By Emily J. Weitz
There’s something about a pig roast that really brings the community together. Maybe it’s the simple fact that pigs are enormous animals, and you couldn’t possibly eat one on your own. Maybe it’s that the slow, relaxed process of roasting a pig inspires all sorts of easy conversation. Or maybe it’s the enticing nature of an open flame that beckons people together.
Kevin Judge, owner of Maple Tree BBQ in Riverhead, attributes the communal feel of a pig roast to the fact that, historically, people would pool their money together to buy a pig, and the roasting was an activity in which everyone took part.
“The fun of it was roasting the pig as a community. The pig would go in the middle, and everybody gathered round with gloves and they’d literally pull off the pork, throw it in buckets, and bring it to the table.”
Judge will be preparing one of his pig roasts this Saturday at Pindar Vineyard to benefit East End Hospice.
Pig roasts became celebratory, as it took a day just to do it, so people would plan their pig roasts for holidays or Sundays when they had the time.
“For me,” says Judge, “the fun is in the doing. More than in the eating. The eating caps off the work you did throughout the day.”
So when Judge creates a pig roast, he makes sure to bring extra gloves and aprons so anyone who’s interested can join in.
“It’s great at a block party,” he says, “where you’ve got volleyball or other games going on, and the pig is roasting all day. You can come check it out, and then come 6 p.m. your pig is ready to go. It’s being pulled right in front of you. The anticipation and the aromas are building up in the air, and there you go. The fun is in the doing.”
Pig roasts became really popular, Judge explains, in the South during the Civil War.
“When the North fought the South, one of their most important things was they cut off access to salt,” says Judge. “So the South had to figure out how to preserve food without refrigeration. They’d roast the pig long and slow, and when it couldn’t be on the roast anymore, then they’d pull it. They’d use vinegar to keep it another two days, and then spices would keep it edible a little longer. So this slow roasting developed from a need to preserve food in the absence of salt.”
At the pig roasts that Judge caters, there are two different methods of cooking the pigs. The first, and most visible, is the rotisserie. That’s the pig turning around slowly on the spit. But usually that pig is on the small side, weighing in at about 100 pounds. At the same time, Judge is cooking two larger pigs (150 pounds each) in clamshell style roasters. They are roasted with charcoal and flavored with some wood. All three of the pigs are lightly smoked.
“The difference between the two styles is primarily in the show,” says Judge. “We use the roasters to produce the food we need there for the day. We don’t show them. We just open them up to baste them and tend to them. But when you come with your kid, you can show them the one on the rotisserie.”
Judge invites people to baste the pig and watch how it cooks. Because it’s rotisserie style, there isn’t the chance to cook one part of the animal differently than the other. That’s okay with pork, Judge says, because all pork should be cooked at about the same temperature (185 degrees) and it should always be well done. So the rotisserie gets evenly cooked because it’s rotating.
“The other two,” explains Judge, “start skin side down. When the smoker gets hot, a pool of grease develops inside the cavity of the pig. Then we flip it and brush the skin with a mustard honey sauce that makes an excellent crackle.”
The crackle is the skin of the pig that becomes crispy.
“People who know how to roast a pig know that, when it comes time to eat, you take a pile of pig but also a couple of strips of crackle.”
Along with the roasted pig, there are certain sides that pair perfectly. Smoked beans, corn bread, and mac and cheese are just a few that can be found in Judge’s shop and at most pig roasts.
This Saturday, June 2 from 4 to 7, Pindar Vineyard will host one of Kevin Judge’s barbecues to benefit East End Hospice. Live music, face painting, and a bounce house for the kids will help accent the joys of life. And everyone will be welcome to take their turn basting the pig as it turns, slowly, around the spit.