Christmas Dinner and the Suckling Pig

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Whew! Where to start; where to start? We love the Holidays but they sure are a lot of work with all of the decorating, shopping, wrapping, cooking and cleaning, picking the kids up at the airport, traveling to see Dad, etc. No time for blogging, our feet hurt, and our backs and legs ache but, as always, our hearts are full of joy as another successful Christmas is now in the books. Lots of smiles and laughter with food, food, food and then more food. I’ve gained 8 lbs. 😮 It was well worth it, especially for the delectable suckling pig that formed the centerpiece of Christmas dinner. Now, let’s see…In addition to the pfferneusse and springerle cookies, we served Baby Lady’s green bean casserole (bottom of photo below pig – she liked it so much on Thanksgiving we had it again), apple-fennel dressing (top of the photo), Italian cream cake from Central Market (Knothead’s favorite dessert), Bourbon pecan pie from Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland, Maine (courtesy of our youngest son, Knothead – I ate an entire pie when we were in Portland visiting),

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spiced apples to serve with the smoked suckling pig

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zucchini bread, deviled eggs, Central Market chile marinated olives, and tomato camembert tart. It was a remarkable meal and, while everything was really delicious, the real star of the show was the pig and the pig is what this post is really all about. 🙂

Have you ever fixed a suckling pig? I’ve been wanting to fix a suckling pig for Christmas for years. They look so elegant on a platter. Now, I’ve done cabrito, whole fowl and fish of countless varieties, large roasts, etc. but I have never done a suckling pig. Inasmuch as there was no excuse not to do a suckling pig I did one. 🙂 The first thing, of course, was to find a suckling pig. There are several local farms in the area supplying fresh meats to the community so they were the first people I contacted looking for that perfectly fresh morsel of pork. Lo and behold, after several phone calls around the area I found no one in Texas sells processed, fresh suckling pigs. I could buy a fresh one and process him myself but that was a little too much to take on at Christmas. Apparently, suckling pigs require special, rather expensive equipment for removing the hair and the market in Texas for suckling pigs doesn’t justify buying the equipment. Hmmmm…that sucks. Not to be deterred, off to the internet I went.

After searching the net I finally settled on McReynolds Farms, a Phoenix, Arizona outfit known for supplying quality pigs around the US. After several unanswered e-mails, I called them and had a very nice conversation with them. They were very pleasant and helpful, so I thought. You see, one of my prize possessions is my AGA Legacy dual fuel range (gas stovetop and electric convection ovens).

© 2012 – It’s too hot in Texas to have the 24/7 AGA gas range and our electric bill is out of sight in the summer without it.

It’s a beautiful, highly functional range that generates 80,000 BTU if all 6 burners are on full blast at the same time. I’ve yet to do that. It also matches our kitchen. 🙂 We dearly love the AGA, however, it does have one major limitation. It’s made in England so it’s metric!! Can you imagine using a metric oven???? Of course, anywhere but the US and this would not be a problem but a US standard half sheet pan doesn’t fit in it. 😮 This poses problems when one is thinking about cooking a large piece of meat like a suckling pig. Hence, I had lots of questions in my conversation with McReynolds Farms, such as how long is the suckling pig; how wide is the suckling pig, how tall is the suckling pig, etc. After a lengthy conversation and exchanging oven dimensions I was assured the suckling pig would fit. They had a 14.7 lb suckling pig that they would place my name on and set aside. It would then ship via overnight delivery to my door on December 19, to be received December 20. Let the excitement begin!!!

Of course,  immediately after I purchased the little suckling pig my friend, John, let me know he found them at the local Fiesta Mart for significantly less than what I paid and without shipping charges. Arrggghhh!!! 😦 Nonetheless, while sulking about paying too much, I anxiously awaited my suckling pig.

As promised, on December 20, the little suckling pig arrived. 🙂 Aint it cute?

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He was all wrapped up in sealed plastic wrap and frozen stiff. That’s OK because we had several days for him to sit in the refrigerator to thaw out but he did seem a little large. Attached to his cute little piggy body was a yellow tag bearing the mark 18.7. Hmmm…that was the first clue something might be amiss. The next clue was the little piggy measured 24 inches in length. This obviously would not fit in the 21 inch diagonal of the AGA! How could they possibly send me an 18.7 lb, 24 inch piggy when I told them I only had space for a 14.7 lb, 21 inch piggy, maximum??? I’m still trying to figure that one out. Oh well, after the initial Holy Moly, desperate anxiety, it was decided out with the initial plan of roasted suckling pig stuffed with dressing and now for something completely different, smoked suckling pig. Here is what we did.


For the piggy

  • 1 suckling pig, 16 – 20 lbs.
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 4 apples, quartered

For the Brine

  • 2-1/2 gal water
  • 1 pt Maple syrup
  • 1-3/4 cup salt (preferably sea salt)
  • 6 cinnamon sticks, 2 inches each
  • 6 star anise
  • 4 apples quartered
  • 5 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 Tbsp Coriander Seeds
  • 2 Tbsp White Pepper Corns


For the Brine

Mix all brine ingredients into a large pot, bring to a boil and allow to cool. When cool, put the little piggy in a very large plastic bag and place into a cooler with a lot of ice. Pour brine over the piggy.

