The Lechon Chronicles, Chapter I : The Lechonan


I searched through nearly 20 different Filipino cookbooks (many of them still on the shelves at the bookstores) and did not find a single recipe or “how to instructions” for cooking a lechon. Doesn’t that seem odd? Well, not really, I suppose, because how many people are really going to attempt to make lechon at home? It still seems somewhat bizarre, considering that so many folks love lechon, how few of us must know how to cook it at all. Do we just assume we will order this dish at restaurants or specialist purveyors? That we shall rely on hired lechoneros to come for the day to roast a whole pig? Hmmm… So a few weeks ago, I decided that LECHON was going to be my food obsession for the next 6 months or so. Not only was I going to figure out how they slaughtered the young pigs, I wanted to build my own experimental lechonan or place to cook the lechon, and try out several different recipes for lechon until I found the ultimate “Marketman Lechon.” So strap on your cholesterol counters, this is the first chapter in Marketman’s “Lechon Chronicles.”


A lot of the material I gather, discover, glean and record from this planned half-year lechon experiment will be saved for a chapter in a mythical Marketman cookbook dedicated to pork or more narrowly perhaps, just lechon and all of its reincarnations (think fried lechon, sinigang na lechon, dinuguan, paksiw na lechon, and sisig na lechon). So you guys get the highlights, but not all of the “secrets” just yet. :) The plan was to design and build a custom made lechonan, then over the next 6 months, cook 1 lechon a month or so until we arrive at a (hopefully) terrific lechon recipe in time for the Christmas holidays… If six experimental lechons aren’t enough, we may have to keep going and going and going… :) I quickly found that this topic would snowball way beyond anything I could have imagined, and I am so swamped with lechon tidbits that I am slowly beginning to wonder if I will be successful in this quest to come close to perfection on the lechon front. To give you an example, here are some ways to get the skin crisp and yummy — brush with 7Up, just use olive oil, a can of condensed milk, coconut water, sweet soy sauce, gin, brush with water using a mop, spray with water, rub with salt, brine before cooking, start with high heat and reduce the heat, slow cook on low heat then end with high heat, etc. Confused? :(


I once spent a morning with a live little piggy from arrival, to slaughter, cleaning and prepping for the flames. I have some 8-10 pages of notes on that experience alone, and nearly 100 photographs. But I think that many of the photographs are too graphic for this blog and several readers might faint if they saw them. Suffice it to say, the pigs are treated very nicely and as humanely as possible before they are killed for one of the country’s favorite special occasion dishes. The pigs were cute, but I am not a vegetarian, so I live with the reality that I must eat another living being on a regular basis, and sleep soundly nonetheless. The detailed slaughter description will thus be omitted until a book, so you have to assume you are starting with a clean, prepped pig. As for the lechonan itself, I decided to design our own. No rocket science here, you just want to be able to roast a whole animal over a hot flame and remain protected from the environment and elements (sun and rain), the smoke and heat of the fire, etc. What I designed was an 8 foot by 6 foot pit, which should have a depth of about 18 inches (ours is adjustable until we nail the recipe) from the roasting stick or bamboo pole to the coals. On one side of this pit, we designed a 2 foot by 6 foot barbecue grill for chops, chicken parts, fish, etc. and we ordered the cast iron grills from a restaurant supply store in Cebu; you can imagine how huch stuff you can grill on 12 square feet of grill space! Probably more than most inihaw style restaurants! The grills hadn’t arrived when we rushed to use the semi-finished lechonan in these photos, but I will do a follow up post when the lechonan is completed.


When I first arrived in Cebu last Tuesday, the concrete for the lechonan had just been poured the day before. But I noticed the cement walls were simply too high. So the pit was quickly filled with mud/soil followed by 2 inches of dry construction grade sand and the depth inside the pit was reduced to about 18 inches. The main pit was large enough to simultaneously cook two lechons, up to say 30-35 kilos each. The grill on the side, which had a much higher “floor” at around 6 inches below the grill, will eventually provide about 12 square feet of cooking surface. The reason I placed sand at the base of the pit is so that any dripping oils would not pool on a cement base and ignite, charring the pig. Also, the sand reflects the heat up effectively, I think. The sides of the lechonan partially protect the “driver” or the dude who spins the bamboo pole for hours on end from the heat generated by the coals, and the walls prevent breezes from easily dissipating the heat from the coals. The makeshift galvanized iron roof keeps the pig dry, particularly when an unexpected DOWNPOUR hits just after you have started to roast the pig, as it did here!


