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Hello fellow KG forum members! Being that my parents are both Cuban and I've never had the privilege of stepping foot on the island, I have always tried to learn as much as possible from them when it comes to authentic Cuban cuisine. Since I was born and raised here in Miami, Florida, I've had almost every conceivable Cuban dish that there is. One of my favorite traditions is the Christmas Eve whole hog roast. Many, many years ago, my wife's uncle (who happens to own a metal shop) built a "Caja China" for my father using the specifications learned over the many years of trial and error. Although it's not the prettiest thing, it is functional and it gets the job done better than the mass-produced boxes that are out there. The trick is really the sealing of the box (high heat transfer efficiency) and the heavy gauge steel lid holding the heat source (uniform and consistent heat transfer). The separate ash removal tray that was built into the main cover just makes life easier to keep things going throughout the cook because charcoal, once covered with ash, must have the ash removed regularly (without opening the box) so that it can continue to burn evenly and radiate its heat to the lid. Below are some pics that I had from a cook that my father and I did a few years back. When sourcing a whole hog, we either pre-order one at our local Publix grocery store or pick out a live one at one of the local farms that raise hogs for slaughter. We always try to get one between 75 and 85 pounds because it becomes a little more difficult to stuff anything larger into our box. This one was roughly 90 pounds and we had to cut the feet off in order to make it fit. Over the years, my father has shown me where to cut the bones so that the hog lays flat, where to make the incisions for stuffing butter patties, how to make his homemade marinade and where/how to inject it. I swear that when we're done with the cook and our family and friends dig in, they always tell us that this is the best pork that they've ever had. Personally, I have to agree with them! After approximately 12 hours of marinating, the hog is loaded up and tied into the spacers. The spacers keep the hog "floating" inside the box so that the heat circulates all the way around it. The whole box is also slightly tilted so that during the entire cook, the drippings run out through a purge hole at one extreme end of the box. I always have a small metal bucket under the aluminum drip tube so that the drippings don't make a slippery mess on the ground. You only make that mistake once! Here, the charcoal is preheating before it gets spread out to the edges of the lid. A common mistake that box cookers make is to leave the charcoal in the middle. This is a no-no because it concentrates the heat source directly over the middle of the hog. The idea is to heat from the edges and circulate around the hog, just like in Kamado cooking when you're using a diffuser. In this pic, the hog was turned over for the first time. Notice that the color is beginning to change and the skin is toasting up. When the hog is almost done, THEN you spread the charcoal across the top of the lid so that you can give the skin a final, even crisping. Here, the hog is done and about to be pulled out. By this time, the whole family is standing by like vultures so that they can each tear out a piece of the crispy pork skin, which tastes the best when it's hot and coming right out of the box. In this pic, I'm cutting the ties holding the spacers together so that we can get the hog onto the cutting tray. Here's the hog, about to be devoured! Notice the crispy skin cracking just from moving it from the spacers to the cutting tray. If you've never cooked a whole hog this way or have never attended a whole hog cook, I insist that you immediately add it to your bucket list! Yes, the whole process is something that has to be seen at least once in your lifetime and the outcome is THAT good! Thank you for looking and enjoy the pics!
A friend of mine, who I think has every Big Green Egg and BGE accessory known to man, speaks highly of this local market and the classes they offer on basic butchery for pork and lamb, sausage-making and curing meats (charcuterie, to use a 50-cent word). Pine Street Market is in Avondale Estates, located near Decatur and just east of downtown Atlanta. I'm looking to get some friends to attend a class with me. All classes are $100 and last three hours. Plus you get to take home some of your classwork! Cured Meat June 20 Come join Rusty & crew for a hands-on cured meat workshop as they explain how to make salami, guanciale, pancetta, & various cured meats. Participants grind, season, & stuff their own salamis and dry cure pancetta. This class runs from 10 – 1 and includes a lunch of smoked meats, country sides, and beverages. Classes are held at Pine Street Market. Refunds are not available for missed classes. Whole Hog Class With Gum Creek Farms July 11 Get to know cuts of pork from the inside-out. During this interactive demonstration, Rusty & Asa break down a whole pig while explaining various cuts of meat and the nuances of butchery. Participants slice their own pork chops and create two pounds of signature bacon! This class runs from 10 – 1 and includes a lunch of slow roasted pork shoulder, braised vegetables and beverages. Whole Hog class attendees will take home their own pork chop and bacon. Due to the curing process, bacon is available for in-store pick up the following Saturday. Sausage-Making July 18 Hands-on sausage making workshop. Learn about grinding, casing and cooking methods. Participants take home two pounds of their own sausage creation. This class runs from 10 – 1 and includes a lunch of beer braised bratwurst, country sides, and beverages. Sausage Class attendees will take home 2 pounds of their own hand made sausage. Cooking 101: Basic Butchery August 8 Hands-on intro butchering workshop. Learn to breakdown a whole chicken, trim & tie a roast, and prepare a stuffed pork loin. This class runs from 10 – 1 and includes a lunch of slow roasted pork, country sides, and beverages. Participants take home the cuts of meat they created. Lamb Chop August 22 @ 10:00 am, Avondale Estates Learn to break down a whole local lamb, supplied by one of our favorite local farms! We’ll create not only chops, but also roasts, lamb steaks and other delicious lamb preparations. Each participant will take home their butchering efforts of various lamb roasts & steaks. This class runs from 10 – 1 and includes a lunch of braised lamb sausage, summer vegetables and beverages. The current schedule only runs into August but I'm confident they'll run more classes starting in the Fall.