How to use a Caja China

What’s a Caja China?

Flipping a whole pig in a caja china

La Caja China has many names, from China Box to pig roasting box to Cajun microwave in Louisiana. While this method hails from Cuba, the Caja China translates directly to Chinese box. Food historians are split on the origins of the name on the island. Some argue Chinese railroad workers brought over the device in the 1850s, while others say “Chinese” referred to anything exotic in Cuba. Traditionally, the Caja China is used around the holidays to make a whole pig roast for a family.

Regardless of origin, the Caja China produces the moistest, most tender roasted pig without having to dig a hole - and in about half the time.

How it Works

The Caja China is a 2ft by 4ft lidded wooden or metal box. It is usually on wheels and easy transport if you have a truck or minivan. The inside of the box is lined with metal and there’s a grate in the center that holds your meat, often a butterflied pig. The box has a tight-fitting lid and on top of that lid, there is a metal shelf where you place the coals. No fire ever touches the meat. Instead, the hot air circulates inside the box and slowly roasts the pig. The Caja China works like a microwave, as the Louisiana nickname suggests.

Where can you get one?

You can buy them everywhere from Williams-Sonoma to Home Depot, as well as online. If you are so inclined, you can also build one yourself. Pay attention to the size of your box, as that will determine the size of the pig you can use. You will pay anywhere from $350-$600 for your Caja.

What do I need?

Hot coals on top of a caja china

Coals, lighter fluid, a lighter, a shovel for handling the coals and thermometers. You should invest in two good thermometers: one to take the temperature of the meat and a second to take the temperature of the box. This way, you can monitor how hot the air is circulating and adjust coal temperature accordingly.

How do I get started? 

The hardest part about using a Caja China is getting the fire started. We use the two pyramid method. Once you have the pig inside and the tray on, build two pyramids of coals on each end of the box. Use lighter fluid to douse the coals and then light them. Once you have a blaze, you can add more coals to even out the heat. About an hour to hour and a half in, you can add another half bag of coals to distribute the heat further. 

From there, you want to monitor the temperature with your two thermometers and regulate it adding more coals as needed. 

What can I make? 

 Whole pig being served.

Whole pig being served.

The Caja China should be used for more than just pork! Whole chickens, turkeys for Thanksgiving, and pork shoulders all work well. Other than whole pigs, we have had the best success with whole pig shoulders placed in metal trays inside the Caja.

Our Puerto Rican pig rub is the perfect recipe for your first whole pig. Our butcher recommends slicing small holes in the skin of the pig and stuffing in garlic. When the pig has hit temperature (165°F) you can flip the pig, add more coals to up the temperature and roast the skin.

You do not need a holiday to roast a whole pig! Start small with a whole chicken or pork shoulder. Look for Caja Chinas at stores near you.


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