The Lechon Chronicles, Chapter III : “The Fat Run”


We looked at this first attempt as the porcine equivalent of a dry run. “Practice lang,” we all agreed. Marketman was in a rush to test the lechonan before going away on a summer holiday. Expectations were quite tempered, and this was not to be counted as lechon experiment #1. But the results were quite decent, so I thought I should include this lechon as experiment zero, or the “fat run.” The first step to attempting a lechon at home is to have friends, family or brilliant or eager crew on hand. This was a MAJOR production, and frankly, I only did about 1% of the work! So the first essential ingredient is the manpower!


What I love about this early effort is the amount of existing equipment/plants/materials we managed to use. Once the piglet was slaughtered, it was scalded in hot water in this enormous old kawa or frying pan, something from my grandmother’s basement that hadn’t been used in some 20-30 years and probably came from her bakery in the 1960’s. We had to brush off a lot of rust, but once cleaned, it was the perfect vessel for scalding to facilitate the removal of the piglet’s hair. We also crafted the spit or main stick that would carry the lechon out of a bamboo pole that we collected from an old stand of bamboo at the edge of the property. We cut the bamboo pole the day before, and the end cut until pointed, like a giant sharpened pencil, and the other end fitted with another piece of bamboo, making a “steering wheel” to help turn the spit easily. We used lots of lemongrass or tanglad that I had planted on the property about 8 months ago. The plants are thriving and happy, and we cut the tanglad just minutes before we stuffed it into the pig. We also happened to have a sampaloc or tamarind tree that had lots of fresh young leaves, also a stuffing ingredient.


The crew also crafted a large basting brush with a section of a bamboo pole, the bristles were made from banana leaves, also found growing on the property. I was amazed because so much of this paraphernailia and ingredients were available in our immediate surroundings… it was so natural, so unlike Marketman’s crazed shopping trips through Manila groceries to pull together one meal. Also by chance, one of our crew from Manila was headed to her hometown in Western Cebu for her annual vacation, and her siblings came to pick her up in Cebu City, bringing with them some spectacular homemade coconut vinegar (a white version, and the red version) as a gift for Marketman. The vinegars were used in the dinuguan made from the pig’s blood and entrails.


To tie the lechon to the bamboo pole, we used all natural strips of rattan. Rattan does not burn easily. Make sure that you secure the carcass to the pole tightly so it doesn’t spin around the pole loosely… For the fire, get at least 2-3 sacks of ood charcoal. This was our first big error on the first attempt. We only got one sack of charcoal and they were all crumbled pieces, so we basically ran out of charcoal and had to resort to some leftover wood from the nearby construction project to finish off the lechon!


The lechon was stuffed with lots of tanglad or lemongrass, lots of green onions, young leaves of sampaloc or tamarind, and several cups of salt. We thought it would take just 2 hours to cook the barely 15 kilo piglet, but a lack of heat turned this into a 3 hour cooking process. During the early stages of the roasting, the pig was basted with water to keep the skin from burning too early…


Marketman, did, in fact, take his turn at rotating the spit, but for a brief fraction of the total cooking time. When the smoke gets in your eyes, it is wicked painful…


…after two hours, it was clear the pig wasn’t cooking fast enough, and we were running low on charcoal, so the crew resorted to wood from the construction site. I think this was necessary given the situation, but I wouldn’t do this again. Instead, I would have enough charcoal on hand to ensure a higher cooking temperature.


It was raining cats and dogs for about 40% of the time we cooked the pig and I don’t think this helped our cause. The really humid weather and spray of rainwater had to have affected the final outcome… When it looked like we only had about 40-45 minutes left of cooking, we started to baste the pig with coconut water, from coconuts harvested on the propery just minutes earlier. The coconut water contains some natural sugars that I guess caramelize and help to provide the wonderful color to lechon skin… And during the last 10-15 minutes, the pig was basted with some vegetable oil to help get that last crisping of the skin before serving…


I must say the resulting pig looked pretty darned good. A nice medium brown, achieved with no tricks of the trade like a slathering of sweet soy sauce, or condensed milk, or other sweeter ingredients. AFter taking the pig off the fire, let it rest for 10-15 minutes before carving it up. The skin crisps up a bit more during this cooling period.


