Jenn writes:

Hello, I hope that you can help me out, my boss is having a pig roast, and we going to use a rotisserie. The party is planned for December 4th. Do you have any advice on how to season the pig and what to serve as side dishes?

Jenn: For the seasoning, use 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons paprika, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 2 teaspoons cayenne, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, teaspoon MSG (optional). This will make about a cup of seasoning. You will need to double the recipe. Mix it well and rub it inside and outside the pig. Or go to the supermarket and find some commercial barbecue rub.

While roasting, mop the pig occasionally with a basting sauce made of equal parts water, white vinegar and cooking oil. You can add desired seasonings to this baste. If you are roasting a whole pig and the ears begin to get too done, wrap them in foil -- don't use sun screen. Traditional side dishes are potato salad, coleslaw and beans. Good luck and thanks for writing

Dear Doctor John: I make my own spicy sauce, which is very tasty when I make it. However, if I put the sauce in the refrigerator overnight, it turns flat and has none of the spicy taste it started with. What am I doing wrong? Hope you can help. Thanks. David

David: Oh boy, that is a puzzler. What is the base for your sauce? Does it have butter or oil in it? Using it hot or cold? Spices contain essential oils, and the flavor of the oils is best released when warm. They tend to stay locked up when cold. Send me a list of ingredients and maybe we can find something that is causing the flatness. Maybe it don't like being in the dark. Thanks for writing.

Joe W. wrote: I am looking for information on pit cooking. I am planning on doing something special (barbecuing in a pit) for New Years eve dinner. I did a test run this weekend with a small pit, 2 feet deep, 3 feet wide and 4 feet long. I lined the pit with red brick and burned maple and alder to create a bed of coals. I put in a 5-lb. pork and a 5-lb. beef, roast along with baked potatoes and a Dutch oven of baked beans. The coals were glowing, so I put a thin layer of sand over the top of the coals. I covered the hole with a thin piece of plywood and threw some sand around the plywood to seal the pit. When I checked the pit 3 hours later, the pit was cool and the coals were out. And naturally the dinner was nowhere near done.

1. Should I have left an air vent for the pit? Is this possibly why the fire went out?
2. How do you estimate cooking times for various meats?
3. Did I need a bigger pit with more coals?
4. Should I use something other than brick in the pit?
5. Do you have any good recipes for beef and pork cooked in this method?

Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

Joe: Ah gee. I think you are missing a little theory here. When you bury something in a pit, you have to have something there to hold the heat. Rocks are used for heat storage. The fire is built on the rocks, and they become very hot and will hold the heat for some time. But it takes a long time to get the rocks hot enough. This is something that you only learn from experience. I haven't used this method, so I can't even give you a ballpark figure on how much rock and how long to heat it, but I do know you want hard rocks. Limestone or sandstone-type rocks can contain moisture that will produce an interesting explosion when the water turns to steam. Be careful here. If you can find granite the size of footballs or larger, use that.

As you describe your pit, the walls were brick lined. The heat goes up and the brick walls did not collect enough heat to do the job. I think when you put the sand on and sealed the pit you smothered the coals.

As for your Dutch oven. If the fire had not gone out, you would have turned your beans to charcoal. Too much heat.

Pit cooking around here is done with a grate or grill over the hole, and the food is cooked on top of that. You might want to do some research on luau cookery. I don't have a reference for you at hand. Sorry I couldn't be of more assistance. Thanks for writing.

With the coming of cool weather I'm sure to get some questions as to how the ambient temperature affects cooking time in the smoker/pit. A temperature change of 10 or 15 degrees won't change cooking times noticeably, but cool temperatures combined with a brisk, damp wind will suck the heat out of the cooker. You will have to allow more cooking time under these conditions. You might even want to shield your cooker from the wind if possible. Do not under any circumstances use a cooker in a closed building like a garage unless ample ventilation is provided.

Another thing you need to think about is storing your cooker for the winter if you don't plan to use it. Be sure to give it a good cleaning. Get all the ashes out. Damp ashes form an acid that will devour most metals. Clean your grill also before storing. You don't want to spend your first day of next barbecue season cleaning equipment. Store your cooking equipment inside if you can; if not, cover it against the weather.

When doing your Christmas shopping, remember that books on the subject of outdoor cookery make fine presents.

Happy cooking to all. See ya in 2000.

Dr. John