Revival of the Hog Roast

This article might not be the one for you if you are a vegetarian. Although, I suppose you are unlikely to be reading a blog from a sausage maker if you don’t eat meat.
Today I want to talk about one of the life’s fantastic delights if you are a meat lover – the hog roast. More importantly I want to talk about hog roast revival in the recent years.
The hog roast or any animal cooked slowly on a spit is a jubilant attack on the senses. The smell, taste and sight are enough to get any meat eater drooling, but it’s only recently that hog roast has become popular again. So why is this centuries old cooking method back in vogue again?

What are the reasons for revival of hog roast?

A Great British Party

O’Hagan’s as a company have been doing hog and spit roasts for about 20 years now. When we first started we were one of only 2 or 3 in our area that did them. In that time the industry and consumers appetite for hog and spit roasts has soared. The number of different machines and designs for roasters being made by lots of companies is phenomenal. The huge increase in the manufacture of machines is because so many caterers now offer hog and spit roasts. The last 5 or 6 years has seen a dramatic increase in catering companies, butchers and people as a weekend side line offering whole animals cooked on a spit. The number of roasters has risen to 20 or 30 in our area alone. Yet all seem to be doing well and the industry is thriving.

Spit roasted pig (hog) while cookingConsequently the sight of a beautifully cooked pig, lamb or boar has become a huge part of many weddings, parties and gatherings in modern Britain, taking a centre stage at celebratory feasts. Its strange to think, that something centuries old goes out of fashion and then suddenly comes back in.

Our rediscovered love of outdoor cooking

Maybe it’s our thirst for outdoor cooking that is driving it. It’s probably no coincidence that at the same time spit roasting is gaining popularity the BBQ industry is growing at a fast rate. I remember dad saying when he first moved from South Africa in the 70’s most of his English friends had never been to a BBQ. Being born 10 years later I didn’t believe him, for my generation BBQs are part and parcel of the summer social scene. You only need to walk into a supermarket or garden centre to see how outdoor cooking is now a massive part of British culture. As a nation we certainly love cooking outdoors (now). That in itself is impressive, taking our climate into consideration. Its one of the reasons I love being British, that resilience and stiff upper lip – if we want to cook outdoors we will, we won’t let the weather stop us!
Anyway, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to link the popularity of the BBQ with the rediscovered love of hog roasts. At the end of the day a Hog Roast is a posh a BBQ, a BBQ with that wow factor.

A bit of history – taking us back to our ancestors

Maybe the joy of a hog roast is that it’s steeped in our heritage? It takes us back to a time when life was simpler and cooking whole animals on an open fire was part of a culinary life.
This goes as far back as the Palaeolithic age, when caveman’s high protein diet would rely on hunting for their meat. Their prize would then be cooked on open wood fires and eaten for substance while celebrating their hunting skills. Maybe in a modern life the sight of open flames and whole animals takes us back to our Neanderthal instincts.

My wife would tell you in my case this might be more true than in others, she often comments I am a Neanderthal and asks why haven’t I evolved with the rest of the human race. I always feel it’s a little harsh… but sometimes fair…

As you go through the history, there are numerous accounts of whole animals being cooked on open flames. From the Romans to Saxons, all enjoyed a good spit roast. (excuse that line it sounds like something from a carry on film) This article is nowhere near long enough to look at every period in history but roasting whole animals has been a part of British cuisine throughout the times.

By the middle ages, methods were evolving and timber frames were used with a pole to spike the pig. This would then be turned by hand, often for hours till the meat was ready.
If we take the Tudors and Henry VIII as a great snapshot in time, you can see paintings with a whole boar as the centre piece at the royal court functions. Often these would only be enjoyed by the rich as the cost of cooking the whole animal would be too much for the ordinary person. Paying a boy to turn a pig for 14 hours was costly and so was the extra fuel needed. It is said that Henry VIII would have a whole boar or pig roasted at every meal. It was a sign of his huge wealth. Ordinary people did get to enjoy the delights sometimes. When villages had special occasions a whole animal was cooked. I suppose as a boy in the village you didn’t want to get lumbered with turning duty. It can be a tedious process these days, sitting and watching the pig cook for six hours let alone having to turn it by hand for 14!

It’s clear we have a long history with hog and spit roasts but maybe it is too big a leap to think a romantic nod to the past is driving its revival. As much as anything it’s probably due to the practicalities and the wow factor.

The practical, tasty pig with the wow factor

hog roast - spit roasted pig ready to be served
Bring in the plates – the meat is ready!

The pig, lamb, boar or whatever is being roasted, is a practical, cheap and amazingly tasty way to feed many. These days you don’t need to be a king to be able to afford one and a 50kg pig will feed 150 guests. Fantastic for all sorts of functions, whether causal or formal. Also having a whole animal to use means you get the choice of cuts. I prefer the fatty belly, whereas others might like the meat from the leg. There is a cut to satisfy all…. apart from the veggies of course!
The real joy of the spit roast is in the cooking process. The animal is cooked low and slow (so beautifully tender) with the naked flames sealing the outside early to keep in all the juices. The animal is constantly basting itself, as it turns with all the juicy flavour. The most important bit to some is the crackling and from the naked flames the salty crunchy treat is another level to anything done in domestic ovens.

The flavour and the practicalities are fantastic but where these great feasts come into their own is with their wow factor. When the pig or animal is lifted from the coffin (it’s where the pig is cooked. I told you, you wouldn’t like this article if you are a vegetarian) up to its serving point it offers a dramatic and glorious sight. One that will have the guests salivating and rushing to eat. Apart from that a spit roasted animal cooks brilliantly, it’s truly a focal point for any party with style and it’s a cheap way to feed large numbers of guests. Perhaps it’s not a surprise after all that appetite for the hog roast is growing again.

The final cut

In the last few years we have seen a massive rise in public’s thirst for hog roasts. For whatever reason, it’s great that something that goes back so far through our history is becoming popular again. In America, Philippines, Spain, South Africa and many other countries spit roasts of different forms are also part of their cultures. It’s great we are also embracing it again in the UK because more than anything, they just taste real good!

If you want to experience a real, O’Hagan style hog roast or any other spit roasting event – click here for more details.

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