A few weeks back, trix and I received a wonderful last minute invitation to attend JeffB’s family pig roast up in southwestern Michigan. I believe his real motivation for inviting us had very little to do with meeting his wife and kids and everything to do with introducing us to his latest baby; a custom designed and built barbeque pit/pizza oven!
Check it out:
The totally workable pork pit in its unfinished state when we visited.
Flames abound as Jeff crisps the skin in its final stages.
Here are some details about the pit and specialty pig used:
--The pig was a 140-pound dressed Hampshire from Roseland Organic Farms, near Dowagiac MI, which is known for organic beef and fruits/vegetables. This was their first commercial hog. .
-- The pig was raised on sunflower seeds and grains, plus some fruits and vegetables.
-- It was butchered and dressed at Gary's Custom Meats, a terrific processor in the tiny town of Union, MI, just north of Mishawaka, IN. Gary's walls are covered in "best of state" awards for cured and smoked meats, many for sale retail at the facility.
-- The pig was processed just 3 or 4 days before the event and picked up the day before.
-- It was Marinated in a Cuban-meets Yucatecan mojo of Seville orange, cider vinegar, garlic cloves, cumin, oregano, black pepper, salt, annatto paste, chiles de arbol, and Yucateco brand annatto marinade. Most of the ingredients came from nearby La Perla market, which serves a largely Yucatecan migrant worker community (that works the many fruit orchards and vineyards on the west coast of MI). It was marinated for about 4 1/2 hours.
--The pig was cooked over local hardwoods from a nearby farm, mostly maple and cherry. The logs were burned down in the fireplace (burn down pit) and the embers were placed in the corners of the pit, with a thin layer of embers under the pig accessing through the fire doors. It was cooked skin side up and covered for around 5 hours at a heat of 250-350 (usually toward the higher end of that range), which is consistent with the NC/GA/FL style. It was then flipped for the last 1/2 hour or so to finish and crisp the skin.
-- The meat was dark and flavorful with little or no white meat that one usually sees with most commercial pigs. The loin was particularly large, dark and flavorful. Not a particularly fatty pig, but very well-marbled compared to modern factory pigs.
-- The Hampshire pig was the original and traditional breed used in the South for hams and BBQ.
-- According to Jeff, “The pit is modeled after and very close in dimension to the classic Eastern Carolina pits and that of "Bob in GA" – Gwiv’s and Bruce's friend and BBQ traditionalist who rejects modern "competition circuit" extreme slow-and-low cooking. That style often uses gas, charcoal, etc., long-cooks the hog for 10 or more hours on a spit at very low temperatures, and results in a very soft, somewhat milder BBQ. Note that on my style of pit the pig does not "grill" -- far from it, due to the indirect heat, lack of any flame, and the distance from the embers. My traditional pit is also very similar to what Cubans use for lechon….
As these are my very favorite styles and those I grew up with, this type of pit was a must for me.”
“In addition to the taste and reduced cooking time, the traditional Eastern Carolina pit with a butterflied pig is less subject to disaster, including fires and over or undercooking. The whole-hog on a spit requires constant watching. If the spit stops, the pig is ruined. Likely to catch fire, at least will be overcooked in one spot, under in another. Also, when the pig is trussed and placed on a spit, the deep tissue is far from the heat and takes forever to cook (the deep part of the hams and shoulders) and the shallow parts (ribs and loin) get overcooked. Splaying the pig evens out the depth of the carcass. All that said, I have roasted pigs on a spit several times and really enjoyed it. The finished product also looks terrific.”
-- The pit is around 3 feet tall, lined with fire brick and has a slightly elevated floor. The fire brick ends a few itches from the top, permitting the pig to sit down in the pit for
better heat retention. The floor is around 22 inches from the cooking surface. A tin roofing for the cover was used when we were there a few weeks ago, but Jeff now has a powder-coated steel lid.
--The pig was sandwiched between two custom made rolled stainless steel grates for easy handling.
-- A keg of Bell’s Oberon beer made for a wonderful accompaniment to this delicious pig.
After trying a few bites of this perfectly prepared and exquisitely raised pig, it dredged up sad thoughts about the ever declining state of commercially prepared barbeque throughout this country. With few operations (or individuals, for that matter) today willing to use properly raised pigs and prepare them in this classic fashion, this decline really should come as no surprise. We most certainly live in processed and pasteurized times.
Jeff’s pizza oven/pork pit project has just recently been completed after several months of painfully slow construction. He has since added the fireplace which has a vaulted firebrick ceiling leading to a chimney for better ventilation and heat retention and on top of the pit is a Forno Bravo pizza oven from Italy capable of heating to 900 degrees in 1.5 - 2 hours. The trim is traditional Midwestern brick with locally quarried stone.
One of Jeff's very first pizza attempts with the new oven. I believe this pizza was modeled after the legendary poster at Pizzamaking.com, Jeff Versano, and his reverse engineered recipe for Totonno's amazing pie.
To those much more precise than I, this pizza oven should really be called a steak broiler in which VPN pizzas can be cooked.
The finished product: