“Stories abound about the name Caja China, which literally means ‘Chinese box’ in Spanish. It could have originated in Cuba, from the Chinese labourers in the 1800s, or it could just be that the word China was used to describe the exotic or unusual. There is no doubt this is a very clever cooking box used across the Caribbean. It uses charcoal heat in an enclosed space to roast meat in much less time than it would take by standard fire-roasting methods.” Maeve O'Meara, Food Safari Fire






Skill level

Average: 3.5 (33 votes)


  • 3 firm garlic bulbs, cloves peeled
  • 2 oranges, juiced
  • 1 lemon or lime, juiced
  • 15–30 kg (33–66 lb) whole suckling pig (20 kg (44 lb) is the preferred size)
  • bags of ice
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano



  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 190 ml (6½ fl oz/ ¾ cup) light olive oil or other neutral oil
  • 2 limes, juiced

Cook's notes

Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.


Resting time 20 minutes

To make the marinade, pound the garlic in a mortar and pestle and then add the citrus juices, the cumin and oregano. Combine well and set aside.

The night before you are going to roast your pig, season it generously with salt, especially on the skin side (this will get you that crispy skin). Pour your marin­ade onto the flesh side and rub it in. Season all over with crushed black pepper. Flip it over onto bags of ice (a bathtub works well for holding this overnight). Leave the skin exposed to dry out (this also helps to get you that crispy skin).

Place your pig in between the two racks and secure with four ‘S’ hooks, one on each corner. Place it inside the box on top of the drip tray with skin side facing down. Put the lid on top and place your first batch of charcoal on and ignite it. Put enough charcoal on the top so that once they are ready you could spread a thin layer across the top. Only spread them out once the charcoal is all grey and white. One hour in, add a second batch of charcoal on top of the charcoal that is burning, just to continue the same heat output without burning it too hot.

At this point it’s all about monitoring what’s going on inside the box. You can peek in by lifting a corner slightly every now and then to ensure that nothing is burning. Be careful of steam escaping when doing this and of doing it too often or opening it too wide — that could slow down the entire process. Smaller pigs (around 15–20 kg or 33–44 lb) will like to be about 1½–2 hours with rib side up; larger pigs (21–30 kg or 46–66 lb) should be 2–3 hours with the rib side up. After this time, flip the pig over so the skin side is up. Add more charcoal onto the tray in the centre of the rack to really focus the heat on that skin.

Once the skin is golden and crispy, remove the pig from the box and set aside to rest for about 20 minutes.

To make the mojo, crush the garlic in the mortar and pestle with a pinch of salt to form a fine paste. Heat the oil in  a small pot and pour it over the crushed garlic. It should sizzle a little (do this slowly and carefully — if you’ve heated your oil too much, just set it aside and let it cool a bit). Once everything has cooled, pour in your lime juice and add a good crack of black pepper. A little of this goes a long way.

After the pork has rested sufficiently, carve it up. Meat should be meltingly tender and falling off the bone.

Serve with the mojo.


Photography by Toufic Charabati.


Food Safari Fire starts Thursday 7 January 2016 at 8pm on SBS. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.