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This article may not connect well with any veggies out there, but for all of you meat-eaters, it is fair to say that nothing quite the same as a tender, juicy bite of perfectly cooked meat. In fact, the only way to actually get any better, is if the meat belongs to something you have put time and effort into catching yourself.
Table of Contents
- How to Cook a Pig in the Ground
- Final Thoughts
To be more specific, the catching, preparing and eating of the kalua pork that slides off the bones of the pig you have spent 48 hours prepping – that’s where the true enjoyment is.
The roasting of a pig is done all over the world, but few can do it as well as the Hawaiians. They really know how to make a meal that will stick with you forever, and it is possible that nothing again will ever quite compare.
Not only is it delicious but cooking a pig in a pit in the ground is one of the most satisfying, social events you may ever attend. It is traditional and can feed up to 100 of your friends, leaving them with a meal that is unforgettable, really making the most out of the entire animal whilst bringing ecstasy to your taste buds.
Cooking a pig in the ground is not only complex regarding method, but it also requires a variety of supplies, manual labor, tools, and then an awful lot of planning, time and commitment. It is a very old, traditional style of cooking, but developments over time have made it slightly easier and more accessible for those of us who aren’t used to cooking with ancient and wild cooking styles.
Pulling your first pig from the ground and spreading it across a table for your guests to enjoy is possibly the most pride you will ever feel. It will become a hobby before you know it and people will be asking you to show them how it’s done.
So, today I am going to talk you through the entire process of ground roasting a pig and why it will be one of the greatest things you ever try!
How to Cook a Pig in the Ground
The first stage is the preparation and the methodology. Not only do you need to make sure the pig is prepared properly, but the pit is equally as important. With most meals you don’t need to worry about too much beyond the ingredients, however, with ground roasting, your oven is just as, if not more, important as the ingredients themselves.
Not only is it important to get the methodology correct so that the end result is as satisfying as possible to eat, but it is also important as cooking a pig in the ground is a cultural experience and holds a lot of meaning to certain countries and cultures, and therefore the methodology is extremely important in order to follow certain rituals respectfully.
To even consider cooking a pig in the ground, it is important to first consider the very extensive list of supplies and tools you are going to need in order to complete the roasting. Not only does it take a lot of time, but it takes a lot of commitment – perhaps this is a reason why people often repeat the process after they’ve done it once? What else are you going to do with all of the equipment?
Firstly, you are going to need that pig. The bigger the better – around 100lbs is the perfect size if you want to feed a lot of people – roughly 100 people. Plan your pig size according to your guests – you don’t want to be left with half a pig leftover, but you definitely don’t want to run out of meat for your guests. You can usually find a large pig from your local butcher, but if you can find a local heritage or natural farmer then it is definitely worth paying slightly more.
You are going to need a pig that remains whole, right from its ears down to its hooves. Quite often butchers will snap the spine when purchasing so that it can lay down flat on the grill but make sue this is all still intact as you won’t be lying the pig down. It should be gutted and cleaned, but this is about all that needs to be done to the hog before roasting.
Most people will collect it the day before, but you need to ensure it is refrigerated overnight. If you cannot find anywhere to refrigerate it, it is best to see if your butcher will allow you to pick it up on the morning of cooking it.
Next, and this is an odd one, you are going to need a banana tree. When you cut open the trunk, they have a lot of water inside. This works perfectly for cooking in the ground as the trunk is the perfect way to create steam, which is crucial for the process. The tree also provides a subtle flavor as well which only works as an added bonus. Banana trees also grow back within months and so don’t worry too much about having to chop one down.
Don’t live near anywhere that may have banana trees available? Don’t worry! Go and grab some cabbage that is past its sale date – you will have to ask the store for this. You will need around 15-20 heads. Alternatively, you can buy the cabbage in advance and allow it to go past the date. Before you panic, you are not eating this, you are simply using the water inside of it. Corn husks can also work for this if you cannot find any old cabbage. You need enough to fully cover the base of your pit.
These are simply used to lay over the pig after it is in the ground to help keep the moisture in. they will need to be soaked with water beforehand as this will help them to lock in the moisture from the meat.
The canvas is used to go over the burlap bags and over the pig. The edges of the canvas should go over the edges of the pit, meaning you can remove the entire canvas without dropping any dirt onto the big. Essentially it is going to be used as a removable cover.
When you bring the pig out after cooking, it will start to fall apart due to how juicy it will be. Chicken wire allows you to hold onto it while pulling the big out and also helps hold the pig together. It is also useful when cooking as it doesn’t block the heat from getting to the pig but also works as a grid to stop you losing any of the pig into the pit.