I was so excited to see the partially finished pit, that I asked if we could take it for a “fat run” two days later. I wanted to cook a lechon for the construction crew who had been working on renovating our office nearby, and the office crew as well. I wasn’t planning to include this maiden roast as part of the Lechon Chronicles, but the results of our first attempt were pretty good, so I will describe our first experiment in the posts ahead…


51 Responses

  1. I was wondering if you built this in Makati! In Cebu pala. Haha, I can just imagine the neighbors fuming if that were the case =) Great project! Did you consider building an enclosed pit, like a big pugon? Having an outdoor version of the wood fired oven of Hyatt’s The Fireplace would be awesome! Great for entertaining…

  2. Chris, it HAD to be in Cebu, in an area away from neighboring homes! But we are thinking alike… I asked the foreman if we could do a real pugon too but he just rolled his eyes. He thinks Marketman is a little looney, I don’t blame him… lee, maybe you can visit Cebu towards Christmas and join one of the lechon experiments!

  3. MM, you just might have opened a pandora’s box. By Christmas, maybe half of your readers in Manila would be visiting Cebu! =)

  4. Hi MM! Where do you get your pigs? I’m not sure if this is true for others too, but from my family’s experience, “non-feeds” fed pigs are yummier than those fed with feeds. We accidentally discovered this because my dad adores lechon, and starting around 2 years ago, he’d keep his own sows and pigs (fed with vegetables and other human-grade food; no feeds). The meat is a lot juicier and tastier than the pigs bought in piggeries.

  5. Nads, I believe anything fed “organically” without any “help” to get it growing faster and bigger is better tasting as well as better for you health wise. When we are in the PI we always end up with lechon that has been fed growers. I believe the chemicals used to grow foods or that are used in factory made foods is the leading cause of cancer.

  6. nads, based on a lot of reading I did for jamon iberico bellota, which are free-range black hoofed pigs that only graze on acorns, I would lean towards first the NATIVE blackish pigs and not the hybrid pinkish piglets, and ideally, organically fed on fruit or nuts or other similar food. Those are almost impossible to find in metro cebu or manila for that matter. So your dad’s approach is brilliant and inspired. Ideally, I would like to buy a young piglet (native, if possible) at say 4 weeks, then keep it in a pen and feed it outrageously un-economic feed like overripe mangoes, chicos, rice, veggies, etc. for say another 4 weeks, then make it into lechon. But before I get to that stage, I am starting with commercially purchased pigs… :) Oranically (non-feed) raised hogs grow slower, but I suspect, grow more deliciously, if that is a word… Now the neighbors are really going to lose it if I have grazing native pigs scooping up all of the fallen chicos on the property!

  7. I have had 3 lechonans here in Australia. The first was made out of a vertically split 44 gallon oil drum, with a rotator attached to an old automobile wiper blade motor and powered by a car battery.. A previous model without a rotating motor depended too much on the good will of guests to take turns rotating the spit, and people got bored easily, so I was doing most of the rotating. A tinsmith fashioned some optional covers of aluminum, should a smoky taste be preffered. This worked fine, until the drum rusted, and rather than use another drum, I bought a commercially made roasting spit, with thermostat and a motor made in Taiwan which functions either on flashlight batteries, or directly from the mains. It also has an optional metal cover, and vents to control heat and smokiness. I use another barbecuer to prepare the charcoal, as I found that this needs replenishing through the cooking process. The ears have to be covered with foil, to prevent them burning, and the legs should be firmly secured to the body, as they can become undone with the shrinkage of the meat.
    I have always used very young pigs, less than a week old, which come dressed and cleaned but I singe the skin iwth a confectioners blowtorch (for creme brulee) to ensure total hairlessness. Because the pigs are so young, flareups are not a problem, as there is minimal subdermal fat.
    I am burning with interest to see how yours turn out.

  8. Lechon Chronicles? My heart stopped. This should be subtitled Lipitor Chronicles! :-)

    Can’t wait for the posts in this series.

  9. during my plant visits to small scale VCO producers, most of them told me that they use the coconut meat residue (after the coconut milk is extracted) and cooked curd (latik residue after heating the coconut milk to extract the oil) as hog feeds. According to them, that practice allows the pigs to grow faster and healthier because the coconut meat residue and curd are high in protein and low in fat.

    my friend, whose family loves lechon, told me that the best lechon they have ever tasted was one made from a newly born piglet(as in mere hours!). yes, that might raise some animal-right issues and such… as you put it, they might be cute, but we’re no vegetarians!

