Some of us like pieces of fried chicken decorating our plates at weddings. Many of us prefer slabs of grilled lamb at our parties. Then there are those of us who want to see nothing more than fat, wholesome, roasted hogs weighing our tables down at Christmas eve. If you’re like me, then you belong to the latter group of happy hog eaters.
Hog roast entails an event, celebration, festival or any gathering where a full hog (pig) is barbecued. That’s about as complex as the phrase gets.
Where Did It All Begin?
The Indonesians call hog roast babi guling; elsewhere, it is called smoke jack; the Spanish call it lechon asado or simply, pig roast; but we here in the UK prefer to sink our teeth into hog roast. We don’t call it anything else but that. Doing otherwise just wouldn’t feel right.
This is a cooking tradition almost as old as time itself. The history of hog roast spans centuries, evolving as the world evolved. The invention of bronze and iron saw the birth of all manner of pots, pans and of course, grills and spits. Good news for the people, but not-so-good news for the hogs.
In the Middle Ages (476 AD – 1492), whole hogs were skewered on thick, iron bars over wide hearths. These devices were found in almost all kitchens, and they were specifically installed and built for hog roasting.
The Renaissance (1300 – 1600) came and developed new cooking methods. The chefs in Florence in particular were some of the first to baste their hogs with sauce, juices and sugar; the rest of the world followed their examples.
Time kept passing and kitchens kept evolving. It soon became evident there would be little room to spare in a kitchen if hogs were to be roasted, so the task of cutting the hogs into smaller pieces was relegated to butchers. There was thus a decline in roasting full hogs, but this didn’t last for too long.
By the 18th century, full hog roasting had become something peculiar to special events; always done outside in the open. And this tradition has remained ever since.
The cooking methods may have evolved but it mostly boils down to cooking the hog in spit roast devices or ovens. Scoring (cutting the skin to a depth of about 1cm in numerous places), the right temperature, seasoning and more are all matters of preference. Different variations lead to different tastes.
Hog Roast All Over the World
Impaling a hog with an iron rod and roasting it over a fire may be the most popular way of cooking it but it is by no means the only way. The diverse cultures scattered all over the word each have diverse means of roasting their hogs.
The Hawaiians dig large pits and line them with banana leaves. Lava rocks are heated until the right temperature is attained and the seasoned hog is placed on them, then covered with more banana leaves to add favor and insulation.
The Cubans’ preferred choice of hog roast is to utilize a hog roasting or pig roasting box, which is constructed above ground with steel or iron mesh and concrete.
Puerto Ricans make heavy use of wet seasoning when it comes to hog roast, meaning the hog is cooked in black pepper, wine vinegar, garlic and salt, to name a few.
The people of Philippines patronize spices too, often skewering their spiced hogs on bamboo spits and roasting them over burning coals.
The Chinese call hog roast siu yuk, and they not only consume hogs for celebrations but also use them as spiritual offerings as a buffer against evil.
An Eternal Tradition
When it comes to hog roast, the possibilities are endless. People every day are devising new means to make sure their hogs taste even better. One culture learns from another’s way of hog roast; or adopts it and invents a new means of it.
Hog roast has persisted for more than a thousand years and with the way it’s gaining traction and popularity, suffice to say it will persist for another thousand years to come. All we can do is hope there will be always be enough hogs roaming the world to satiate our roasting needs.
My thanks to Hog Roast Norfolk for catering inspiration.