Some of the skin from the near the “shoulders” of the pig was nice and crisp; but most of the skin was disappointingly makunat or a bit chewy still. The meat of the lechon, however, tasted very good indeed. And it came off the carcass with ease, having been slow cooked and infused with so much flavor! Succulent is really the best word to describe the meat, particularly the meat near the ribs of the lechon. Some of the meat was a bit too salty, but otherwise, thumbs up!


Overall, I thought this trial lechon rated about a 6.5 to 7.0 out of 10.0. And we are definitely aiming for at least a solid 9.0/10.0 in December! The skin and consistent color got a low 5.5 on this version. But the taste rated a 7.5-8.0, for an average of roughly 6.5.

Lessons learned from this trial run?

1. Have more than enough charcoal on hand before you start roasting the lechon.
2. Allow the cleaned pig to “dry off” on the spit for at least an hour.
3. Rub the inside cavity with salt and lightly crushed pepper, before stuffing with copious amounts of lemongrass, green onions and tamarind or whatever mixture you prefer to use.
4. Carefully sew up the cavity so that the lechon doesn’t “leak” too much. And wipe away any leaks as the liquid tends to discolor the skin of the lechon.
5. Start with more heat than we did… not sure yet how much more.
6. Pick a DRY day to do this if possible, not when near storm gales are blowing.
7. Experiment with other ingredients to baste the lechon with to ensure a crunchier skin.
8. Buy a whole lot of Lipitor or Crestor to survive the rest of these experiments! :)

A post on the meal that accompanied this lechon up in the next few days…


46 Responses

  1. wow! looks delicious.. does the cooking time depends on the size of the pig? or just the heat source? tnx

  2. zofhia, actually both. Size of pig and amount of heat will determine the length of cooking time. I suspect that heavy rain and winds also affect cooking time…

  3. My sister attempted to do this in Melbourne, Australia a couple of years ago. The result she says was pretty good. She said that would be the first and last time to do it because it took almost 4 hours to roast the pig. I told her to try roasting a cuchinillo next time. Apparently it is very difficult to buy suckling/sucking pigs over there (I chuckled reading how much discussion went on over this). The neighbors also had to chip in a bit to turn the pig over the spit. It makes you admire these people who do it for a living. Now you know why it is not found in cookbooks. Most will not be recreating this in their backyards even in the provinces. Let they pros do their mastered craft and let the rest of us enjoy the fruits of their expertise. I thank you though for sharing you invaluable experience with the rest of us.

  4. Forgot to mention that the best part of the lechon for me is the cheek area. It has the most tender meat and the thinnest and crunchiest skin followed by the ribs and belly area where most of the flavor is. This was not a category in your poll and too good to be left to the “others”.

  5. hi MM,
    i am one of the few (unlucky!!! huhuhu!)who only knew about your site just 2 wks ago. i must really thank YUMMY mag for this. i was at the mall 2 wks ago and i chanced upon this mags for sale at 4 for P100 and 2 for P100. so, i tried my luck at these YUMMY mags which i am reading for the 1st time coz’ i am a FOOD magazine addict. to my surprise it had really good stuff inside and i chanced upon you in one of the pages. i admit i was really intrigued so i sat down and started to type your website….i am soooooo happy,impressed,satisfied etc etc etc and i asked myself why havent i known your site in all these years!!!! i really do not cook (some lucky days i would) but i love to browse at food sites and buy lots of cookbooks. i really went to your archives and started at the bottom which is 2004-the year you started this blog. as of this time i am still in the start of the dec 2005 entries which i really loveeee. i do not want to skip anything and i have already jotted down a lot of recipes from you (which i really hope to do in the future…hahaha!!!). i have also known a lot of places to eat, places to buy and try. i love chocolates esp. that La Maison De Chocolat and i really am looking forward to try this july when i go to new jersey. i will ask my brother to take me when we go to new york….. Royce chocolates are really good that i ask my friends from singapore to buy them for me at the takashimaya. more power to your site and here’s hoping for many years of information regarding food, foodstores, markets, recipes and menus….(i’d also love to see you in person)……tanx for people like you who are never selfish and who shares information to a lot of foodies like us…..tanx a lot MM!!!!!