  10. I’m rooting for you from here because I identify with your passionate quest much more than with that of the scientists working on the unified theory of matter. Two random thoughts apropos pig raising.

    In the early sixties, antibiotics were added to packaged animal feed as a propilaxis and to actually combat wholesale sub-clinical infections. The animals fed on it dramatically grew faster and bigger as a result though the probable side-effects were largely ignored if not hidden from consumers. In my town, these fortified feeds were also given to milkfish.

    A reminder that “free range” did not always bask as the unfettered ideal nor with the healthy connotation it holds now. In the years following the end of WWII, free-range meant that the pigs were loose and about (gumagala) serving as well as the sanitation brigade for their communities. Mother only bought pigs grown in pens and fed on rice-bran and molasses.

  11. Whenever there was a reason for a get-together, my late uncle in Cebu was always incharge of the lechon, from slaughtering it in the garage to roasting always in the same spot in lola’s garden (no concrete lechonan). He had 3-4 assistants to turn the banmboo skewer slowly. While the lechon makes its way to the dining table by noon, all the kids try to get their hands on the crispy red skin. By the time it gets to the table, it has been de-skinned! Being so tasty, we ate the lechon with vinegar only. I hope your lechon tastes great and hope, too, that your cholesterol doesn’t hit the roof!

  12. our house helper back home always brags about her lola’s lechon, she’s saying it’s much better than cebu’s lechon, she is from capiz btw. . . I was asking her for the recipe but she always forget to ask her lola, but she mentioned some ingredients like sabaw ng sinigang mix and chopped up lemongrass rubbed inside the pork carcass. . . these are the two ingredients she cannot forget and always tell me. . . together with her sister thy’re always telling me that their lola’s lechon is really really tasty. . .

  13. wil-b, yes the knorr sinigang cubes is a well known tasty shortcut, as far as I can tell. It is rubbed into the stomach/cavity lining and since it is so concentrated, if infuses the meat with the flavor quite well. But with all those chemicals and MSG, I think it is one of the later experiments to try, if at all. I found natural sampaloc leaves and salt to do a lot of the same thing…albeit less intensely flavored…

  14. Oh wow, I’ve actually researched pugon construction on the internet and I found some good resources. My only problem is I don’t have a place to build it on. Maybe in the province, but I’m rarely there…

    How about an Italian-influenced lechon, with rosemary, thyme, fennel and Garlic? Savoury porchetta taste with a crisp lechon skin.

  15. When I was studying animal husbandry at Xavier U in Cagayan de Oro and running our farm at the same time, I use to ship (by boat) to my folk in Cebu their supply of pork (2 to 4 whole pigs) from the farm stock. We would slaughter and clean 3-4 week old piglets and send them to the city ice plant for freezing. Then ship them overnight. The piglets would be so frozen hard that they would hardly thaw during the trip. My Dad would then stick them in the chest freezer and cut them up as needed. One time, my dad decided to have one of them roasted after it sat in the freezer for over a month. The result was awesome!…Meat that melted in your mouth!!!

    Naturally fed native pigs is the way to go. They have more fat than the leaner and longer hybrids.

    Looking forward to being invited to one of your Lechon sessions MM!!! ;-)

  16. Artisan, any idea where to get good little piggies in Cebu these days? ChrisB, I was definitely thinking of doing a thyme and rosemary pig as one of the experiments… And I want to do a bigger pig with the skin slit with a blade, so when it is done, there are strips of cracklings…

  17. I’m eagerly awaiting the rest of the posts and THE BOOK. I can’t believe how excited I am over lechon, your passion is infectious. Are you considering spicy lechon too???

  18. This sounds a bit like it is evolving into a potential Cebu eyeball with a couple of lechons and stuff on the grill… but wait, I need to get it right first! :)

  19. MM…there is a Canadian food show part of Food Network hosted by Carlo Rota…one of the episodes was about PIG ROAST (lechon). This guy from Ontario, had a covered roaster fueled by charcoal and he separated the whole skin from the carcass like when you make chicken with an herb butter under the skin…the lechon was just dusted with a rub and roasted whole for about 12 to 14 hours. It looked scrumptious when it was done…It wasn’t the “pihit “lechon though but it still looed sooo much like our lechon…the nicely browned skin !…

    MM, I would go for the BRINING method for one of the little piggies…I usually brine my turkey before roasting it. I also brine my pork chops, baby back ribs, chicken wings…I am sure it would work with one of the little piggies….PLEASE TRY IT! Somehow, it stays MOIST after grilling the meat and each bite is perfectly seasoned!!!! I also use this SIMPLE GARLICKY BRINE when I make my version of the Chicken Inasal….high heat initially and SLOW ROAST on the barbecue grill….

