• Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

Mallet

My first spit-roast

13 posts in this topic

I'm prone to not really thinking ahead and to making grandiose plans, but sometimes people actually indulge me. For example, when I decided to handle the food for my wedding, no one objected. Why on earth would I do such a thing? Mostly, because it's a fun, informal family gathering and northern NB has not much by way of catering (to my knowledge). We're also doing all the decorations, handling accommodations for guests etc..., but that's another story.

We decided to go the spit-roast route, and rather than buy a commercial rig, we decided to design a spit and have it made for us locally. My dad and I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's pictures in the River Cottage Meat Book as a guide, and drafted some plans. Here is the result.

gallery_27988_6708_7935.jpg

The most salient feature of this design is its dual fire pits. The idea is to make all the heat indirect, which minimizes the chances of burning and also makes it easier to add large quantities of fuel at a time.

the pit

gallery_27988_6708_24285.jpg

The pits are approximately 6 x 2 x 1 ft. The top is stainless steel, while the bottom is not, but has been painted with some sort of heat resistant BBQ paint. There's also a cross bar for support, and the whole thing can be taken apart (you can see the bolts holding the structure together above). If I had to redo-it, I would put another set of nuts on the vertical face, but the cross bars do a great job stabilizing the whole thing so it's a minor point. The bottom and inside faces are made of mesh to keep airflow high, while the sides as solid to redirect heat.

the crank

gallery_27988_6708_22315.jpg

This is the crank. We left room at the other end to attach a motor, but I insisted there at least be a manual option in case the motor breaks down. The handle is made of teflon, so it shouldn't burn or melt. It locks in 8 different positions with the help of the large stainless steel disk and locking pin (the t-shaped thing at the bottom). To rotate the shaft, simply remove the pin and crank. The shaft is set in two pilot bearings, which rotate incredibly smoothly.

The barely visible hooks in this picture are to adjust height. The pilot bearings are bolted on to an inverted "U", which engages the hooks. To adjust the height two people are needed to lift the bar and set it onto the desired hooks. Not the most fun job when the fire is roaring, but I've found height adjustments not very necessary (it's much easier to simply modulate the fire).

Before the wedding, we thought it would be a good idea to put the spit through its paces, and it just so happened that we had another occasion to celebrate! My family is in the oyster business, and we just opened NB's first commercial shellfish hatchery. The grand opening was last weekend, and after the press conference, I ran off to my aunt's house to start a fire.

the fire

gallery_27988_6708_56139.jpg

This thing cranks out epic heat. For the first hour or so we just tried to built up a good amount of ambers. The aluminium foil is there because my aunt didn't want me to mess up her tiles, although in retrospect putting little wood weights there was not a great idea (it all basically vaporized).

For our inaugural run, we decided to roast some lamb (40lb) and some chickens (10lb each). The shaft, is quite large (1.5 in square), so getting it through was a bit of a challenge. I've heard some people use different size shafts depending on what they are roasting, we managed to fit everything on there. I simply rubbed the meat with some olive oil, salt, and pepper.

the meat

gallery_27988_6708_74893.jpg

You can see that the meat is raised fairly high above the pits, even on the lowest setting. We burned about 6 cubic feet of wood every half an hour throughout the process (over the 3.5 hour cook time we burned about a quarter of a cord of mostly maple and beech). I was turning it randomly (more erratically as I drank more), but I would guess it amounted to a quarter turn every 20min.

nearing completion

gallery_27988_6708_17437.jpg

At this stage I was putting on wood towards the ends only, for two reasons. One was to avoid overcooking the ribs (which are much thinner), and also, to cook the chicken well. I was quite surprised at how evenly everything cooked. After about 3.5 hours, we decided to pull everything off. By this time, the chickens were at ~160F, and the lamb was ~150F, with a bit color left in the thickest parts.

done

gallery_27988_6708_26015.jpg

carving

gallery_27988_6708_9674.jpg

I was convinced the lamb was going to be dry and overcooked, but my relatives insisted the meat be well done (I would normally pull it off closer to 120-125F if I was roasting a joint at home). I was wrong. Everything was delicious and juicy owing to the fact that the fat and collagen managed to break down. Not bad for a first try!

It was really great to have a chance to do a test run before the big day in 3 weeks, I'm planning on roughly doubling the cooking time for a 90 lb pig (8-9 hours).