  6. Try using sangke (star anise)with lemon grass, garlic, peppercorns,onion bulb (sliced) green (whole), msg (if using),etc….
    Before roasting, bathe pig in salt water and msg solution, allow to dry. Soy sauce and condensed milk turns the skin crystal hard, not good! Our lechon is mestiza, not dark brown but the skin is thin and crisp, because we baste it with oil and melted salt.

  7. Congratulations on first attempt! It’s amazing what lengths you’ll go to for your passion!

  8. MM,

    I heard that in Cebu, sometimes they put a whole chicken to roast inside the pig being lechoned. Is this true? Then what do they put inside the chicken? An egg? ha ha sounds funny..


  9. really looks yummy, this brings back childhood memories as we used to roast our own backyard pig on fiestas, christmas and an apo’s christening..

  10. Loving your experiment… I will definitely be tuned in till you’ve perfected it! (although this one looks so delicious already)

  11. MarketFan says: They put a turkey inside the pig, a chicken inside the turkey, a quail inside the chicken, a galunggong inside the quail, a dilis inside the galunggong, and one siling labuyo inside the dilis.

  12. MM, will the dark skin (or just the spots) of a native pig affect the color of the finished lechon? Will it be darker, or have dark spots? Just wondering…

  13. ChrisB, honestly, I have no idea… but how bizarre to have a mottled pig, bizarre… Yikes, I think I have to do at least 20 pigs before I will be able to say I have really done a comprehensive review of this matter… :)

  14. Marketfan and Lee: Lechturducken! A Thanksgiving treat (or urban legend!), so MM can try to make it a regular xmas addition.

  15. Wow, the color looks great! It just makes we want to run to our nearby lechon store where i’m sure it won’t be as tasty. We (i mean my cousin) roasted a pig last year from their own poultry. They will hire someone next time instead. Takes a looong time but was extra special for all the effort.

  16. Suggest you dig an oval pit to concentrate the heat so you don’t use too much charcoal. You might try putting portholes in your cement barricade so you can lower or raise the pole as necessary. I spent many a summer day watching the lechonero of Lola. He came at 5 am to butcher the pig, scald and pull off the hairs, and then hung the pig from the rafters of the laundry shed to dry. He came back at 3 pm to start the fire, stuff the pig, sew it up and roast it. Maybe you can start with a very low fire and get it hotter towards the end to crisp all of the skin.

  17. Marketman,
    Your open pit is actually low tech, primitive cooking system.

    In doing Lechón is actually Rotisserie.

    Conserve heat by wall off the width of the pit.

    Lowering the portholes as SISTER says,

    Installing a dome over or a flat removal cover for basting and checking the Lechon.

    The outcome, less cooking time, saves energy, uses less charcoal. Even cooking Temperature. Voila.

    I’m backseat cocinero.

  18. I remember my uncle roasting pig every Christmas for the whole family.We all look forward to this event. Now that I am reading the agony and excitement of the preparation, I feel bad I took it all for granted. Anyway the memories stay with me.

  19. man, this takes me way back to my childhood days. We always had lechon for major celebrations but it was home roasted right in our backyard in a bare dirt area designated for this purpose. For large parties, there would be 2 or 3 lechons roasting away.

    No special ovens, no pits, just crossed and twined bamboos staked to the ground to hold the spit. Regular wood was used instead of charcoal and I have no idea how the pigs were seasoned – I was too young to care for such details. All I know is that the smell of roasting lechon is forever engraved in my memory. It was many decades later on a visit home that I had my first taste of store bought lechon. Elars, supposedly the state of the art lechon. I personally thought ours tasted as good if not better!

    MM, the big barbecue places around here use a cleaning mop for basting! You know, the old fashioned cloth kind. It makes sense because it holds a lot of basting liquid and it has a long handle. Plus, if the basting liquid is too liquidy, the mop has a squeezer thingie.

    Also, isn’t construction wood usually coated with some kind of preservative or resin? Is that ok to use for barbecuing?

