We celebrated Noche Buena 2011 at my sister's house. The entire family, and then some, came to her house to celebrate and more importantly to eat lechon. A little guide on how to make lechon using a caja china.
1. Get a pig! Luckily we had someone kill and clean a 65 lb. pig for us.
2. Split the spine between the two front legs using some improvised tools. My dad used a knife and a hammer. Splitting the spine will allow the pig to lay flat inside the caja china to help cook evenly. This is also the time to trim any excess fat.
3. Clean the pig. We use naranja agria to clean the inside and outside of the pig. Use paper towels to dry.
5. Cover pig and keep cool overnight. Toast and hope that things will turn out well tomorrow.
6. Light the coals on the metal lid of the caja china. I believe we started off with just less then half a bag of charcoal. You don't want to use too many as the ideal temperature inside the caja china is 275F - 300F.
7. Once coals are lit and the inside is around the desired temperature, remove the lid and place the pig inside the caja china with the ribs facing up. Put lid back on top of the caja china. Make sure the lid is on correctly as you do not want any heat escaping.
8. Maintain the temperature at around 275F - 300F by continually adding charcoal when necessary and distribute it to all corners so that the loin and shoulders, where the meat is thickest, are evenly cooked. Best to not have the coals in the center but spread around in a ring. Also try not to open the caja china while cooking as heat will escape.
9. Because cooking a pig can take 6- 8 hours and requires a lot of work to maintain desired temperature, activities are needed. This year we opened a bottle of cognac.
10. After cooking for about 2-4 hours depending on the size of the pig--for ours it was around 3 hours--flip the pig. Remove the lid and set the top aside being careful where you place it as the charcoal on top are still hot. Be careful when removing the lid as hot vapor may escape. Using gloves or towels, grab one side of a front and hind leg and flip over.
11. Place lid back on top. Remember to make sure the lid is on correctly as you do not want any heat to escape.
12. Continue to add charcoal in ring-like fashion when needed to maintain temperature.
13. Cook for another 4 - 6 hours depending on size. We cooked ours for about another 5 hours. If the skin is not crispy, you could add more charcoal in the center to help cook and crisp the skin. Once done, remove and enjoy!
Special thanks to my dad and Richard for cooking the pig! Oh and Vivian for allowing the Cuban invasion of her home.