In Louisiana this type of party is a cochon de lait, in Hawaii a Luau, and in most of the country a pig roast, but whatever name it goes by, the results are always fun and, even better, delicious. A pig roast is a great way to throw a combination dinner and party for family and friends.
The tools needed for a pig roast are minimal, but the most important is the actual oven in which the meat is cooked. Pig roasters can be built from almost any material which will contain heat, including bricks, cinder blocks, barrels, or even a pit dug in the ground and lined with brick or stones. This oven, plus a heat source, a way to remove the pig from the heat, and a place to put the meat after roasting are the only essential tools.
If you are planning a pig roast, be sure to locate a local distributor for the meat several weeks in advance and make a reservation to pick it up on a set date. Make a point to ask whether the pig will be frozen, thawed, or fresh when it is ready for pick up, as this may affect pickup timing since the meat needs to be fully defrosted prior to the roasting process.
Before being placed into the roaster, the spine of the pig will need to be cracked or cut so that it lays flat on the grill. You can request that the meat vendor do this or it can be done by the host using a cleaver or saw to cut approximately 3/4 of the way through the spine until it cracks open and lays flat. The meat can be injected with various marinades, the outside rubbed with salt and pepper and basted with apple or pineapple juice, and inside of the body cavity can be flavored with rubs. The pig can be stuffed with apples, garlic, onions, and peppers and the cavity sewn shut so that the flavors are steamed into the meat. If the cavity is stuffed, an extra 2-3 hours should be allowed in the cooking process. The ears, snout, feet and tail of the pig should be covered with aluminum foil to prevent burning.
Another good idea is to send out invitations and request an RSVP so that you know what size pig to purchase to ensure everyone has plenty to eat. The RSVPs will also allow you to make plans for tables and seating arrangements, whether you'll be using furniture you already own or renting the seating.
The tables can be decorated appropriately for the theme of the party and for the season. Tropical fruits such as pineapples and mangoes are great, as are easily obtainable fruit such as grapes and bananas along with seasonal berries. The thrifty and inventive host can use these at the last minute to create a nutritious and tasty fruit salad to serve as a side dish to the pig.
While some hosts use regular plates, silverware, and glasses, it also might be wise to use paper plates, plastic cups, and plastic knives and forks at a pig roast, since it is traditionally a casual, informal affair. Advance notice lets the host gauge the amount needed, but extra should be on hand for the pre-dinner eats as well as accounting for lost or dropped items. A wise host will also take into account the juicy nature of the roast pork and opt for the slightly more expensive and thicker paper plates. A properly roasted pig is tender, so plastic knives should do the trick quite well.
Depending on the time of the year, it would also be wise to consider what happens if it rains on the day of the festivities. Pig roasts are normally outdoor affairs, and many people choose to have canopies and outdoor awnings available for quick use in the event a shower starts.
A host should also give careful consideration to timing. Depending on the size of the pig and the method used, cooking time can be up to 10 hours, so advance planning is needed to allow time to complete the cooking and allow the meat to rest and cool slightly before beginning to serve the meal. Many hosts make sure there are adequate snacks, appetizers, and a wide range of beverages for the guests to enjoy while waiting for the meal since the smell and anticipation of the roasting pork is sure to cause appetites to flare.
Another consideration are the side dishes to accompany the pork. Traditional barbecue favorites like baked beans, potato salad, and cole slaw are often served, but almost any vegetables are suitable. A host can involve the guests as well by asking everyone to bring a side item or dessert turning the gathering into a combination pig roast and pot luck dinner.
Beer, soft drinks, and iced tea are often the beverages of choice at pig roasts, and a wise host will have plenty of drinks and ice on hand, since roasting a pig is often hard work, and warm weather is the most popular time for this outdoor party.
When the internal temperature of the pig reaches 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit, it can be removed to a table and allowed to cool. Many of the guests like to gather around when the pig is removed from the roaster and again when it is being carved or pulled apart by hand. The carvers should be careful since guests often like to "steal" a piece of the meat while it is still on the bone.