La Caja China is a roasting box typically used to cook an entire pig. The wooden box has a metal inside that heats up due to charcoal placed on top of the box. Although setting up the roaster and preparing the pig may take some time, the cooking process is pretty straightforward. Not only does it cut the cooking time down substantially, but it also produces succulent and flavorful pork.
This box has built a cult-like following among chefs and backyard grill masters alike. La Caja China has different names around the world. In Peru, it’s called “caja china criolla,” while in Cuba it’s called “caja asador.” You may even hear the term “cajun microwave” in the Southern United States.
Caja China Origin
The origins of this box date back to mid-19th century Cuba, where roughly 150,000 Chinese laborers had emigrated at the time. Cubans noted that these workers would roast their meals in wooden boxes at the end of the workday. The method involved placing the heat source on top of the box, which produced very tender meat in far less time than an open fire would produce.
However, this origin story is more of a fable than a fact. Food anthropologists note that history does not show evidence of any gastronomic cultural exchange between the Chinese and native Cubans. So, another theory for the naming of this box is based on the origin of the term “china,” which was a slang term for something clever or mysterious. Instead of translating to “Chinese box,” it could have actually been called “magic box.”
Using the Box
The hardest part about the entire process is assembling the roaster. Follow the instructions that come with your appliances or look for online resources that can help you. Once everything is built properly, it’s time to turn up the heat! Light 60 pounds of charcoal for a roughly 14-pound pig and let it burn down until it’s covered in white ash. Take these coals and distribute them evenly on top of the roaster before shutting the lid tightly.
While the box is heating up, butterfly the pig by cutting it open along its back and flattening it out. Then, prepare your pig with your favorite BarbaCuban marinade: 90 Miles to Mojo. You can also stuff the pig’s cavity with onions, garlic, and other aromatics and must rub salt all over the pig. Once the pig is adequately seasoned, secure it in the roaster.
Roast the pig for 6-8 hours or until it’s cooked (the internal temperature is 145ºF or above). Once it’s ready, remove it from the roaster and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving.
What Makes It Special
La Caja China really is a magic box. Nothing else in its price range can roast a whole animal in just a few hours with tender and mouth-watering results achieved without fail. While it’s traditionally used to roast pig, it can also roast chicken, lamb, goat, turkey, and more. In fact, many celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Andrew Zimmern swear by this tool.
Curious about what the finished product is like?
“Ray said that he cooked it in about 5 hours, and the skin was deep golden brown, the meat tender and drippingly moist. The pork itself was succulent and delicious…I could have eaten a whole boat of the skin: biting through it was like closing your mouth on an unctuous, savory, porkish cloud of roasted pig cotton candy. It had crunch but also melted in your mouth. The meat underneath was moist and sweet, with sections of the belly being the best.”Mick Vann, Austin Chronicle, 2013
Better yet, buy yourself one of these roasting boxes and find out for yourself.