Are you holding on to something? Maybe you should sit down, a good sit. MeatHenge Labs is proud to introduce our very own La Caja China Roasting Box. This year we’ll be able to roast a 100 lb pig. Since I figure I’ll need a little practice, turkeys get to go first. My eyes are vibrating along with shaky hands as I get this down on monitor. The Caja China is a portable plywood box lined with steel. The marinade injected meat goes inside on a rack over a fat tray. Once loaded, a charcoal tray goes on top. In this tray goes maybe 14lbs of Kingsford charocal briquets. It’s kinda like a pressure cooker, a big pressure cooker. There is no smokey flavor, just roasting like in a big fricken’ oven. This is a fine wonderful thing.
It showed up last week unassembled, two boxes. No instructions. Well, since I bought it off their web site, the instructions must be there too. They were, it would have been nice to have printed instructions though. I found that since the wood they used was green and a bit warped it didn’t go together quite as they had planned, plus I ended up with pieces that weren’t listed on their parts list. Interesting. With some heavy breathing, heavy pounding of hammers and some grief I got the sucker together.
I did a little reading on their web site about marinating, cooking times and technique. I found it all a bit vaque for my taste and had to rely on my own skill to get things together in the right order on time. They included a Marinating Syringe, which seemed fine. I tried Tony Chacere’s Butter Injectable Marinade and found the fake butter flavor quite nasty. This caused me to come up with something on my own. Please read yesterday’s entry about injecting the pork butt for a closer view on what I actually used. But suffice it to say the slurry really needs to be strained through a fine sieve. See? The saltier the better.
Here we find Madam Crepinette (The Meat Fairy) introducing our two lucky contestants. There really wasn’t much to dressing the turkeys. Wash, dry & inject. Caja China makes a strong point about making sure the meat you put in the oven is at room temperature. Which is how you install meat in a smoker, not cold or frozen. I suppose the marinade sat in the bird for about an hour before roasting. I smooshed the marinade & some of Tony Chacere’s Creole spice rub over the birds. Easy.
Here we see the assembled Caja China. For size reference I added a load of Tiny E.
This portion of the day took some thought, so I opened a Pabst Blue Ribbon and sat down for a while. You see, there are printed instructions ON the side of the box itself. I determined these were really for a pig. I went back to the web site to see if I could glean anything useful. Again, I found it vague. I suppose I really wanted a step by step procedure and some theories as to how things work. As near as I could fathom one started 14 lbs of charcoal evenly spread over the lid. Breast side up for an hour, then flip for another 1.5 hours. Add another 4 or 5 lbs of charcoal for that last 1.5 hours. I was very concerned about using too much charcoal and roasting for too long. Why? Because this damned box was designed for roasting 100 lbs of meat and all I had was 28 lbs of turkey. Finally I had to stop torturing myself and get to work. Onward.
Initially I thought I was going to use those chimney charcoal starters for the first 14lbs. That didn’t make sense very quickly and I used my Weber Tool Storage grill for starting charcoal. Yes, I used the dreaded fluid. It had to start ALL of the charcoal evenly. I used a garden shovel to turn them a few times so they all greyed together and not in one spot.
Another point I didn’t find covered in the instructions was anything to do with ‘seasoning’ the box. When you buy a new smoker or cast iron fry pan you always rub with oil first. I decided to follow my instincts and season the box, easy enough.
When the charcoal had greyed, in went the rack and in went the birds. It was all coming together and I was feeling a little less crazy about the whole thing. Man, I’m glad I decided to try this out first before doing it at a party.
On went the lid and using the garden shovel once again, loaded up the charcoal in an even layer.
Val from Babalu blog was nice enough to send me an email with a few pointers. Using a bit less charcoal, cooking it slower and longer than recommended and most of all, Ash Management. You must keep the ash to a minimum. Which is tough because that charcoal on the top generates enough heat to melt you hair from 3 feet away. Once again, I found these finer points missing from the web site. I say, keep this beast at least 5 feet from anything remotely flammable. Plus you want more than just ‘leather gloves’. You want insulated elbow length leather gloves. I found mine at Ace Hardware in the Fireplace department, they’re cool. They’re RED. Red leather is cool.
This is what I found after the first hour. It is time to flip and do some Ash Management. At first glance they look a little singed, but trust me, they’re FINE.
I used my red leather gloves to flip the meat as well. Using forks or sticks is too dicey. You need to flip and move fast.
Add another 4 or 5 lbs of charcoal. I didn’t preburn this load and it worked out just fine. However, if you think the existing charcoal won’t be enough to start a fresh load, you MUST preburn your charcoal to keep the oven temp rolling along.
At this point I was feeling VERY happy about this whole situation. Everything was dialed in to perfection. Here we see our turkeys completed after the turn 1.5 hours ago. That’s a total of 2.5 hours for 28 lbs of turkey and a 20 lb bag of Kingsford.
Take another close look people, that’s DRIPPINS down there. Do you have ANY idea how great this is? Let me lay it down. Not only did we cook our turkeys outside, freeing up the kitchen/oven, but we now have what we need to make a quart of world class gravy. It was like being born again. This was clearly what everyone who cooks for the holidays needs. EVERYONE. Cooking only pigs with this box is a waste of resources. We have roasted meat, we have gravy and if you rolled corn/taters/vegies up in foil pouches with sauce and laid those on the open coals of the Caja china you’d have an entire meal. Heck, do up a loaf or 3 of garlic bread in foil and roast that as well. Toss on some more coals AFTER the meal and heat up a pot of water for fresh coffee.
This Caja China is a complete package. Just like Miss America, a complete package. Same thing.
Next time stuff those cavities with home made sausage. Now THAT will make some Gravy, hoo YAH !!!
I’ve never had breast meat this juicy drippy. Not even when I lined the breast meat with bacon and cooked it upside down. Admittedly I haven’t had deep fried turkey, yet. But you can’t get gravy from a deep fried turkey, which is why I haven’t bothered. You can’t get decent gravy from a smoked turkey either. No gravy, no cook.
UPDATE: December 29th 2006
Holy crap! Here our good Meathenge buddy Mr. Bannister steps up with this load of chickens in his roaster. He tells me there’s going to be a whole pig in there this coming weekend! Dang. Thank you sir for this beautiful meat image.