Rocks or Bricks:
If you are using rocks, make sure they are not from a river. Rocks from a watered area can hold the water which can begin to boil and eventually cause the rock to explode – this can be very dangerous. Depending on where you are in the world, you can use volcanic rocks or you can use both granite or stone from local landscape supply stores. Bricks will also work well. You need enough rocks to fully cover the pit, and they should be around 4 to 8 inches across. Don’t use huge rocks as these will not heat up correctly.
This is used for cooking. Because of its use, make sure you are not using construction material or trash. Hickory or cherry wood both work well.
Cooking the pig in the ground will take at least 8 hours – I know, don’t worry we will get to that! This means that there is going to be a very hungry crowd of people who are most likely going to stare at that pig when you pull it out of the ground, really piling on the nerves.
Investing in a thermometer or two can really ensure that you are removing the pig from the ground at the correct time – you don’t want to mess this up before they have even had a chance to try it!
With pork, you are aiming for about 185F at the shoulder and around 195F at the ham. You can use two thermometers for each part, or you can purchase a single thermometer with two probes.
Preparing the Pit
So, you have your supplies, the next thing you need to do is prepare that pit. The pit is also known as the Imu, this is the correct name when making kalua pork.
You need to begin by digging a large hole and creating a big fire in it. Remember, safety remains an important aspect throughout this entire process so, as mentioned above, make sure you are near accessible water in case the fire gets out of hand. Also, be sure to check beforehand with local services about any potential gas and water lines that you may dig into.
It is always a good idea to dig the imu the day before you need it. It is also a good idea to invite friends round to help. Getting people involved in advance not only makes the process easier, but also starts to build everyone’s excitement for the event itself.
The hole itself needs to be about twice as deep as the pig, three times as wide, and twice as long. This means that the pig should have plenty of space either side, and at the head and tail. Try and round off the sides and corners as opposed to using a square shaped hole. This helps to evenly spread the steam around the pig in a circular motion.
Try and find the hardest soil possible. This is to prevent the steam escaping through the ground. This is particularly important if you live in a beachy or sandy area, and the soil will also be quite sandy and may not lock in the steam as much as you need.
Making the Fire
Preparing the fire:
On average, a 100lbs pig will need to cook for around 6 to 10 hours, 8 to be safe. This means you need to start thinking about cooking it long before you plan to eat it. For an early-evening dinner you need to be thinking about getting up and starting it before 10am.
Not only does the pig need to go on early, but before this you need to give a few hours for your fire to get hot enough to cook the pig properly and evenly. This means you are looking at a 6am start to your day– as I said, this process takes commitment!
Making the Fire:
Like any fire, it is better to start off with a small fire to make sure it gets going, and then slowly and more and more wood over the course of a few hours. Starting with a small fire allows the fire to breath and get strong. If you go ahead and dump all of our wood onto the fire then it is likely the fire will not get enough oxygen and it will go out before it has a chance to start.
As the fire begins to spread and gain strength, slowly add more wood across the whole pit and keep going until you have used up all of the wood.
The last few pieces will go in and need about 30 to 45 minutes to burn down to coals. Once the last few pieces of wood have burnt down to glowing embers, you need to add your rocks so they can heat up for about an hour before the pig is added. These rocks are what will store the heat in order to cook the pig.
Preparing the Pig
Whilst the rocks are heating up, this is the perfect opportunity to prepare the actual pig. Make sure you have a large table or workspace to do this – the same space can then be used to serve the pig once it is cooked.
You start by scoring the pig along the back and ribs using a sharp knife. These incisions should be a couple of inches apart and each one should be stuffed with rock salt. Use the same knife to then open the joints of each leg – essentially the pig’s armpits. Pull the legs apart so that a four in rock can be wedged into the gap of the leg joint. Spread salt into all of the cuts and all over the belly of the pig.
The banana trunk then makes its appearance. This (or the cabbage) should be placed inside the cavity against the meat. Hot rocks from the fire should then be picked up using tongs and placed inside the pig. You can wrap the rocks in foil to help hold them together and stop them from touching the pig directly. Don’t worry too much if they do though.
Pop a couple in each of the four legs, and then a few into the belly. These may start sizzling immediately, but don’t worry as this is a good sign that your rocks are hot enough!
Grab your wire and tie pieces long enough to wrap around the front two legs to tie them together and then the same with the back two legs. Then grab your chicken wire and wrap this all the way around the pig with a little extra to overlap to make sure it is secure.
