When we lived in New Jersey, thoughts of roasted pig never crossed our minds on holiday weekends. Like most New Jerseyans, our focus was on burgers and dogs and maybe some grilled chicken. All that changed when we moved south.....to pork country, where the art of smoking a pig is revered.
Roasting a pig takes skill and commitment. Our pitmeister, Henry, rises at 4AM to start his 127-lb. pig, flesh side down on his grill.
He can't go back to sleep, either, because he has to continually check to see that the pig isn't burning and that the heat is just right. He turns the pig over, skin side down, for the last hour or two of cooking.
And he bastes it with his special East Carolina pepper sauce.
Henry has perfected the art of roasting a pig over the past 20 years. His daughter's boyfriend, who assisted him, says he learned early to roast pigs and does about six a year with his church, but his are nowhere as good as Henry's.
When the pig is done cooking, the two men start the job of pulling out the meat, which Henry chops. He mixes in a bit of the cracklin' and a bit of his special pepper sauce with each bowl of chopped pork.
I sneak a few pieces from the first bowl, because I just can't wait any longer. Henry doesn't mind my snitch. He already knows what my comment will be, because he's heard it hundreds of times already. Regardless, he still looks forward to hearing it one more time: "This is the best pig I've ever tasted!"
Everyone's here, waiting: neighbors, friends, relatives. Just waiting to get a taste of Henry's famous pig.
The table is set with pot-luck favorites, including desserts. We're ready to have a feast.
I go back for seconds and thirds of Henry's pig. The fresh taste with just a hint of pepper sauce, the tender meat and the smoky flavor all had me with the first bite. Trouble is I'm ruined. Typical pig pickins just can't measure up to Henry's. Before the blessing is given, he tells us all that this could be the last year. Everyone groans. Then, when I tell him again how much I loved his pig, he asks, "Will you come back next year?" Henry, you don't have to ask me twice.