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Cooking the Whole Hog with Charcoal

The following is a description of a lunch-time hog roast at Ontario Pork, 29th July, 2003

Method: One whole 80 lb hog, barbequed slowly on a grill, with smoke. 60 guests.
Accompaniments: Coleslaw, potato salad, tomato and cucumber salad.


1. Planning

  • Order your hog from a reliable butcher at least a week in advance. Make sure you are given price per pound/kilo, and total price. Compare prices now rather than later. Allow at least one pound total raw weight per guest. There is no totally accurate way to judge this: it rather depends on the guests' appetite - are they hungry farmers or grannies and children? Also, consider what else is being served at the meal. We found that our 80lb hog easily fed 70 hungry people.
  • Rent a cooking unit: If you do not have a suitable unit on which to cook, order this well in advance also. Ascertain the dimensions of the hog and that of the smoking unit/barbecue so that you don't find yourself in the unfortunate situation where the hog is longer than the cooking surface. The unit should have water pan(s) situated directly below the grill, and a thermometer incorporated into the design.
  • This is an overnight affair (if cooking for lunch); make sure you have at least two willing volunteers to work through the night; something to eat and drink would be greatly appreciated by the graveyard crew.


  • An 80 lb hog will take at least 12 hours using the method we chose. It is much easier to adjust cooking speed (and meal arrangements) if things are running ahead of time, so give yourself plenty of lead time. In this case we started to cook at 10 PM and still had to hustle to be ready for midday the next day. Benefit from our experience and start early.
  • Beg, borrow, steal, or, as a final resort, buy a couple of probe thermometers and a timer. Failing that, acquire two oven-proof meat thermometers.


2. Equipment


  • Six 20 lb bags of charcoal. Royal Oak is good; Maple Leaf (expensive) is the gold standard.
  • About 5lb hickory (or other) wood chips, Canadian Tire has these.
  • Comfortable chairs.
  • Somewhere comfortable to lie down and catch a few hours' sleep for the off-duty member(s).
  • Warm clothing.
  • A "chimney", which is a gadget for getting briquettes going, is a useful piece of equipment, available at better BBQ supply outlets.
  • A table and large cutting boards large enough to be used for cutting up the cooked hog.
  • Knives, roasting fork, large shovel.
  • Two probe or oven-proof thermometers.
  • One timer.

3. Preparation


  • Check hog well in advance for blemishes, freshness, and look for the government stamp (if none found, return immediately to supplier and get money back).
  • With a sharp knife, cut tendons at ankle of all four legs to ensure the feet do not curl up when cooked.
  • With the hog on its back, with a sharp knife, carefully cut skin away from belly up to the spine, and away from the legs and shoulders. Liberally spread BBQ rub over all surfaces between skin and flesh.
  • Dislocate both hips (grab hog's ankle, press down firmly toward belly, until hip "pops").
  • Wipe hog inside and out.
  • Now there are two ways to place hog on grill. Either front tuck legs under chest, giving a kneeling attitude, or cut through the breast bone, and slay out front legs, giving a "spread-eagled" look. The back legs are splayed in both cases. We recommend the "spread-eagled" method, as this will accelerate the cooking time for the (slow-cooking) shoulders

4. Cooking the Hog


  • Get about 10 lb charcoal going separate from the barbecue.
  • Fill water trays with water.
  • Place prepared hog on grill.
  • Divide hot glowing coals evenly and place directly under shoulder and leg. Add 3/4 shovel fresh charcoal to shoulder coals, and 1/2 shovel to coals under leg section. The leg cooks faster than the shoulder, and is thus cooked at a slower rate with less heat.
  • Set timer to 40 minutes. After each 40 minute period has elapsed, check temperatures and add more charcoal in the same amounts.
  • Place probes (or meat thermometers) in thickest portion of both shoulder and leg. Set final cooking temperatures to 160F (70C) for the leg, and 180F (82C) for the shoulder.
  • During the initial 40 minutes, check barbecue temperature. It should peak at about 225F (105C). Try to keep it within ten degrees of this temperature throughout by adjusting charcoal supply and vents on unit. This takes a bit of trial and error.
  • With each new shovel of charcoal, add a handful of wood chips. This will add to the "smoky" flavour. It will also temporarily cause a temperature spike as the chips burn. You can soak the chips beforehand in water to lessen this effect, but it's not obligatory.
  • Keep adding charcoal, checking temperatures, and making sure the water trays don't run dry.
  • Try to manage it so that the (quicker-cooking) leg is cooking slower than the shoulder. Ideally it should be about five to 15 degrees cooler than the shoulder. But don't get bent out of shape if this doesn't happen. It didn't with us and everything turned out just fine.
  • Figure out by how many degrees the temperatures increase per hour. Using this figure, estimate how long it will take to complete cooking. But beware, at around 145F everything seems to grind to a juddering halt, and the temperature doesn't budge for what seems an age. Again, we recommend allowing an hour or two's leaway.

5. The End Game


  • When the final temperatures are nearly reached, slow down or accelerate cooking accordingly by adjusting charcoal supply and playing with the vents.
  • Make sure all your other foods and drinks are ready for your guests.
  • This is a good time for the pit crew to get freshened up - a shower is a good idea as everyone will smell like a smoked trout with body odour issues at this stage.
  • Place the cutting boards on the table, which is then placed close and parallel to the hog. Give yourself plenty of room to place carved meat.
  • pit crew members must now don heavy gloves or oven mitts. To save ruining the gloves a good idea is to cover these with plastic or zip-lock bags. With one person on each end of the hog, grab both sides of the legs and shoulders and rock the hog gently to release it from the grill. Then, in one movement, transfer to the table.

6. Carving


  • With a sharp knife, make a cut in the skin all along the spine from top of neck to the tail. Then, at right-angles to the first cut, cut down leg from the tail, and down the shoulder at the neck. The object of the exercise is to pull the skin away completely from one side of the hog. This is easier to draw than it is to describe, but the area of skin removed should be one large rectangle, exposing one entire flank.
  • With a sharp knife, carefully remove the loin meat in one piece, than carve the shoulder and leg meat. These will be a fair amount of meat attached to the belly skin, which can, and should, be sliced off and served. Repeat on other side.
  • This operation produces prodigious amounts of juice and fat. Lay cardboard around table, and do not perform this operation anywhere where grease stains are going to be a problem.
  • Once as much meat as possible has been removed form both sides, remove head (don't forget the cheek muscle meat), turn the carcass over, and remove tenderloins.
  • If you are not serving immediately, put meat in chaffing dishes, and cover. Do not leave meat exposed to flies and sunlight for any length of time, which would be a definite food-safety hazard.
  • Serving suggestions: Have BBQ and apple sauce available. Serve on kaiser rolls.







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