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Let the little piggy brine for 12 hours. At the end of 12 hours, remove the piggy from the brine, rinse him completely and dry him off. Lay the little piggy on his back and stuff his innards with the onions, apples, and smashed garlic. Stuffing the piggy keeps his sides from caving in when you cook him so he looks like a fat little pig as opposed to an emaciated, starving piggy.

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Now, many years ago when the Thanksgiving dinner torch was passed to me, my mom gave me her best Thanksgiving turkey tool, suture needles. My dad had given these to her to sew up and truss the turkey. They are 3 sided, unbelievably sharp (they’re surgical tools), hold an unbelievable edge and work like nothing I have ever used before or after.

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Threading one of the needles with kitchen twine, I performed minor surgery on the little piggy and sewed him up.

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Once you get him sewed up, pull his hind legs forward and tie them in place. Pull his fromt legs forward and place his head on his front legs. Stick a foil ball in his mouth so you can stick an apple in it when you are through. Place foil on his ears so they don’t burn and drape him with two layers of cheesecloth.

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Drench the cheesecloth in 1 lb melted butter. The cheesecloth helps baste the piggy and keeps him from getting too dark from smoking. Now, take him out to your smoker that you already have at 275 F and place him in the smoker.

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Smoke the little piggy at 275 F for 3-1/2 to 4 hours, turning him after the first 1-1/2 hour to keep his little face from burning. After 4 hours, remove the cheesecloth, increase the heat to 400 F and cook for 30 more minutes to crisp the skin. Remove from the smoker and place in a large enough vessel to hold him. Let him sit for 20 – 30 minutes after cooking. Carve and enjoy!

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39 thoughts on “Christmas Dinner and the Suckling Pig”

  1. What a great stove! A pig like that is a big fantasy of mine. I think it will be on my Christmas menu next year!!!

    1. Thanks, Stéphane. The pig was an enormous hit and delectable beyond belief. It makes such an elegant presentation and the flavor was out of this world. It was porky in some areas, hammy in other areas. The ears were crispy, chewy morsels. The cheeks melted in your mouth. It was really fun eating different pieces of the pig. The skin is very thin, there isn’t a whole lot of fat and the meat is tender beyond belief. Just make sure you get a pig that fits your oven. 😉

      1. I certainly will! You need to stop describing your food to me like this. It’s torture. You know I bet it would also be great with Chinese pancakes, oisin sauce and chives to eat the skin like for Peking duck…

  2. WOW! Is all I can say. The piggy looks amazing!
    Did it taste amazing as well? It definitely would if it tastes as good as it looks, but I wonder if it’s like cooking a whole chicken where the different parts need different times/temperatures to be cooked through and juicy?
    I’ll be cooking for a crowd of 40 this summer and suckling pig is one of the dishes I had in mind. Was your suckling pig raw, with just the innards and hair removed? Or was more done to it?

    1. Hi, Stefan. Thanks for the very nice compliment. 🙂 The whole piggy cooks in about the same time. We didn’t notice any difference. The meat is very tender and flavorful. Parts of it had a nice porky taste, like a pork roast. Other parts had a more hammy taste. The belly picked up the flavors of the apples, onions and fennel. It’s just fun and the perfect elegant dish for a celebration. 18.7 lbs for 6 people, however, was a little much as you need roughly 1 lb per person. A 10 lb piggy would have been fine for us. for a party of 40 you will definitely need a 35 – 40 lb pig which will definitely not fit in an oven. Doing a pig that size will require either a pit or a large open fire and a spit.

        1. I’ve never done a pig over a fire on a spit so I cannot tell you from experience. I did read several articles, however, about spit roasting a pig. A 30 – 40 lb pig will still be very tender but will have a little more fat and the skin will be slightly thicker. I never saw a mention about par boiling the pig first. I look forward to reading about what you do.

        2. I’ll have to look up those articles. Perhaps we’ll just do two 15-20 lb pigs. Kees has done a parboiled piggy a long time ago (before we knew each other).

  3. Fantastic stuff Richard. The piggy looks awesome. I am sure ti tasted as well as it looked. I was warned off photographing our Christmas day dinner. Well done on a superb post (and dinner).

  4. Your meal sounds wonderful…great job. You brought back memories of the only time my husband and I have cooked suckling pig. We lived in Miami where it is very easy to buy but when my husband came home with one it was too large for our oven like yours was. We cut it in half, roasted it and placed the two halves back together. A little garnish was used to cover where it had been cut for the presentation at the table.

    1. Thanks, Karen. It was a really fun meal. The little piggy just barely fit into the smoker. Had he not fit in the smoker I would have had no other choice but to cut him in half. 😮

    1. Thanks, Trine-Marie. It was interesting, very fun and delicious. From your posts, it looks like you are having a wonderful time with Andy’s family in Virginia. Wishing you and Andy a Happy New Year and safe travels on your return home.