    Hey, Ms. Chi…if you haven’t tried brining like liempo strips for INIHAW NA BABOY, try is really yummy esp. BARBECUE season is already here in the Pacific Northwest!!!

  20. Hello Marketman,

    I can’t wait to see the finished product along with the recipe. As I read through all the comments I all ready see a compilation of suggested recipe. I’m looking forward to see your version. Wow I am suprise the way you go through great lenght and even customizing your own barbecue pit just to satify a readers request like me. Marketman your “DA BOMB” as my kids tell me each I do something right. I’m amaze with the size of your bbq pit. You had completely blown away the one I have (
    Are you planning to go “Pro” at it ha ha? Seems like your able to roast more than one at time. Go Marketman go, Marketman you’re so good to us.

    Whirled Peas to All,


  21. MM, did you vote for lechon in your survey’s National Dish of the Philippines? :-)

  22. hi mm,
    i remember my lola would feed her piglets with young kamote vines, gabi stalks and leaves and the young part of the banana trunk a couple of weeks before the piglet is to be slaughtered and roasted. when the piglet has been prepared for roasting, it would stand a good 4 hours to dry (that’s why it is slaughtered at dawn) and the cavity is stuffed with banana leaves, pandan,tanglad. for special occasions, it is stuffed with seasoned rice. while roasting, the skin is wiped with vegetable oil using banana leaves fashioned like a mop.
    in those days, lola makes the grilled pork liver sauce from scratch.
    i can just go for the rice stuffing, liver sauce and crispy skin with kamatis then wait for the paksiw na lechon the following day.
    mom use to make this white bean stew using the roasted hocks. so yummy.
    mm, for me, lechon the old fashion way is still the best.
    good luck in your search for the perfect lechon.

  23. The pugon idea seems to be a very good one since you already have the base infractructure. Jamie Oliver uses one and it seems to cook everything fast rfom pizzas to roast to bread!
    Aya, what I would do to have the time and zeal to experiment on food like you do. Thanks for doing it for us though and for keeping us posted

  24. Looks like you have a pit big enough for a carabao roast. What’s wrong with just digging a hole in the ground?
    If you walk down to the corner from Lola’s where the four streets intersect and ask around that’s where the family of Lola’s lechonero lived. Surely he has some descendants still involved in making lechon for A to Z…

  25. Omigod Marketman, one lechon a month for the next 6 months?! Hello high cholesterol! Seriously though, I am looking forward to this lechon series. When I was a kid, our nieghbor across the street had a few pigs in their backyard which would eventually end up being “lechoned”. I still have vivid memories of the pig squealing (or screaming) while being prepared for roasting.

  26. MM, a lechon EB around the lechonan would be a super event to attend! Especially if it’s on MM raised piggies. Where is Joey when we need her to comment??

  27. MM, our regular lechoner in Borbon would add some kind of herb that grows wild in the fields. It faintly resembles Thai basil although a bit more pungent. Have you heard of this?

    I will have to ask her what this is and try to get you some, the next time i get to go to Borbon.

    You could try this in one of your lechon experiments :-)

    PS. Borbon is like 1 1/2 hours north of Cebu City :-) so if you’re planning a lechon EB, count me in!!

  28. MM, all i can say is W-O-W!! Talk about being passionate about a project! :D I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. My lola used to have male helpers who cooked lechon for special occasions. Nothing beats seeing the star of the table being roasted at your own backyard! =) And MM, if you’re pushing though with an EB in Cebu, i’ll surely fly home for it! =)

  29. Love lechon – especially those coming from Cebu, Iligan and Bacolod. I find they taste a lot better than those made here in the Metro. This is one gastronomic and cholesterolic experiment that I will look forward to reading.

  30. MM, pls just monitor your cholesterol and the whole lipid profile in the process,k? sure would have loved to be in your lechon staff, though..for now, i have to be content with this vicarious trip through your site. not as tasty, but i have great imagination.

