Spit Cooking with the Pequot Mess
By Not Sure
Cooking on a spit, when done properly, can produce the finest meal ever eaten in the field but, as my alter ego has put so graphically, it is not for the faint of heart. Pig, chicken, turkey or even the shapeless ham loaf; there comes the moment of truth wherein the insertion must be made. One of my motivations for engaging in this hobby was an attempt to understand the mind of the Civil War soldier. It is quite evident that he was a hardy individual, required to take extraordinary measures with the carcasses of dead animals and then to eat under extremely unsanitary conditions. Therefore, it is under the stalwart banner of authenticity that we must overcome squeamishness and press on to pre-rotisserie glory.
Spit cooking is simply the process of suspending meat above heat and allowing the meat to cook while slowly revolving to allow for evenness throughout. There are two basic methods for suspending the meat; the traditional horizontal bar held up by uprights and the hanging spit. The hanging spit is merely a piece of meat hung over a fire from a rope or twine and set to spinning by winding up the rope periodically. The meat must be reversed for even cooking and care must be taken not to allow the rope to burn through or you will wind up with extra crispy. The beauty of this method is that the only thing required to carry in a haversack is the rope or twine, a good knife can fabricate the rest.
The horizontal spit allows for more control, however, and is the one we use. One of our members is a machinist and has made two long and sturdy spits which allow us to cook three large birds or hams on each spit. The public seems to find this method of cooking extremely photogenic but then they also find dishwashing equally as fascinating.
One does not need to resort to a machinist, however, to create a workable device. I have seen cast iron spits in use and a wooden spit could be created rather quickly. The key thing to remember is that a fork must be attached parallel to the bar to lock the meat in place, otherwise the bar would turn but the meat would not.
What cooks the meat is heat, not flame. It may look pretty to see the dancing flames leap up and lick the chicken or ham but the result will be a burnt skin and raw interior. The ideal heat is generated from coals. We always build our fire to the side and rake coals under the spit allowing for continuous and even heating. There are times when good wood is unavailable and we have to make do with poor or green wood. In this case, erect the spit to the side of the firepit and cook the meat out of the flame using the radiant heat of the fire. This will take longer so allow extra time.
In cooking over a good bed of coals you can use the following rule of thumb; suspend the meat approximately eighteen inches over the heat and allow approximately twenty minutes per pound. With a little trial and error you will be able to tell when the meat is done. The flavor is worth the effort.