For a first-time pig roaster, I nixed this one.
2) Spit methodhttp://www.firepit-and-grilling-guru.com/whole-pi…Put the pig on a spit directly over a fire. Rotate. PROS: Crispy skin. Cons: requires a heavy-duty rotisserie build. Turning a pig ain’t easy. Requires constant monitoring and work while it cooks. I nixed this.
3) Cinder Block Oven methodhttp://cuban-christmas.com/pigroast.htmlCinder blocks are stacked up to create an oven. Pig is splayed flat and sandwiched in a frame so it can be flipped. Foil covers the top. Hot coals are inserted into the bottom corners of the “oven.” PROS: pig skin gets nice and CRISPY (arguably the best part of the pig), the pig oven is easy to assemble and break down, total cook time is pretty quick. CONS: need a dedicated flat surface, need 48 cinder blocks, need to store 48 cinder blocks afterwards, need to build a sandwiching pig frame (I had a tough time finding non-galvanized metal at Home Depot – ***Do NOT use galvanized steel in heat. Gives off toxic fumes), heat control is possible but not easy – you have to remove a cinder block and shovel in more hot coals. This method came closest to what I was looking for – until I discovered method #4…
4) Caja China methodhttp://www.lacajachina.comThe pig is splayed flat and sandwiched in a simple frame (simpler than in method #3), then it goes into a box (caja china) with a charcoal tray (steel sheet) on top, and charcoal is burned on that tray. So the heat comes from the top down. Kind of like a large bbq grill, but the food goes under the fire. Cooks for 4 hours or so on its back, then the pig is flipped so the skin crisps up. PROS: doesn’t require a big yard – can be used anywhere (I’ve done it on a deck), total control over the heat source (just add more or less charcoal on top as needed), skin comes out ultra poofy crispy, cooks quickest of all methods, and afterwards box can be disassembled. CONS: requires a box, which you can buy for $400… or build it yourself with this Instructable.
4a) This one is a modified version of the Caja China methodhttp://web.archive.org/web/20050319154203/http://w…Dig a rectangular pit in the ground and line it with foil. Basically, the pit acts as a box (or vice versa, as this method probably came first). Splayed, racked pig goes in, put a steel sheet on top, then burn charcoal on it. Heat source is still on top. I’ve thought about doing this, but with my luck, my pit would be next to a gas line in the yard, and kablooey goes the pig. I’ll try this next time I have an open field.
I’ve since built a few more cajas and roasted a number of piggies, and here’s my current design…