PORTLAND IS FULL of intrepid weekend warriors with a can-do attitude. Are you one of them? Sure, you could yarn-bomb your neighbor's chicken coop. Or you could build a barbecue pit and roast a whole damn pig.
You will need to stop by your friendly neighborhood hardware store and Cash and Carry, and while it'll seem like you're buying a lot of shit, this will be an investment.
Suckling pig (assume about a pound per person)
Approximately two cups dry rub (recipe follows)
A giant Ziploc bag, the kind people use for storing sweaters and quilts
A clean (new) garbage can
Five 4' lengths of ungalvanized steel rebar
One 3' x 5' sheet of ungalvanized steel hardware cloth (available at farm stores)
Sturdy wire, wire cutters, and pliers
One professional-size roll of heavy-duty aluminum foil
Twenty-four (24) rectangular cinderblocks
Chimney starter and a stack of newspapers for burning (preferably Willy Week or the Tribune)
Six bags of lump charcoal (NOT briquettes), preferably mesquite
A bucket of apple wood chips, soaked in water overnight OR a few broken branches from a fruit tree, if you have one in your yard. Apple, pear, cherry, peach, plum, or quince all work well.
Three or four hotel pans (or large roasting pans, platters, and cutting boards) to collect the cooked meat, or you can cover a large picnic table with foil or oilcloth.
Dry Rub Recipe
1½ cups brown sugar
½ cup salt
¼ cup paprika
2 tbsp. cumin
2 tbsp. Mustard powder
2 tbsp. garlic granules
2 tbsp. onion granules
2 tbsp. dried thyme
2 tbsp. oregano
lots of cracked black pepper
A Week Ahead:
Begin by ordering your pig at least a week ahead of time. If you don't know a dude who raises pigs, Nicky USA and Columbia Empire will both sell you a whole cleaned pig. Ask them to leave the ears on, and to split the sternum in half so the pig can be laid flat (or DIY with a hacksaw or cleaver and hammer).
A Day Ahead:
Slash the pig's skin all over, about an inch deep, and smear in your rub, working it really deep into the gashes. Seal the whole pig in the giant Ziploc bag, put the bagged pig in the garbage can, along with a few bags of ice. Keep this in the coolest place you have (basement or shady side of the house will do).
Dig your pit about three feet wide by five feet long by two feet deep. This goes fast if you have a couple of people and some cold ones. Line the pit in foil so the sides are covered—you're basically building a completely lined earthen box, and the foil will reflect the heat back up. Stack the cinderblocks end-to-end two wide, four long, and two high, stacking them so the blocks hold down the foil (see illustration).Build your grill by spacing each bar of rebar, parallel, about a foot apart. Lay your sheet of hardware cloth on top, and fasten it all down with wire, every few inches or so (see illustration). It's super important to use UNGALVANIZED steel because zinc is not good to get on your food.
Scrub your new grill really well with a brush and dish soap to get any dust or metal slivers off, hose it down, then oil it with some regular cooking oil. You've finished the hard part. Reward yourself with another cold one.
Begin about eight hours before you plan on eating. Put a few handfuls of loosely wadded newspaper in the bottom of your chimney starter, fill it up with charcoal, and then light it. When the coals are glowing and no longer shooting flames, pour them into the pit. Make more coals with the chimney starter. (It's helpful if you remove one cinderblock, so you have a little chute for adding fuel.) Keep doing this until you have a single, even layer of hot coals on the bottom of your pit, then toss a few handfuls of damp wood chips or fruit branches on the coals to get it smoky.
Place the grill on your cinderblock pit, then put your pig down on top, skin side down/ribs side up. Cover the whole thing in a few overlapping sheets of foil to keep the heat in and the flies and yellow jackets off, placing a few rocks on the corners to keep it from blowing away in the heat. Now that your clean, new garbage can is empty, you can fill it with fresh ice and a bunch of cold ones.
Every hour or so, check the fuel. It's helpful to keep the chimney starter going at all times so you can add in more coals as needed. (Put your favorite pyro in charge of this task.) Adding coals to the edges, instead of the center of the pit, ensures even heat and cooking. Add more wood chips/branches when the smoke begins to die down. You're aiming to keep the pit at around 250 degrees. After about six hours of cooking, you can test the doneness by putting a meat thermometer in the ham (you want about 145 degrees), or you can cook it until the leg bones easily knuckle out with a twist.
Voila! Cooked pig!
Now that your pig's cooked, you have several options for delivery systems. One crowd favorite is to simply gather around the fire, shoveling warm, greasy pork into one's gaping maw with bare hands, but in polite company, any of the following will do nicely:
Banh mi: baguette, cilantro, pickled daikon/carrots, sriracha mayo
Carnitas tacos: corn tortillas, minced onion, fresh cilantro, limes, hot sauce
Carolina style: soft hamburger buns, slaw, mustard-vinegar BBQ sauce
Korean style: butter lettuce leaves, julienned cucumber, gochujang
Pro tip: After basking in the glory of your masterpiece, I strongly suggest you save as many bones as you can for making pork stock. This makes superlative ramen broth and bean-cooking liquid. If you cannot even after your exhausting day, at least put a few bags of bones in the freezer for when you're feeling it. I promise it's worth it.
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