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Caja China advice?

The Chowhound Team split this tangent was from its original location on the Los Angeles board. Please share your tips on using the Caja China pig roaster.

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That's exactly what we are doing for the first time. Any tips about the caja china?

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  1. Yes.

    When you get your pig, you will need to remove the hoofs and the head. A reciprocating saw (sawzall), obviously with a clean/new blade, works great for this purpose. (Of course, your butcher may be willing to do this for you.)

    In addition, in order to get the pig to fit within the grates in the caja china, you'll need to split the spine. You do this by cutting through the spine length-wise (perpendicular to the ribs) with a cleaver or machete and a hammer. This enables you to spread the pig out flat for roasting.

    As for marinade, you can get fresh Cuban bitter oranges at some of the local Cuban grocery stores (there's a place in the San Fernando Valley), but they don't have them year round. They also sell a bottled marinade that looks artificial and gross, but is probably delicious. You really need a big hypodermic needle to get the marinade into the meat, because it won't soak through the skin or the inside of the carcass very well.

    The stainless steel pan that sits inside the caja China is too shallow and will very likely overflow. You might want to get some deeper aluminum foil roasting pans to put inside to catch drippings/juice. There will be a lot of roasting juice, and it's a shame to waste it.

    Lastly, don't underestimate the time it takes to carve the roast pig. It took us around 45 minutes -- it's a lot of work. (Boy is it good.)

    Hope this is of some help, and good luck!

    10 Replies
    1. re: David Kahn

      It sounds fantastic. We are really excited.
      Thanks for the tips, David.

      1. re: David Kahn

        I would second David's recommendation to inject with marinade. I've had the chance to try several Caja roasted pigs, and injected meat tastes better.

        Be careful about oversalting the skin, though. IMO, the crispy crunchy skin is the best part, and it'd be a shame to make it oversalty in an attempt to season the meat.

        1. re: David Kahn

          I've done 4 pigs so far on mine. You're in for a treat. David is right in all respects except I've not had the pan overflow. I got a huge horse hypo from my vet for the marinade and it still took awhile to inject since there's only so much the surrounding tissue can absorb. Also, be nice to yourself and let it cool off for a half hour before you start carving. My only tip: don't tell your post-dinner worshipers that all you had to do was explicitly follow the directions printed right on the freaking side of it.

          1. re: Spot

            Sorry, one more thing. It gets really scary hot, so when you flip that baby, use leather gloves and potholders, be very careful, and explain to the person helping you exactly how you are going to do it -- where the coals are going, which way it's to be turned, etc.

            1. re: Spot

              Agree on all counts, and Spot raises another good suggestion. A whole pig is heavy and awkward, even when cool, and when it's fresh out of the oven hot, it worse. You absolutely need at least two people for much of the preparation and cooking process. At times, three people would be even better. (And of course, it helps enormously if they are sober.)

          2. re: David Kahn

            how long should it take to cook a 75 lb pig? it seems like some websites/posts suggests it should take 3-4hrs. i've done 70-100 lb pigs a couple times already and they seem to take closer to 8-9hrs. i've got model #2. it'll be 60-70 degrees out, and the pig will be on ice all night...any thoughts/insite would be much appreciated. Thanks!

            1. re: dannyboyk

              I know it sounds unlikely, but it will take only about 3 1/2 hours. Just follow the directions explicitly.

              1. re: dannyboyk

                Hi
                the secret to the cooking time is having a 70degree internal temp(taken from the thickest part of the leg) before you start cooking the larger animals. i cook about 6 pigs a month for special events and i have been using the box about 6 years now.

              2. re: David Kahn

                AS A SOUTHERN SOUTH FLORIDA COWBOY, I HAVE TO RELATED HOW WE COOK 25-30 100 LBS+ WHOLE PIGS IN THE CAJA CHINA. WE ALWAY COOOK THE ENTIRE PIG, HEAD,FEET, TAIL ETC. WE GO TO THE SLAUGHTER HOUSE AND PICK OUT THE LIVE PIG THAT WE WANT. WE PREFER SOWS FOR THE PURITY OF MEAT FLAVOR AND MUSCLE TONE. THE PIG IS THEN TAGGED, PAID FOR, AND TAKEN UP STAIRS FOR PREP. WE ALWAYS ASK FOR THE HEART AND LIVER TO BE IN A SEPERATE PLASTIC BAG. THESE ARE COOKED AS A SPECIALTY HERE IN LITTLE HAVANA. WHEN WE GOT HOME, WE SPLIT THE BACKBONE MORE TO SPREAD THE PIG EVENLY. WE THEN FILL THE CAVITY WITH 1-1/2 GALS OF REALLY GOOD MOJO. THERE IS A BRAND NEW CLEANED AND STERILIZED RUBBERMAID HORSE TROUGH WHICH WE LINE WITH CLOSED 10 LB BAGS OF ICE. THE PIG IS PLACED ON TOP. WE INJECT EVERY POSSIBLE PLACE WITH MORE MOJO FOLLOWED BY INSERTION OF FRESH GARLIC CLOVES. THE PIG IS THEN COVER WITH ADDITIONAL SEALED 10# BAGS OF ICE AND THEN WITH HEAVY BLACK PLASTIC OR TOWELS TO MAKE A REFRIGERATOR WHERE IT SITS FOR AT LEAST 12-24 HOURS. THE CAJA CHINAS ARE SET UP SIMPLY AS PER THE INSTRUCTION PRINTED ON THE SIDE OF THE BOX. THE PIG IS UNCOVER, RUBBED ALL OVER WITH FRESH MOJO AND WIRED INTO THE RACKS. A LARGE 100+ PIG REQUIRES A LITTLE MUNIPULATION BY CRACKING THE FEET SO THEY FIT. THE PIG IS PLACED IN THER BOX BELLY SIDE UP AND ONCE IN THE BOX, THE CAVITY IS FILLED AGAIN WITH ANOTHER GAL OF MOJO.
                WHEN THE PIG IS READY TO BE TURNED OVER BY TWO (2) PEOPLE. THE WHITE, WHITE COLOR OF THE SKIN MAY SHOCK YOU, BUT JUST WAIT. JUST BEFORE CLOSING UP THE BOX TO CRISPIN UP THE SKIN, WET MOP THE SKIN WITH A VERY HEAVY SALT WATER MIX. CLOSE THE TOP WITH THE NEW COALS ON AT AN ANGLE TO LET OUT STEAM AND KEEP IN THE HEAT TO DO IT'S MAJIC. NEVER OPE THE BOX DURING THE FIRST 3 1/2-4 HOURS OF COOKING. WHEN CRIPING UP THE SKIN TO YOU LIKENESS YOU WILL NEED TO PARTIALLY OPEN THER TOP A LITTLE MORE TO TAP THE SKIN. BECAREFUL AS IT WILL BE REAL HOT. WHEN IT'S READY, THE WHITE SKIN WILL BECOME A RICH DAARK GOLDEN BROWN WITH A DISTINCTIVE THUMP. REMOVE THE PIG ONTO THE CARVING TRAY AND UNDO WIRES AND THE RACKS. YOU MUST LET THE PIG SIT UNCOVERED FOR 20-30 MINS. THE SKIN WILL STAY CRISPY AND THE MEAT WILL BE TENDER, MOIST AND SOOOOOOOOOOO DELICIOUS. IT WILL FALL OF THE BONES WITH A COUPLE OF STRONG LARGE FORKS INTO SHREADS. WATCH OUT FOR THE SKIN GRABBERS AS THEY DECEND FROM NOWHERE. THERE'S PLENTY FOR EVERONE. REMEBER IF YOU'RE GOING TO CUT OFF HEAD, FEET, ETC. YOU MIGHT AS WELL JUST ROAST A HUNK OF FRESH PORK. WE MAY DO THINGS A LITTLE DIFFERENT HERE ON THE FARM, BUT THEN THIS IS THE AREA WHERE 1000'S OF WHOLE PIGS ARE ROASTED EVERY YEAR. YOU CAN GO INTO ANY SUPER MARKET SUCH AS PUBLIX, WALMART ETC AND GET WHOLE PIGS FROM BABY SUCKLINGS TO 125# OR MORE. GOOD GRILLING AND ENJOY

                1. re: southernpig

                  I have now done 3 pigs. For 40 people, a 50 pound pig was more than enough and it fits without having to cut anything off. I injected the pig the night before with bottled Mojo from Miami, to which I had added some salt, to create more of a brine. Extra brine was poured in the cavity. I put the pig in plastic in the Caja China with ice under and over the pig. In the am, I pulled out all the ice and let the pig come to 70F. We took the advice and put the digital thermometer in the thigh and flipped the pig when the temp was 185. This took about 5 hours. We salted the skin after flipping, with kosher salt. We did the slashes, and shook the coals to get the ashes out, as suggested, to increase the heat. It all worked perfectly. But getting my friends to wait 30 minutes before carving is just impossible! They are like vultures!! the pig was perfect and the only surprise was that it took longer to get to 185 than we thought it would.

              3. One last tip for food safety during prep. Keep the pig properly chilled by laying it on top of 20 lb bags of ice, then lay more bags of ice on top of the pig until you're ready to cook it. This is how BBQ competition cooks do their thing at contests.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Professor Salt

                  Thanks everyone, great tips. I feel much better !

