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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

How to Cook a Pig in the Ground



Pork is one of the most widely consumed meats around the world. There is a very good reason for this—it’s because pork is delicious! Whether it be in the form of bacon or sausage for breakfast, deli ham for lunch, or a roasted loin for dinner, pork can be eaten morning, noon, and night. Many people, including myself, occasionally do just that!

There are a LOT of ways to cook a pig!

We are all familiar with how to cook bacon and pork loin, but have you ever tried cooking a pig in the ground? This is a meal that takes a lot of time to make, but you and your friends will enjoy the process nearly as much as the end product. You’ll surely be talking about it for years! Like anything in life, the best things are worth the effort. Pulling a roasted pig out of the ground and spreading it out on a table for your guest is well worth the time, money, and energy required to cook in this ancient fashion.

Good food and good company. This is what makes ground-coooked pork great!
Good food and good company. This is what makes ground-cooked pork great!

First, you’ll need the pig.

person with gloves using huge knife to cut into cooked meat
Your guests will love the pork you serve them when you cook a pig in the ground correctly.

If you want to cook a pig in the ground Hawaiian- or Cajun-style, the first thing you’ll want to get (quite unsurprisingly) is the pig. Your local butcher will be happy to help you with this and should be able to get you a whole pig cleaned, de-haired, and ready-to-go with a day or two’s notice.

A 100 lb pig will provide enough meat for around 80 to 100 people, depending on how hungry they are. It’s okay if you don’t have that many attendees at the Luau (though don’t be surprised if your Facebook invite draws quite the crowd). Extra meat can always be parceled up and frozen for later, or given away—there are not many people I know that would refuse ground-cooked pork!

When you get your pig, it may be frozen. It will take several days to thaw a frozen whole pig. To thaw, place the pig in a plastic-lined cardboard box and season the meat with salt. To prevent spoilage, keep the pig cold by placing ice on parts that have already thawed.

You will want to inject the hog to ensure the meat does not dry out during the eight+ hours that it will be slowly cooking.

Preparing the pit

You also need a large hole in the ground, so the next step is to grab your shovel and get to work! Sand is the easiest medium to dig through but, if you are not by the beach, never fear! As long as you are not in Minnesota during the winter, you should be able to dig a pit easily enough. Ensure the pit is slightly larger than the pig you are going to roast.

Line the pit with mesquite, cherry, or charcoal briquettes and get the fire started in much the same way as if you were preparing coals for a barbecue or grill.

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You should always keep a hose close at hand, just in case you have to cool things off in a hurry. Always exercise fire safety practices when cooking with coals or open flames.

Hawaiian whole pig

Enjoy tender, falling-off-the-bone pork at your next get-together!
Enjoy tender, falling-off-the-bone pork at your next get-together!

The pit, or Imu, is not just a method of cooking. It’s a cultural—some would say religious—way of preparing food. Pork cooked in this way is known as Kalua, and is flavorful and delicious. Better yet, the process itself is a great way to bond with friends.

If you can’t get your hands on a banana tree for their leaves, cabbage leaves and their husks are a great alternative. You will will also need a few burlap sacks, a sheet of canvas, and some chicken wire. Try to to get some igneous rocks—black lava from Hawaii may be hard to find, but you can use anything that has a low moisture content. You don’t want the rocks splitting or exploding while the pig cooks!

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If you don’t have the butcher to prepare the pig, snap the spine and leave the head and hooves on. You can season the pig with soy sauce, brandy, and rock salt.

Cajun whole pig

Cooking a whole hog Cajun-style follows the same type of process, but uses a different mix of spices to flavor the pork. Carolina mustard sauce, a vinegar dip (such as Lexington), or a sweet tomato-based sauce (like Kansas City Classic) are all great choices.

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Cooking time!

Light the coals. These will take a while to die down enough to use. Once this is done, soak the burlap sacks and canvas. Place the banana leaves (or cabbage husks) over the coals and cover with soaked burlap and canvas.

Spread the chicken wire out over a table, place a double-layer of banana leaves on top of it, then lay the pig on top so that it is on its back. Add your seasonings and rubs. Line the inside of the pig with banana leaves, and fill the cavity with hot rocks or veggies. Bundle the pig in its leaf-chicken wire basket and close with metal ties.

Lower the pig into the pit and cover with layers of burlap and leaves. You might also want to place a tarp over the entire pit. The goal is to prevent steam from leaking out. Roast the pig for 8 to 12 hours. Check the internal temperature with a digital meat thermometer to ensure it is at least 165° F. Carve the meat and serve!

This process will produce wonderfully smoky meat that will leave everyone asking for more.

Have you tried this recipe? Tell me about it in the comments! And, for more great dishes, see my recipes section for advice on everything from how to brine and smoke a salmon, to brisket rubs, to the best way to smoke turkey! And here’s my favorite pan for cooking eggs.