  20. we tried roasting a pig in the island where I am right now (you could have just imagined how the rastahs reacted). We actually put the same filling (lemongrass, tamarind leaves and green onions with lots of salt) as yours but before we started roasting the pig we “massaged” it first with coke (1.5L for the same 15kilo pig that we used)

  21. My brother who lives in Austin, Tx. has a stainless steel portable lechon pit with a motorized rotisserie. He pours the charcoal, mounts the spit and sits on a beach chair with a beer in hand…..Now, thats what’s missing in your picture MM….everyone holding a bottle of ice cold san miguel!!! ;-)

  22. Do I smell academic paper? “An Comprehensive Study of Lechon Preparation in the Philippines: Evaluation and Results by M. Marketman.” I hear you on the Lipitor and would suggest moving it higher up the list! This is going to be a long experiment! :-)

  23. Makunat skin can be salvaged by putting it in the microwave – about 3 to 5 minutes per plateful. It crisps on cooling. Cover the skin with a paper towel/napkin to prevent splatter.
    Enclosed rotissries give more of a smokey flavour, which is pleasant but not the same as the original lechon of our childhood.
    Spanish restaurants soemtimes make it a feature to cut up the cochinillos ith the edge of a plate on the table to demonstrate tenderness. Those are wonderful, but not our lechon. There is a restaurant in Madrid that uses its original 17th century ovens for its roasts.

  24. Not bad for your first attempt MM, regardless of the outcome you were hoping for, to me it looks very promising!

  25. Another version of Artisan Chocolatier’s brother’s lechonan USA style (meaning walang crew) is what we have here in Iowa:

    A handy friend fabricated a large drum into a portable lechonan (with wheels & trailer attachment) with motorized rotisserie (& this is quite important here), thermometer, gas heat & control (which can raise or lower the temperature, control cooking time), racks for roasts on top level, small window on the cover (for checking & tikim-tikim without opening up the whole drum), plus a sliding base where charcoal is placed (so as not to open the whole drum when replenishing). We can use both charcoal & gas heat, or just simply charcoal or gas heat only.

    A Filipina friend has a hog farm so she is our source for our pigs. The lechonan, being portable, is lent to everyone who needs it. We’ve had oh so many wonderful lechon parties!

  26. wow! that’s looking so good. first time i’ve heard of buco water for the skin. i think mastering the art of crisp skin is the justification for the next few leachons. and tip No. 8 seems de riguer for the next few months…

  27. cool!!! I think we made lechon once in my Grandpas backyard when I was a kid, for a big gathering. . . until now I cant imagine how the skin is made that crisp. . .

  28. MarketMan you made me crave lechon so bad! Now I’m thinking about how yummy lechon would be for lunch.:) I have a question though, what is the difference between lechon in some parts of the Philippines and that of Cebu? I heard so much about it but unfortunately, I haven’t tried it yet:( Are there any stores here ni Manila that sells “authentic” Lechon Cebu or close to it?

  29. Maybe a more enclosed roasting pit could do a better job in containing the heat? Not sure though if the meat would get a smoky taste if you do make it an oven-like roasting pit.

    I saw an episode on the Food channel once about this Cuban-style way of roasting pigs (this site pretty much describes it) where blocks of bricks are stacked together to form the roasting pit. The pig is splayed out open though and is roasted within a steel mesh (not very pinoy-style, I must admit :)). Anyway, I just thought there’s something in their process/technique that can be gleaned from …

    Good luck in your quest :)

  30. AleXena, the main difference of lechon from cebu (and other parts of visayas, methinks) is the way the pig is seasoned. The pig is well-seasoned, especially with salt such that the sauce is seen as an affront to the taste of the meat. In Manila, the sauce is standard because of the somewhat blander pig. But the sauce is not needed and often ignored for the visayan version. Elar’s sells a “cebu-style” lechon and i know many other manila-based sellers do the same. One can also order from cebu and they put the pig on the plane. =)

  31. zena: pig on the plane? Wow, the visuals. Sounds like somethin’ Samuel L. Jackson might look into!