                  1. re: Professor Salt

                    I used the guest room bathtub to store my pig overnight. Same thing; layered bags of ice beneath and on top of the pig. Just had to really scrub out the tub the next day.

                  2. One thing the Caja doesn't do is add any smoke flavor to whatever's cooked inside. I just saw this cold smoke generator on one of my BBQ forums, and thought that it could be jerry rigged inside the Caja, if one wanted smoke flavor.

                    http://www.macsbbq.co.uk/CSG.html

                    One would have to be handy with tools and create a removable shelf to place this device inside the Caja. It would have to be taken out temporarily while the pig is being handled. It ain't perfect, but I'm just sayin - for those who want a roasted pig with perfectly crisp skin and smoky meat, this might be just the thing.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: Professor Salt

                      I thought I cooked it with the head on, NO?

                      1. re: mendogurl

                        You can. Some guests might not like it. Your choice.

                        1. re: Professor Salt

                          Oh.
                          Well, they can leave. LOL.
                          Thanks Professor.

                          1. re: mendogurl

                            In our case, our pig was about 100 lbs, and I don't think it would have fit in the caja china with the head still on.

                            1. re: David Kahn

                              Okay, as the day grows closer, some questions arise.
                              We have a Caja China that holds the 100 pound pig, our pig is 50 pounds.
                              Can I roast 6 chickens simultaneously? ( I have the rotisserie attachment)
                              Slit the skin or don't slit the skin ?
                              Anyone have a good Mojo recipe?

                              1. re: mendogurl

                                On cooking chickens and pig at the same time, almost certainly not a good idea. They will be done at different times, and you don't want to be opening the caja china any more than you have to.

                                1. re: David Kahn

                                  That's what I thought.

                                  One last question David, how long did you marinate your pig. I am going to MOJO him tomorrow and then pack him in ice in a bathtub for a Sunday dinner roast.

                                  1. re: mendogurl

                                    That sounds about right. Since you're using a hypodermic rather than waiting for the marinade to soak through the meat, I think you don't need as much time. I think we injected ours about 15 hours or so prior to roasting. One last thing, I'm not sure if anyone mentioned, but you need to have the caja china on a reasonably level surface for the roasting, or you'll have lots of problems.

                                    Good luck btw; hope it comes out great!

                                    1. re: David Kahn

                                      Thank you David for all of your help.
                                      Piggie is all injected and rubbed down, marinating in a bathtub of ice.

                                      Yummmmmmm.

                      2. re: Professor Salt

                        There are several methods for smoking in La Caja China. I use the smoke pistol (available from La Caja China or on Amazon), there's a new product called a "Smoke Daddy" that I intend to try out soon, and then there's the redneck (my fallback) method of simply placing a small pan of chip or pellets in top of the upper rack (above the pig). The heat from the coal tray creates a nice, long smolder. I've done this a half-dozen times with whole pigs and briskets, and it works great!

                        -Perry

                        Perry P. Perkins
                        Author
                        “La Caja China Cooking”
                        "La Caja China World"

                        1. re: pperkins

                          OK, an update. Bought a 50 pound pig from Golden Gate Meat Company, SF, CA. Injected it with Mojo purchased in MIami, that i added some salt to, to create more of a brine, the night before and salted the skin. Brought it to 70 the next day. Put it in the box per instructions and inserted the digital probe. Added charcoal per instructions. At 3 hours, not done, at 4 hours not done and got very nervous as 40 people are WAITING. at around 4.5 hours, we were at 185. Flipped the pig, shook out the ash and crisped the skin perfectly in about .5 hours or a little more (got fuzzy here as shots of tequila were starting to get involved). The pig was perfect in every way, very moist and not too salty, just delicious! My husband thinks that if we shook the ash out each time we added coals, it might have made it go quicker, but I liked it just the way it was. FYI had lots of leftovers, maybe 5-7 pounds. I think I might do a 40 pounder next time.

                           
                      3. The original comment has been removed
                        1. Does anyone know what temperature the inside of the caja china should be when cooking a whole pig? I'm building my own version, and I'll have two thermometers (one for the pig and and one for the oven). Also, any thoughts on what I could use as a rack? I thought about using rebar mesh, but that stuff is all galvanized steel.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Lobstr

                            Just this last weekend I built a homemade china box. We cooked two chickens last night to test and it worked great. Temps went as high as 390. I have read elsewhere that between 250 and 350 is pretty good. For a grate I found a 4x8 fence panel that was pretty heavy duty. Ended up cutting it in half and folding each half over double. We shall see if it's strong enough on Aug 14th. :)

                            jb