  5. Oh Richard I wouldn’t mind being a guest at your place 🙂 Roasted pig is my ultimate favorite! I was born in the Philippines and Roasted Pig is always at the center of our celebrations. We also have suckling pig or also known as “Lechon de Leche” cooked in a pit the skin is crispy and the meat just melts in your mouth. You have done it again Richard…well done!!!!!

    1. Thanks, Joy, for your very nice compliment. 🙂 We’re glad you liked the post. Fixing the suckling pig was an interesting but fun adventure and the meat was wonderfully flavorful. We are definitely going to do this again but with an appropriately sized suckling pig, stuffed and roasted in the oven.

    1. Thanks, Sarah, for such a very nice compliment. 🙂 We hope you had a very Merry Christmas and wish you a very Happy and Healthy New Year filled with blessings, love and laughter.

  6. that’s one cute piggy! I am glad your meal worked out! It’s amazing how a few pounds extra can throw one’s cooking plans off. one of my friends got a piggy for his birthday and he ended up getting cut in half so it can fit on two grills!

    1. Thanks, Andreea. We were really sweating it for a little while especially after I stuffed the little piggy and then realized just how close a fit he was in the smoker as there is a metal rod just above his head for another rack. I was just lucky or unlucky depending upon your perspective. I prefer to consider it lucky 😀

  7. Such a great main course for a Christmas Dinner, Richard. Everyone surely enjoyed it, as well as the rest of that delight-filled meal. You guys sure do go all out!
    Wishing you and your “Baby Lady” every Happiness in the New Year.

    1. Hi, John. Glad you liked it. It really is flavorful and a lot of fun to do. We will definitely do this again. We just have to figure out when. Perhaps when you come to DFW? Happy New Year to you and yours, especially your Zia. One of these days I really am going to make some of your pasta. The cheese, now, that’s another story. 😉

  8. The suckling pig looks delish. When I was a teenager my folks made a suckling pig (it fit their oven) for Christmas, and it really was tasty even if the girl next door named it “Daisy” and refused to eat any… more for us! Reminds me I’d probably like to try my hand at this myself someday.

    1. Thanks for dropping by and your nice compliment. 🙂 It was as delicious as it looked. We definitely intend to do this again but with an appropriately sized pig. 😉

  9. This pig is perfectly smoked. Evenly browned, without a single split in the thin skin. This is quite difficult to do, and I really do admire your technique. Spectacular.

    By the way, I am also quite jealous of those stainless suture needles. I’ve been using carpet needles, and they are a lower-grade steel.

    1. Hi, Doug. Thanks for the nice compliment. 🙂 Glad to see you around and hope you had a wonderful New Year’s Eve. These suture needles are really amazing. When mom gave them to me I wasn’t really paying attention and didn’t notice the 3 sided blade. Being foolish, the first time I used them, I cut myself pretty significantly. Nice and clean, too. 😮 Now I know to make sure and use a pair of hemostats to grab the needle and pull the thread through. Guaranteed I won’t make that mistake again.

  10. Hi Richard. I’m going to roast a 22 lb suckling pig over an open fire on Thursday.
    Did you shoot for a salt content of about 2.6% in the piggy? (21 lbs of water + 18 lbs of piggy, with 1 lb of salt; 1 / (21+18) = 0.026). I’m not sure though if in 12 hours this equilibrium is reached. I will be thawing & brining at the same time for roughly 30 hours and was thinking of shooting for 1% salt content in the piggy (22 lbs of water, 22 lbs of piggy, .44 lbs of salt). Your thoughts would be most appreciated 🙂

    1. Stefan, I typically follow a general rule of thumb for brines of 1 cup standard table salt per 1 gallon of water. Because I was using a superfine sea salt which would be more salt per 2-1/4 cups, I reduced the salt to 1-3/4 cup. The amount of brine I used was enough to do a larger piggy but I wanted to ensure complete submersion. I’m pretty certain you can do this brine exactly for a 22 lb pig. I have never attempted to brine and thaw simultaneously and would have concerns in doing so; primarily, uneven brining. Because meat thaws generally from the outside in the utter portion of the pig will have a longer exchange with the brine than the frozen inner portion. My other concern is the length of time. At 30 hours it seems more of a wet cure than a brine.

      1. Hi Richard, thanks for your thoughts. My general understanding is that the most important difference between a brine and a wet cure is that after a brine the meat is cooked, whether after a wet cure it is dried or smoked. The Modernist Cuisine book does say a whole turkey should be brined for 48 hours, but that is the longest time they mention for a brine. The wet cures are often 5 days or longer.

        1. The longest I have brined a turkey is 24 hours. I have brined a pork roast for 48 hours and it tasted more like a ham and was considerably salty. I am anxious to see the photos of the pig, hear what you did and how it worked out.

        2. It worked out great! I will try to do a post tomorrow. It is just slightly hectic cooking all meals for 30 on a boat 😉 but a lot of fun and very rewarding. Used a filling of apple, onion, fennel and garlic as per your recipe. The spare ribs (cooked twice) were spectacular. For the long brine times the brine should be less salty than a cup of salt per gallon.

      2. Glad to hear it work out well. I agree that less salt would be required with a longer brining time but I have no idea what would be right. Looking forward to the post when you get back. I imagine you are staying incredibly busy. 🙂

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