  32. zena: So that’s why in MarketMan’s survey about the way we eat our lechon, the meat being dipped in vinegar was included as one of the options. I cannot figure out why there’s a need to dip the lechon meat in vinegar (as well as patis) when it is already bland. Turns out Cebu-style lechon is more seasoned in taste :)

    I am from the Tagalog region so I am accustomed to the more bland lechon, hence the need for liver sauce. Thank you for the information. Now I am on my quest to find Elar’s and taste the Cebu-style lechon.

  33. By the way, there’s a pig roaster made of stainless steel distributed in Mla by Merit Stainless Steel, Inc., Food Service Equipment division. Its not very expensive and would be very convenient for those who do not have a big backyard like MM. I saw one of this when I was looking and inquiring for a chicken rotisserie for Lechon Manok business.

  34. good day mr marketman, my family has been making and selling lechon for the past few decades.. If you have the time.. I would like to invite you to get to see how one is made (manila-style), from the slaughter to cooking..if it would help your have my email with you its an open invitation to you, sunday is the best day to go see.. a little thank you gesture for the wonderful posts you have shared with me these past almost 2 years if have been your reader. Cheers!

  35. lechon, omigosh, THANK you so much for the offer!!! I am going away for a few weeks but I will definitely email you when I get back. I have seen the slaughter in detail, so perhpas from stuffing to cooking would be terrific! Thank you again…

  36. This is pure torture! Just came upon your site last week, and you’re featuring my favorite food in the world. I’m driving my household crazy by constantly craving visayan Lechon and dinugoan! Thanks for nothing hahaha (drool)

  37. Hi MM! Ibang level na ang culinary prowess mo! The bar you’ve set is so stratospheric. I remember some popular lechon suppliers we talked to reveal that they rub Knorr sinigang mix inside the piggy’s belly together with the tanglad. That gives it a more robust saltiness… Kudos to your fun porkilicious experiment!

    On an off-kilter note (and I know I shall be dangerously dated by using this as reference), I suddenly remembered the La Germania ad where they roasted lechon oh so casually inside a range oven. Wala lang…

  38. Gigi: The La Germania ad was during the Silver Swan Piñarap era when Rod Navarro was the king of endorsements.

  39. MM,

    Thanks for the lechon inspiration – now I’m very eager to make my own; adn will apply your basting tips.

    Several years ago I had two(2) wild pigs (originally from domesticated ones) roasted in our church’s parking lot . I rented two big rotisseries from a rental company here which did the job while we’re seated and drinking beers comfortably. As it was cold during the day, the skins did not turn out crispy – except those that are in the neck and the head. The theory is [according to experts] , when its cold – the skin will be really makunat. So to avoid this from occurring, always do lechon when humidity is high or do it indoors(maybe garage) where the heat will be constant. My second attempt was a real successful one – having learned my lesson, I covered the whole structure with a 8’ x 6′ x 4′ box of tin sheets.

  40. i like lechon, too, and love to serve it to my friends
    during gatherings. i will follow up your quest for a perfect lechon and hope you suceed. thank you so much for sharing your food experiences, you are making a lot of people happy.

  41. hi MM,

    i grew up with having lechon in our fiestas and in any other special occasion, i’ll share 1 special ingredient that is commonly used by manlelechons in the visayas and mindanao..malorca, its a cheap local wine that gives the skin the perfect red color, makes the meat tender and adds flavor..and there’s the lemon grass of course..

    beer can substitute for malorca but i think its the wine that brings out the taste best.

    my friend orders a lechon from iligan city and most of the manlelechon’s there will do the shipping through PAL for a little extra cost ( around 5k on average).

  42. apple, thanks for that tip. Yes, mallorca is what they apparently use for the lechons in talisay, Cebu among other places… may have to try that one…

  43. my uncle has a farm in negros and they usually cook lechon for any and all occassions. his lechons are quite famous among friends and family. my cousin (his daughter) says the secret is to cook it verrry slowly, or as we say in Cebuano “langay-langay”. it takes them half a day to roast a pig. but the wait is worth it. the result is a lechon that has super tender meat and crispy skin. i don’t know about the ingredients though. i guess it’s the usual tanglad, etc.

  44. Teehee — you ended up with a hip-hop lechon! The buco juice bath/baste sounds divine (and makes a lot of sense). This rocks!



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