The glow on this pig is built in layers, like an Old World painting. First it is under-painted with a ruby-colored spice rub, after which transparent layers of golden smoke gild its surface. Finally, it is lacquered with honey for a crackled, crystalline skin that’s as good as the melt-in-your-mouth meat beneath. Be strict about the size of the pig (see sidebar at right). Even a small suckling pig under 20 pounds will take up at least 2 feet of grill space, which means you will need a large, barrel-shaped grill or a gas grill with at least that much space between its outside burners to cook the pig correctly. If any part of the pig hangs directly over the fire, it will scorch; wrapping that part in heavy-duty foil will help, but it will not completely solve the problem. A big enough grill is key.
Soak wood chunks: 1 hour
Prep: 30 minutes
Grill: 3 to 4 hours.
BBQ TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
– 12 chunks apple or hickory wood (if not cooked on a wood fire)
– Heavy-duty aluminum foil
– Long-handled tongs
– Long-handled basting brush
– Large carving board.
PROCURING A PIG
A suckling pig is not just a small pig; it is an infant. The North American Meat Processors Association has developed guidelines for butchering and sizing animals, to which all butchers subscribe. Under these guidelines animals are categorized by size, A through D. Unless you have a gargantuan grill, you want to purchase a pig in the A weight range, which is 12 to 24 pounds. These will cost much more per pound than larger pigs, but you will end up paying about the same amount for the whole pig. Most supermarket meat departments will not be able to get an item this specific, so we suggest you look for a good-quality Italian or Hispanic butcher.
THE GRILL (MINIMUM 36-INCH-WIDE FIRE BED)
Indirect heat, low (225°F)
3- or 4-burner grill-middle burner(s) off
Clean, oiled grate
Indirect heat, heavy ash
Split charcoal bed (about 3 dozen coals per side)
Large, heavy-duty drip pan set between banks of charcoal 60 to 80 replacement coals
Clean, oiled grate on high setting
Indirect heat, heavy ash
2 beds, 8 by 8 inches and 2 inches deep
Additional wood for replacement
Clean, oiled grate set 6 to 8 inches above the fire.
INGREDIENTS (MAKES 8 SERVINGS)
For the pig:
3 heads garlic, minced
1/3 cup honey
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
¼ cup hot paprika
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary
½ cup canola oil
1 suckling pig, dressed, about 20 pounds (see “Procuring a Pig”, right)
Oil for coating grill grate
1 apple (optional)
For the glaze:
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups honey
1 cup soy sauce
½ cup ketchup.
1. Heat the grill as directed. Soak the wood chunks in water for at least 1 hour.
2. Mix the garlic, honey, salt, black pepper, paprika, cloves, rosemary, and ½ cup oil in a bowl. Rub some of this mixture over the interior cavity of the pig.
3. Position the legs under the pig. The front legs will rest under the chin (the pig might come this way from the butcher), and the back legs should be set forward, bent from the hip, not the knee, so they extend along the belly. Tie the legs in place with several lengths of heavy-duty kitchen twine (see the illustration at right). Position the ears so that they cover the pig’s eyes, and tie twine over the ears to hold them in place. Cover the snout and tail with aluminum foil. Place a double thickness of foil around the front feet, and under the loin and the back feet in the center of the pig. Stuff a ball of foil (or a block of wood) in the pig’s mouth if you are planning to serve it with an apple in its mouth.
4. Put 3 chunks of soaked wood on each pile of charcoal, or on the grate right over the fire if using a gas grill. Brush the exposed grill grate and coat it with oil.
5. Put the pig right-side up on the grill, away from the heat. Coat with the remaining spice mixture, cover, and cook until the surface has begun to brown, about 2 hours. If your grill has a temperature gauge, it should stay between 200° and 250°F. If using charcoal or wood, you may have to replenish the coals after the first hour.
6. While the pig is cooking, mix the ingredients for the glaze in a bowl; reserve half. Snip the twine on the pig and remove. Brush the pig with the remaining glaze, being sure to get it spread evenly in all the nooks and crannies. Stoke the fire, add the remaining wood chunks, cover the grill, and cook the pig until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of one of the thighs registers 165°F, making sure that the thermometer is not touching bone, about another hour. The temperature gauge should stay between 200° and 250°F.
7. Remove the pig to a large carving board; let rest for 10 minutes. Replace the foil ball or block of wood in its mouth with an apple, if desired. Carve by cutting the pig into leg and shoulder sections and carving the meat from the bone. Cut the ribs into 2-rib sections. Serve with the reserved glaze for dipping.