Although cooking whole animals over fire is an ancient tribal rite practised the world over, it was definitely dormant in our urban context until about a decade or two ago. That’s roughly when middle-aged party dudes started noticing that local country folk and U.S. barbecue aficionados were onto a great theme for any celebratory gathering of 50 or more people. So it is that pig roasts have become a welcome focus of summertime revelry—an invitation to which will make you gladly postpone other weekend plans.
One thing’s certain: more people would try it if they had the right cooking equipment and the confidence to tackle what initially seems daunting. Indeed, there are as many ways to go wrong as there are tools and methods to accomplish the deed. Fear not, however. There are people out there dedicated to removing any spectre of failure from the old-fashioned pig-pickin’.
Mark Campling is one of them. The Scots-born oilpatch worker, now of Priddis, spent a number of years running a hog farm in northern Alberta. “Pigs breed fast,” he notes. “You wind up with so many that cooking them whole just makes sense.” Campling tried all the techniques: on a custom-made charcoal grill, over wood-fired pits, staked vertically in the Argentinean style, and with or without rotating spits.
Each method, he says, comes with its own problems. “A big one is when the fat drips on hot coals and starts a nasty fire that burns the pig. And tending fire is a hassle when you just want to party with your guests. Or when you use a spit, it’s tough to wire it up so that it doesn’t fall apart mid-cooking.” Dozens of experiments later, with just as many requests from guests wondering if they could borrow his latest device for their own party, Campling decided to get into the business. Along with a partner who’s a skilled welder, he formed a rental company called Chris P. Bacon (chrispbacon.ca), with four bespoke, trailer-mounted grill/ovens ready for a star turn at your next fiesta. Price is $150 per day, or $225 for a long weekend.
Simplicity, Campling says, is the key. His propane grills are designed to set and forget, equipped as they are with Weber’s Bluetooth monitoring system, the iGrill (retails for $140). Two people can pull out the integrated cooking grate and drip tray, then place the animal stomach-down and …read more