La Caja China – Questions before you buy


Reader Josh is considering adding a La Caja China to his cooking arsenal, and posed some excellent questions. I’m re-posting them, along with my answers, for anyone else who’s thinking of picking up a magic box.

Josh: I’ve been debating the merits of La Caja China for a couple months now (my wife is sick of me talking about it!!). I think the only way I can justify the purchase (to my wife) is if I can use it to cook ribs, briskets, pork butts, and maybe even mass quantities of burgers. As such, I have the following questions that I hope you’ll be willing to help me with.

Perry: Hey Josh, I hear you…I think my wife’s final word on the subject was along the lines of, “Just buy the freakin’ thing already!” LOL

Josh: Have you used the smoke pistol that the La Caja China folks sell on their site? I’ve read blogs where folks use a pan of wood chips inside the unit, but would like your opinion. If you’ve used the smoke pistol, will you please comment on it’s effectiveness? If you’ve found another way to smoke meat with La Caja China, I’d love to hear about it.

Perry: Yes, I’ve used the smoke pistol, as well as the pan method, and a couple of others. You can see my full review on my favorite smokin’ hardware in this post: http://burninlovebbq.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/easy-smoking-in-la-caja-china-a-maze-n-pellet-smoker-review/

Josh: I see you mentioned that Cuban pork is done tender, but firm. How do ribs turn out? I’m really looking for ‘fall off the bone’ ribs. I see that many people use La Caja China to cook ribs, but I haven’t seen any pictures/videos that show that the ribs are really tender.

Perry: Yup, I do low and slow ribs, both beef and pork in my La Caja China, and have several great recipes in my La Caja China cookbooks (www.perryperkinsbooks.com). For beef ribs, see this recipe: http://burninlovebbq.wordpress.com/2008/06/21/beef-ribs-in-la-caja-china/

Josh: How do pork butts turn out? Right now, I use a combination of a Smokenator (a clever addition to a Weber Kettle grill) and my oven for a total of 16 hours (at 220 degrees) and the butts literally fall apart.

They are amazing. I’m confident that the pork butts that come out of La Caja China are great, but I’d really like to know if it will be possible to get the type of results I get from the smoker/oven.

Perry: I know exactly the method you’re referring to, as I did it the same way for years. Butts and shoulders are my #1 use for my boxes, and I’ve cooked many dozens of them, both for myself and for customers of our bbq catering biz. I can smoke 6-8 shoulders at a time in the larger boxes.

I inject and rub, then cook to 190, then wrap and rest. Shoulders come out perfect. Search this site for “shoulders”, there are a bunch here, and more in the cookbooks.

Josh: I’m look at the #2 unit. I know you have the Pro, but are you able to comment on the durability of the wooden units? Are they sturdy? Structurally sound? Etc? any info you have on this would be helpful.

Perry: I have the Semi-Pro, two of the model #2 units, and a model #3. My first box was a model #2. It’s five years old, and we’ve done about a dozen pigs, 25-30 shoulders, 18 turkeys, 20-25 briskets, a couple of lambs, and a bunch of chickens in it, and it’s still going strong. I need to replace the firepan, but that’s because of user error (I backed over it with my truck and tweaked it, lol.)

If you’re in a low-humidity area, I recommend keeping it covered and it’s fine to store outside. I keep mind the the garage, as I live in Oregon.

Hope this helps! I love answering questions about La Caja China, and barbeque in general, so keep firin’ away! If you haven’t done so, make sure to download my free ebook, La Caja China Guidebook, here – http://burninlovebbq.wordpress.com/2011/09/19/la-caja-china-guidebook/

Thanks again!

-Perry

Perry P. Perkins
Author
“La Caja China Cooking”
“La Caja China World”
“MEAT FIRE GOOD”
Burnin’ Love BBQ
http://www.burninloveblog.com
http://www.facebook.com/BurninLoveBBQ

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “La Caja China – Questions before you buy

  1. Dave Frary

    I bought a La Caja China this summer to use for catering pig roasts. So far I’ve cooked 6 sixty-pound pigs in the box. The pigs were cooked following the timetable printed on the end of the box and injected as recommended.
    Each pig cooked differently and none of them were tender and juicy. Nothing like the results I get in my Lang smoker, where the pigs cook perfectly. The La Caja China pigs were way too tough, the way pork pork gets when you cook it hot and fast.
    After the first cater with the La Caja China I’d always bring pulled pork to substitute for the pig. The pig was just for show.
    I’ve never tried ribs but the box is great for roasting corn.

  2. Dave, not sure what to tell you. I’ve done dozens of pigs, from 40-90lb in my Cajas, and they come out perfect. Not sure how an injected pig could not come out juicy.

    Some questions…

    1. Are you bringing the pigs to room temp before you start cooking?
    2. Are you removing the ashes from the fire pan on a regular basis?
    3. Are you leaving the lid in place for the entire cooking process? (No peeking).
    4. Are you letting the pigs rest, and the fluids redistribute for 30-45 minutes after the pig is finished cooking?
    5. Are you using Kingsford brand charcoal?
    6. How are you determining the weight of the coals you’re adding?

    It’s normal to get SLIGHTLY different results, as the fat/meat/size ratio of pigs will be slightly different from pig to pig, but I cook based on the box instructions all the time, and my pigs always turn out great.

    Lemme know,

    -Perry

  3. Also, keep in mind that the instructions are intended to cook a pig to the “slice-able” style of Cuban roasting, NOT the traditional American “pulled-pork” consistency. I’ve found that I need to add 2-3 hours of cooking time to achieve a “pig-pickin’” product.

    • Dave Frary

      Thanks Perry,
      I did most of the things you mentioned above but my pigs were never at room temperature when they were put in the cooker. It’s hard to leave them out for 3 or 4 hours when catering.
      The lid was in place for the entire cook. The ashes were removed about every hour. I’m using kingsford and measuring the poundage by the bag weight or fractions thereof.
      This past weekend I cooked a 65 lb pig for a party. I used a lot less charcoal and allowed the pig to stay in the cooker for almost three hours longer than La Caja China recommends – until the butts were 190 (I had cut out the ribs when the pig was cold, wrapped them in foil with sauce and removed them when I turned the pig. They were done and a nice snack for the on-lookers.)
      At 190 I removed it from the box and let it temp down covered with foil for about 45 minutes while folks had drinks and apps. It was the best pig yet. It needed more seasoning to replace the taste you get from wood smoke but it was tender and juicy, and could be pulled for sandwiches.

      I’m cooking butts in the box today.
      This is a work in progress. Thanks for your help.

  4. Stephen

    I would like to know about adding vegetables to the drip pan during the cooking time while roasting the meats.

    • Stephen, I’ve done this both with whole pigs, as well as brisket. With pigs, I place disposable steam pans under the rack and place the veggies in the pan. I’ve done root veggie medleys (whole yellow potatoes, peeled and halved sweet potatoes, large peeled carrots, etc.,) along with chopped onions and whole garlic cloves. The veggies came out great, but the broth was freakin’ amazing! With briskets, I almost always roast the whole packer-brisket on top of a solid layer of peeled, halved, large white onions (cut side down).

      This adds a little flavor to the meat, and a TON of flavor to the onions, which I then chop, finish off in a saute pan, and serve with the brisket.

      Enjoy!

      -Chef Perry
      SimplySmartDinnerPlans.com

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