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fantastic! Thanks for the details. While I don't think I'll engineer something that large, I've always been intrigued about the idea of making a custom spit so I may have to use your report as the basis for getting going on my project.

By the way, do you have any close-up photos of the meat? I'd be interested in seeing the finished dish.

Second question, I assume since you noted the lamb was about 40 lbs. that it was a Spring Lamb from this year? Where did you source the lamb? Was it from a local farmer or through the internet? I'd be interested in spit-roasting a whole lamb, but I might be interested in spit roasting a mutton leg if I could find it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Amazing. Have you considered putting some kind of pan on the ground instead of foil, to catch drippings? I always felt that roasting was great advance over grilling (which presumeably was invented by cave men) because it allowed you to catch the drippings.

I don't know exactly what the traditional arrangement looked like, but I think it involved a pan sitting on top of embers.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Fantastic!  Thanks for the details.  While I don't think I'll engineer something that large, I've always been intrigued about the idea of making a custom spit so I may have to use your report as the basis for getting going on my project.

By the way, do you have any close-up photos of the meat?  I'd be interested in seeing the finished dish.

Second question, I assume since you noted the lamb was about 40 lbs. that it was a Spring Lamb from this year?  Where did you source the lamb?  Was it from a local farmer or through the internet?  I'd be interested in spit-roasting a whole lamb, but I might be interested in spit roasting a mutton leg if I could find it.

By all means! Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the lamb because I was busy carving it. I would say this is pretty close.

I didn't really have much to do with the details of the event, but I think my dad managed to pick up a whole lamb at the local SuperStore (the Barrington St. one, for the Haligonians out there: they have a great meat counter). It was definitely Nova Scotia lamb, which is primarily marketed through the Northumberland Lamb Co-op.


Edited by Mallet (log)

Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Amazing. Have you considered putting some kind of pan on the ground instead of foil, to catch drippings? I always felt that roasting was great advance over grilling (which presumeably was invented by cave men) because it allowed you to catch the drippings.

I don't know exactly what the traditional arrangement looked like, but I think it involved a pan sitting on top of embers.

I agree that catching the drippings would be great, but I'm not too sure how to implement it. The pan would have to be huge to catch all the drippings, and how would you keep all the ash from the fire out?


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Martin, that thing is awesome!

I often buy Northumberland lamb from the Barrington Street SuperStore but in much smaller amounts. I've never been disappointed, and that particular store often has the 50%-off-cook-today-or-freeze sticker on lamb cuts.

Have you been to W.G. Oulton & Sons Farm in Windsor? That's were I'd go for a whole lamb (or steer, boar, hog, goat, goose, duck, pheasant, quail, emu, ostrich, rabbit, deer, elk, etc.) Their website sucks but they supply some of the best restaurants around. It's 40 minutes from Halifax at the foot of Martock ski hill.

Your wedding guests are in for a big treat -- congratulations.


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That thing is awesome!

Talk about using a lot of wood though....yeeeeeeesH!


"He who does not mind his belly, will hardly mind anything else."

- Samuel Johnson

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That looks great! Seems like a wedding that is truly one of a kind. With the open pit and all, a Medieval theme for the wedding works really well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just had to bump this back to the top, and say that's a thing of beauty. I've always been a "pig in the ground with banana leaves" guy, but that device has me completely envious.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, the big day has come and gone, and the pig roast was quite a success! I don't really have much to add to the procedure given above, except that we added sheet metal to the bottom of the baskets to help build up the ash/heat. I think our efficiency of wood usage roughly doubled as a result. The pig took about 9 hours to finish (it was roughly 100 lbs dressed).

4087855104_367046b730_o.jpg

4087097817_9a1bd4bbe0_o.jpg


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Dear Martin,

i am also about to construct a spit roast based on the Meat book by Hugh Fernley....

I was wondering if you managed to draw up a design for the spit that you built? and if you were willing to share those designs?

Also, did you end up mounting an electric motor to the spit? if so what size did you use and how did you connect it to the crank?

I look forwrad to hearing from you.

Joel

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

May I offer a reply while you're waiting for Martin ? A friend of mine who set up a "Charcoal Chicken" restaurant in SEA, used an automotive windscreen wiper motor, and bicycle chain and sprockets.


QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.