  31. I discovered frozen roasted babi pangan in an asian shop here in the netherlands (close enough for lechon for me). I still have to try it. Apparently it is also possible to order lechon from a pinoy website here but they deliver only in rotterdam area (far away from where I am). Wonder where they do it?

    anyway, I still remember the horrible screams of a pig when being slaughtered to be roasted..and all those innards but nothing is wasted because if I remember right, the blood is also used for dinuguan and the innards saved for some other dishes.

    I am experimenting with lechon manok until it approximates the andok version there (can’t find any recipe of it) …but experimenting with lechon pig, wow- that’s going to be a pretty big experiment. Hope you have lots of people to share with – otherwise baka maumay kayo before Christmas.

    Will be anticipating results of each of your experiment.

  32. Nice! Your quest reminds me of Heston Bluemthal’s “In Search of Perfection” TV series where he goes out, researches, and experiments on the best way to prepare a particular dish.

  33. Bettyq, come fly with me, let’s fly down to Cebu! Where Marketman is roasting some lechon for me and you! (Sung ala Michael Buble!)

    All this lechon talk is making my stomach rumble….

  34. Oh, my goodness, CecileJ…I was just thinking late this afternoon that if MM makes this LECHON thingy into a PARTEEEEE!!!….I am on the next available flight to Pinas!..That would be really awesome if we could fly together to Cebu…

    Nunosapunso:…I have been here most of my life in B.C. and unfortunately haven’t had the opportunity to taste this lechon manok, andok version, as you say. Have you tried the brining method? When I roast a chicken on the barbecue grill, I first soak the chicken in a brine…if you would like to make another experiment, try this…In a blender, put 2 cups COLD WATER…add 4or 5 really large garlic cloves, 2 tsp. Mediterranean sea salt if you have it, 2 tsp. freshly ground pepper, 2 tsp. garlicky seasoned salt (hero’s brand if you have it there ..if not, 1 part garlic powder to 2 parts ground black pepper to 3 parts salt), and I usually add enough yellow food color. Blend it all , pour into a glass or plastic bowl. Add another 2 cups cold water. Soak the chicken in it. Make sure chicken is submerged. Makemore brine if you need to. Refrigerate overnight. Next day, dry chicken with paper towels. Air dry (just like when you make Peking Duck), Then put in a rotisserie and barbecue. …ON HIGH HEAT INITIALLY and then turn the heat down to medium low. It will take about 2 hours on medium low heat….OR you can butterfly the chicken so it cooks way faster instead of roasting it whole…Let me know if this comes close to what you’re looking for….I really do urge you to try my version…The chicken stays moist and is so flavourful!!!!….tastes just like lechon!!!

  35. Betty Q.- thanks for the lechin manok recipe. I will try it and send you feedback.

    I love this site!

  36. nunosapunso and betty q, I understand that some of thos lechon manok purveyors INJECT a marinade into their chickens and it is the contents of the marinade that is the trade secret. They have franchises and they provide the franchisees with the liquid for injection and basting. Even the franchisees may not know the exact formulation. My guess is that it includes a lot of MSG, garlic, vinegar, soy, sugar, salt, and other powdered flavorings…

  37. wow MM, you really are a passionate to whatever you put your heart into..experiments for 6months, your very own lechonan and high-cholesterol but oh-so-yummy lechon? cool!

  38. We use to live in La Loma, but I never get to see how it is being prepared. all I see is the roasting part na. But I know that there is huge vat where the pigs are marinated with the spices (the tanglad is the only one I recognize), but I never got to learn what’s in it.

  39. Hi Marketman! have you ever tried lechon thats been cooked in a brick oven? I have an aunt who had an authentic brick oven made at her house by a popular Italian guy in Cebu (Guiseppe?). Have you heard of him? I suggest that you have one made too. You can do a lot with it. My aunt makes the best pizzas, lechon, pork belly etc. that i’ve tasted. :)

  40. I’ve had experience in cooking lechon while I was still in Asia but I do not know how to do it here in the US. First off, there are no bamboo poles here that I can use. Can you tell me what’s the alternative to bamboo poles? And how would you secure the pig to the pole?


  41. MM, if you still dont know where to get little piggies in Cebu, try the “tabo” in Dalaguete. our lechon supplier from Talisay gets their stock there. just make sure though that the piggies are not fed with papaya coz i heard the meat would taste bitter.

    so, is there an EB in Cebu? im from Cebu and will be home for the holidays…will i have an invitation then? :)

  42. terrey, yes there is an eyeball on November 15, check the archives for details… and thank you for that tip on the piggies in Cebu… we have found a supplier, but I have been meaning to hit the Dalaguite market one day soon anyway!



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