Every year my family and I take a trip to a campground just north of Santa Barbara called El Capitan Canyon. It’s a great place to cook over an open fire.
El Capitan Canyon is best known for their glamping amenities. And by glamping I mean glamorous camping. You can either stay in a cabin that has a full size bed, bathroom, and small kitchenette. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous you can stay in one of their tents. Instead of sleeping in a sleeping bag on the ground the tent comes with a full size bed that’s complete with fluffy comforters and pillows. Every campsite comes with a fire ring and a grate for your basic cooking. This is what really draws me to this spot year after year. Not only do I get to spend quality outdoor time with my family but I also get to cook over an open fire using the grate and my cast iron cookware.
Year after year I like to try out new over the fire recipes and after attending Cochon 555 a competition between 5 chefs who cook a whole pig in Los Angeles my obvious choice for this camping trip was pig; roasted pig. I’ve always dreamed of roasting a whole pig on a rotisserie over an open fire and now I had the opportunity.
The first order of business was to find a rotisserie that I could easily setup over the fire ring. After researching online I came across the portable rotisserie from www.onegrill.com . The design of the rotisserie was very simple. It came with a motorized forty-five inch spit that can handle up to forty pounds of meat and is supported by two steel rods that are easily hammered into the ground. The brackets that support the spit can adjust up and down the length of the rods to allow for the meat to be cooked closer or further from the actual fire.
At Cochon 555 I was introduced to one of the event sponsors, Lindy and Grundy. They offer a full service sustainable butcher shop in the Los Angeles area that provides meat that’s locally raised and harvested using organic and humane methods. They provide the highest quality cuts of meat and was a great source to provide a pig for the roast. Considering the size of the fire ring, length of the spit and the number of family members on the trip, Lindy and Grundy suggested that I roast a suckling pig which is a milk fed piglet between the age of two and six weeks.
This immediately made me think of Lechon Asado, which is a suckling pig that is seasoned with the classic Cuban garlic sauce Mojo Criiollo. My excitement started to grow as the recipe started to develop in my head.
Lindy and Grundy were able to get me a freshly harvested suckling pig two days before the night of the roast. It weighed 22 pounds and was 32 inches long. Once I got the pig home I placed it inside of a very large sealable plastic bag and poured in a brine mixture. A brine is a mixture of equal parts salt and sugar dissolved in plenty of water. The mixture helps enhance the true flavor and texture of the pork before cooking. I then tightly sealed the bag and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning the bag was placed inside an ice chest in the back of my car with plenty of ice for transport to the campground.
The morning of the roast I removed the pig from the brine and used a syringe to inject the mojo criollo all over the inside of the body.
For some extra flavor I decided to make a stuffing of apples, red onions, sage, apple cider vinegar, salt and black pepper. I placed the stuffing inside the cavity of the pig and used a larding needle and butchers twine to stitch the cavity shut. The funny part was I couldn’t find a single larding needle after visiting three high-end cooking/restaurant stores. The closest thing to a needle that I could find was a metal skewer with a large round eyelet on one end. When I was ready to stitch up the pig I had to use a rock to bash the round eyelet shut so that it would not snag with each pass through the pigskin.
With the pig prepped it was now time to insert the spit through the pig. The spit comes with two adjustable forks that go on each side of the pig lengthwise to firmly secure it in place. To further secure the pig in place butcher twine is used to tie the legs closely to the body. The main objective is to tie the pig as tightly together as possible so it rotates smoothly and cooks evenly.
Now it was time to start the fire. The benefit of cooking in the central part of California is the availability of red oak. This is great wood to cook over since it produces a mellow and flavorful smoke. After I had glowing embers I placed the pig over the fire and started the rotisserieengine. The pig started to rotate slowly. As it reached it’s first half turn with the four legs now on top the weight of the pig shifted, resulting in a faster second half turn. I quickly realized that one side of the pig would cook faster since one side was taking longer to turn over the fire. The spit comes with a counter weight to help with the lopsided weight of the pork. It helps a little but not enough so I had to stop the motor from time to time to allow the other side of the pig to catch up and cook evenly.
Logs of red oak were added as needed to keep the fire going. I found myself constantly tending to the fire by moving embers around to even out the heat across the body of the pig. My anticipation of a great meal grew with every turn as I watched the suckling pigs skin color turn from pale pink to rich amber.
With the pork in full swing slowly roasting over the hot embers a communal feeling took over the campsite and everyone gathered to watch the rotating pig. As the day became night the news and aroma of the roasting suckling pig made the rounds around El Capitan. We began to notice increased foot traffic around our campsite. I don’t think many of these campers expected to see a pig roast.
For the last hour I basted the suckling pig with Cola to help crisp and sweeten the roasted skin. The end result is what is called Crackling. The skin hardens and starts to crack resulting in salty bacon like crunchy chips.
The roasted pig was removed from the spit and allowed to rest.
The feast started with appetizers of freshly sliced crackling, light and tender pig cheeks, and the slightly chewy but incredibly flavorful pig ears. It then quickly moved to the main course of pulled pork and baby back ribs, dipped in mojo criollo.
All of the meat was fork tender with hints of sweetness from the mojo criollo and the gentle smoky kiss from the red oak. The most important flavor that did not get lost was that of pork. This was a delicious suckling pig that was enjoyed by all under the California stars.