Michael Tusk’s Spit-Roasted Suckling Pig
Michael Tusk fell in love with spit roasting while bouncing around kitchens in Europe. When he opened Cotogna last year, he focused the entire dining room around a wood-fired grill and rotisserie. “Spit roasting gives you that perfect combination of outer crispy skin, smoke and fire flavors, and great moisture inside the meat,” Tusk says. “You just can’t replicate that inside an oven.”
Nor can you replicate that on a standard barbecue rig: Grilling’s number one limitation, after all, is the way food heats from only one direction at a time. Grills are fine for meat small enough to be flipped a few times, but it’s a nightmare with big cuts. These days it’s easy to transform your simple home grill into a spit roast with specialty attachments available online at sites like Amazon.com.
As for the meat, any good butcher can special-order a whole suckling pig. McReynolds Farms sells them frozen, and they generally start at about 10 pounds. Figure on 1 pound per person, and make sure the pig you’re getting fits on your grill: A 10–15 pounder fits a 24-inch grill; a 30-inch grill can handle up to 25 pounds.
• 1 suckling pig
• black pepper
• 2 cups lard
• 2 sprigs rosemary, minced
• 12 cloves garlic, minced
Bring pig to room temperature before cooking. Dry with paper towels, and season all over with salt and pepper. Combine rosemary and garlic with lard, and chill briefly to make a thick spread. Rub all over the inner cavity of the pig, and into every nook and cranny.
Push the end of the rotisserie shaft into the pig’s backside, through its body cavity, and out its mouth. Standard spits have prongs at each end that stick into the meat and stabilize it. Use an apple (or wad of foil) to prop open the pig’s mouth, which lets air escape during cooking.
Make sure the bed of embers is a little longer than the pig, and get your grill hot enough so you can hold your hand at pig level for only 5 seconds. Calculate 20 minutes of cooking time per pound.
Position the pig so the flames can’t touch it. (You don’t want any searing until later.) Set a drippings pan under it, and periodically scoop fat out and baste with it. When the meat thermometer reads 160, test the meat’s tenderness: It’s done when it pulls easily away from the bone with a fork. Finally, bring the animal right down near the coals, rolling it slowly to let the flame sear the skin. Cook slow over low heat, until meat turns falling-off-the-bone tender.
Don’t carve; just remove foil, set the pig on a platter with a knife and carving fork, and have at it. Use leftovers for pork and beans.