Gallery: How to Roast a Whole Suckling Pig | The Food Lab

  • Dinner is Served.

    Crisp skinned and incomparably tender, suckling pig makes for some fine, fine dining on the holidays. You'll never look at another turkey again.

    Gather your Ingredients.

    Have a large work table ready and lined with plastic to make cleanup easier. Salt is the only absolutely vital ingredient, but pepper is always nice. Aromatics for stuffing are optional, but I recommend them. We'll get to that in a moment.

    Season Liberally.

    The best part of a roasted suckling pig is the crisp, salty skin, so season liberally with plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides (including the inside).

    Get In My Belly!

    I like to stuff my suckling pigs with chopped garlic and ginger—a nod to my old chef Ken Oringer at Clio in Boston—but any sort of aromatics would do. Handfuls of thyme and bay leaves, onions, carrots, a ton of garlic—whatever you'd like. Because a suckling pig's musculature is so thin and delicate, flavors really do penetrate quite well—far more so than with a normal pig.

    Uh Oh.

    The pig's too big for a single rimmed baking sheet, which is the largest pan I have in my apartment. The solution is to...

    Use Foil.

    Make a foil bridge to connect two rimmed baking sheet that have been overlapped. The pig is still too big to cook in the most desirable manner—with the back facing up and the legs tucked underneath—so I'm forced to cook it on its side. It's not the end of the world—it just means that one side will crisp better than the other and we might lose some skin from the face-down side—but if you get a pig small enough to roast back-up, you should do so.

    Low And Slow's The Way To Go.

    The key to perfectly crisp skin is to both render out fat, and to roast it long enough that all of its proteins break down, giving you skin that shatters and crackles instead of remaining leathery and tough. To accomplish this, I roast my pig at a relatively low temperature—around 275°F to 300°F—for several hours until the innermost joints register around 160°F on a thermometer, then I pump up the temperature to 500°F and roast just until it's crisp all over. The skin should feel hollow when tapped and crack when poked with a wooden spoon.

    Half Way There.

    Things are moving along nicely. A little foil cap added to the ear will help prevent it from burning.

    Now He Fits.

    To get my pig out of the oven, I completely remove the oven rack with the two baking trays and pig still on it and set it on my range. From this point, it's easier to transfer the pig to a single tray to rest. Your pig'll have shrink a bit as he cooked and with a bit of creative chiropractic movements, you should be able to get him onto a single tray depending on how big he was to begin with. Let him rest for at least 30 minutes loosely tented with foil.

    Perfectly Crisp Skin

    If all went well, your skin should be perfectly crisp. Unlike larger hogs in which you get a significant, robust layer of crackling, with a suckling pig, the skin layer is super thin, about the thickness of a water cracker. It should have a similar texture as well, but a far, far, far superior flavor. If your pig skin tastes like a water cracker, you've done something wrong. Cancel Christmas and try again.

    Pig Picking.

    The meat from the pig should literally fall off the bone when you poke at it and it should be incomparably juicy, tender, and moist with a very mild, sweet flavor. There's no simple, clean, neat way to serve suckling pig. To get all of the meat off the bones, you pretty much have to end up diving right in there with your fingers. There are, however, few pleasures greater in life than licking suckling pig drippings from sticky fingers in the company of friends and family.

    Ok, You Can Do This.

    If you really must, you can present the pig, bring it back to the kitchen, and pick it all in there, tearing the skin into serving-size sheets and laying it out on top of a pile of picked meat. It's sure easier for your guests, but the easiest way is not always the most fun.