Following this, you can then layer the pig with more foil, but make sure you leave the top open so that the steam can still escape.
Once the pig is wrapped u-p in the chicken wire, and then the foil, you can run a chain through it so that each end of the pig has some chain that you can use like handles to remove it from the pit once it has finished cooking. The chicken wire and chain will both make transferring the pig a lot easier, which is a real necessity once it is cooked as it will fall apart quite easily.
Prep the Imu
Once the pig is ready to go, fire is complete and all of the rocks are placed into the pig, use shovels to help spread out the rest of the rocks across the bottom of the pit. This will make an even layer of heat that will help to cook the outside of the pig.
And your green material – whether that is banana trunk, cabbage or corn. You can then add a layer of banana leaves if you have them, although these are not a necessity. Once there is a good layer of green material above the rocks, you can lower your pig!
It is best to have your pig with its belly facing down. As this is a cultural process, make sure you say a blessing and convey your thanks and aloha.
Pop in the thermometers, one at the top end by the shoulders and one lower down by the back legs. Make sure it is far into the meat of the pig and allow the cable to run out and over the edge of the pit. Before you add the dirt on top, make sure you still have access to the thermometers and the chain and allow them to escape the edges of the pit.
Before adding the dirt, you should also place your wet burlap bags on top of the pig to prevent the dirt from getting on it but to also encourage lots of steam. Then layer the canvas over the top of the bags. Then pour around 3 gallons of water around the sides of the pit and immediately fill the imu with dirt. You will be able to see any areas where steam might be escaping, so make sure to block in those gaps so that you lock in as much heat as possible.
Keep an eye on it all for about half an hour. More gaps may start to appear so if you do catch sight of any steam escaping then just keep filling that in.
Time to Relax!
Once your pig has been cooking for about half an hour, you don’t need to be so observant. As said before, for a 100lb pig you will need to cook for about 8 hours. Larger pigs may take up to 14 hours.
You will be quite tired from all of this, so go and take a little break to yourself! Get ready for your evening, have a drink, even have a little nap before the fun begins! There is not much else you can do at this point besides letting the magic get to work.
Check the thermometers every couple of hours and just make sure it is all cooking nicely. You need it to be sat at around 185F. if it is slightly hotter then try not to worry, but if the temperature is not reaching this then you may need to find a back-up option for your guests!
Time to Eat!
As everyone starts arriving, your nerves will probably increase but try not to stress out too much!
Before bringing out the pig, make sure the crowd is gathered and you all give thanks. Humans don’t usually eat an entire animal at once and so it is worth taking time to reflect on what is happening and to really appreciate what you have been provided with.
You may have people who know more about this culture, and if this is the case it would be better to let them lead on the praise and thanks. This will set an amazing atmosphere before the dinner proceeds.
Grab your shovels and start removing the dirt, being careful to avoid knocking the canvas as you do so. You don’t want any dirt to fall into or on the pig. Once all of the dirt is removed, you can lit the canvas off followed by the burlap. Pop this all aside and there is your big!
Use the chain to carefully remove the pig and lay it on your worktop or table. Get rid of all of the green material and open up the chicken wire. This will be hot as well so make sure you wear gloves or use tongs to protect your hands!
The pig should be perfectly lying there, with meat falling off the bones! You can get your guests to help you cut the pork from the pig. This allows them to not only decide their own portion, but to get them more involved with the process. Remember though, it will be very hot so help them where needed. People love this!
You can serve some sauces on the side – this is not traditional but most Americans love some extra flavors and sauces. You can take some of the meat to keep it traditional and then take some of the other meat and mix it with a hot sauce or BBQ sauce in another bowl. Try to heat the sauce first so that it doesn’t cool down the meat.
Now that your pig is served, sit back, enjoy your night, and feel proud of what you have accomplished!
Key things to take away from this process are to make sure you are organised, well-equipped, patient and committed. It will be a long couple of days of preparation, but it will all be worth it! Make sure you have enough pig to feed the guests, and make sure you get those rocks as hot as possible!
Once you have done a Hawaiian pig roast pit once, you will never want to go back to regular dinner parties again!
How long does it take to cook a pig in the ground?
It usually takes around 6 to 10 hours for a pig that weighs 100lbs. For pigs that are closer to 200lbs it will take around 12 to 14 hours so make sure you allow yourself the extra time.
What’s it called when you cook a pig in the ground?
Cooking a pig in the ground is called Kalua Pork. It can also be called a Hawaiian pit roast. The pit itself is called an imu.