Sunday, 14 July 2013

Whole pig spit roast setup (1)

"There is another open-fire cooking technique, requiring certain amount of hardware, which transforms campfire cooking into one of the most exciting and delicious forms of meat cookery there is. So I want to end this chapter by urging you to take up the challenge. Spit-roasting a whole animal  most commonly a pig or lamb  is about a spectacular as meat cookery gets..."
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, The River Cottage Meat Book.

Last year my brother and I decided to take up the mighty gauntlet thrown down by Hugh. We'd not really considered cooking a whole pig before, I mean, who wakes up in the morning and thinks, "Do you know, today I really want to cook a whole pig" before pointing off into the middle distance and announcing, "To the Pig-o-matic!". In our minds roasting a whole animal was best left for weddings, TV shows and the like. Or so we thought.

"I found some roots! Gather round everyone
don't be shy, gather round..."
Last year I turned 30 and I had a slight existential crisis when I mentally compared my 'Things to do to make my life appear awesome to people who don't know me' list (owning a speedboat, having a sword fight with ninjas on the rim of a volcano etc.) with my 'Actually achieved' list (owning a crappy Fiat Punto, barely managing the hand-eye coordination involved in drinking from a cup and so on...). Clearly this needed to change. To celebrate my birthday we hired out a massive house in the Peak District for the weekend. One of the immediate problems with this plan was how to feed the 30-odd people I'd invited. We kicked a few ideas around before hog roast was mentioned: stew; chilli; BBQ; releasing everyone onto the hills to forage for themselves etc. Not only would it be a cost-effective way of feeding everyone, I could tick something off the list  despite the fact my brother actually cooked it in the end.

This little piggy went to market... then I bought and ate him
The more we thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea. The only stumbling blocks on the road to porky victory were our endemic laziness and the cost of the kit. We overcame these minor hurdles by A) Telling everyone that we were going to do a hog roast [so we had to do it], and B) Making the kit ourselves. We looked around on the interwebs and came up with a (very) rough design: a spit with holes in; two builders trestles to support the spit and two fire baskets.

This year we've decided hold a summer hog roast, and to upgrade the roaster: mainly by adding a motor to turn the spit. Turning by hand is fun for the first five minutes (it makes you feel like a proper hunter-gatherer), after an hour it feels like a penance, after 6 hours you start to wish you were dead. We're going to test drive the new roaster before unleashing it at a house-warming party. You can see last year's effort on the right there.

Here's the kit list and how it fits together:
  • Two builders trestles (bought on eBay for £30) are used as the main supports for the spit;
  • The spit passes through a 20 mm pillow block on each trestle (bolted on with M10 bolts); a 20 mm collar prevents axial movement of the spit;
  • The spit itself is 20 mm external diameter mild steel tube (one day we'll upgrade to 304 or 316) with 4 mm holes drilled along the length every 6 inches. I cut a notch in one for the roll pin of the motor to slide into;
  • The holes in the spit are for 12" 4 mm diameter 316 stainless steel bars to pass through the sides of the pig, through the spit and out of the other side, stabilizing the whole thing;
  • Two stainless steel 'U' bolts fit around the spine of the pig and clamp it to the spit, which also help ensure that piggy rotates with the spit;
  • Two fire baskets made from 33.7 mm scaffolding tube (and tubeclamps) with mild steel sheet bolted onto the frames. The frames are 5 ft long, 3 ft tall, and 1 ft wide. The 'basket' is 2ft off of the ground.
  • We bought a rotisserie motor from eBay, wired it up according to the instructions and fitted a 3 mm roll pin through the shaft to form a 'T'. This fits into a notch on the spit (see detail photo), providing direct drive. The motor turns at ~2 rpm;
  • I made a bracket for the motor out of some aluminium angle;
  • Mixer plate – basically a round plate with holes in. Backup mechanism (more on that in a sec) in the event of the motor dying;
  • Charcoal. Made from the finest organic, biodynamically-cultivated hardwood trees cut by hand on midsummer's eve by the light of a full moon. Did I mention virgins? Yes, virgins harvest the wood. Or from the local petrol station forecourt. Whatever. (Actually I bought a job lot of 30 kg hardwood briquettes from Liverpool Wood Pellets – I highly recommend them).

Builders trestles

Rotisserie motor

20mm Pillow blocks

20mm collar

Roll pin

'U' bolts

Paint/plaster mixer plate

Baskets o' fire

Spit detail

Motor bracket

Stabiliser bars 


In the event of a catastrophic motor failure we wanted a backup to ensure that we could still turn the spit. I drilled and tapped two 5mm holes through the face of the collar so that I could bolt it onto the round plate. Then it'd be a case of hand cracking and fixing with a pin. The pin passes though a hole in the plate and through the body of the trestle, locking the spit in position. After 10 mins or so, when you want to rotate the piggy again, it's just a matter of pulling out the pin, rotating the spit to the next notch, and fixing again. Rinse and repeat until cooked – fingers crossed it isn't needed.

"He just couldn't resist. Ok, put me
through to the Head of The Internet"
If I were being honest I guess that we probably have spent more making (and tweaking) the kit than if we'd just bought a commercial set up, but where's the fun in that? Stay tuned for some pictures of the actual pig roast (two weeks away). I'll try and get some photos together of all the kit mocked up for the dry run next weekend.

A note on cooking times: I've read around online and the figure I've found is 1 h 20 min per kg. It looks like I'll be getting up early doors to get the fire started...

See, we got through this whole post without a childish joke about spit roasting.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

So long old friend

I've been reading the excellent The Art Of Making Fermented Sausages by Marianski and Marianski that I got for Christmas. The book is a real tour de force - covering every aspect of fermented sausage production from the science behind the process, bacterial cultures, and chemical changes occurring in the sausage, to meat selection, how to rig up drying equipment and store the finished product - all in clear, concise language. It made me think of my wine cooler curing chamber and how it really needs some improvement if I'm ever going to make decent fermented sausages safely.

So, I've done a bit of soul searching and finally admitted that it isn't working out with the wine cooler (it's not you - it's me etc; although it really is you). The Peltier system just can't cope with the humidity required: the plate and fan ice up, stopping the cooling altogether. This in turn causes the temperature to rise and the RH to drop. In short the system just isn't stable; this should have been obvious given that some dehumidifiers work by using a Peltier-cooled plate to remove moisture from the air. Disconnecting or slowing the fan doesn't work (the fan is also causing case hardening of the sausages).

We hardly knew ye

I've decided to take the plunge and make a chamber from scratch using a proper fridge (not a wine cooler). Temperature and humidity will be monitored and controlled to create the stable conditions required for curing. I'm currently gathering the equipment and hope to post on my new build in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Chorizo plans

I've just got back from 2 weeks working out in the South China Sea. During my time at sea we had chicken and rice for every meal, and I mean every meal. Consequently one of the first things I did once I got back onshore (apart from stuffing my face with cheeseburgers) was to decide that I'd get some proper charcuterie on the go once I was home. In particular I'd like to have another crack at some fermented sausage: namely chorizo.

I'm going to gather recipes/ingredients and make some plans. Watch this space.

Update: The chorizo plans have been shelved while I commission my new curing chamber. Sadly, with work commitments, this probably won't be until autumn

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Maple Bacon with Chilli and Black Pepper

To celebrate moving into the new house I decided to initially stick to something simple and make some back bacon. I spotted a recipe for honey-cured bacon with chilli and black pepper on the sausagemaking forum  (so all credit to JerBear) but tweaked the recipe slightly, substituting maple syrup for honey and including less salt (read the discussion following the recipe; I use Phil Young's online cure calculator here). I used the standard equilibrium dry curing method, where you stuff all the ingredients in a ziplock bag along with the meat and give it a good shake/massage.

This little piggy went to market...
The loin was cured for just over a week, massaging and turning every day. After that I took it out, washed it off and left it in the fridge overnight to form a pellicle. Before putting it in the smoker I sprinkled the meat surface with freshly ground black pepper and chilli flakes. I pressed them onto the meat surface rather than rubbing them in. The bacon was cold smoked for 12 hours over maple.

The slicer of Champions gets a work out

I couldn't resist and had to fry some up there and then for a bacon sandwich.

Sunday morning sandwich, still in dressing gown...

On a side note I always add sodium ascorbate (the sodium salt of vitamin C) to my bacon cure. This is in order to inhibit the formation of nitrosamines  carcinogenic compounds formed under certain conditions by the reaction of nitrite with protein; such as the high temperatures involved in frying (nitrite reacts with secondary amine groups i.e. proline residues; but that's enough of that science fans). Now I know this isn't strictly necessarily and that in the UK we have no rule on adding ascorbate to bacon (nor is there one forbidding its use); we're also free to use nitrate in our bacon cures. On balance my personal opinion that ascorbate addition is worth it.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Happy New Year

Happy New Year everyone. I'm afraid I won't be updating the blog for a while, well, a month or so  I'm due to go away with work this weekend for two weeks, then move house the week I get back. My time for the next month will be spent packing, working, moving, unpacking and decorating.

To keep me entertained until I get back I've got this (it was a Christmas present):

Luckily our new house will have quite a bit of space so I'm already planning the man cave, complete with meat products. I might try my hand at a chorizo or saucisson sec to celebrate the new house...