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The Hidden Pitmaster: Uncovering the Secrets of Whole Hog Roasting in the Woods of New York

The Pitmaster Who Roasts Whole Pigs in the New York Woods

Whole hog cooking is a time-honored tradition passed down through generations. Often associated with Southern pitmasters, this ancient style of cooking has its roots in Native American culture, but gained prominence through the practices of enslaved people on plantations. Today, whole hog barbecue restaurants are predominantly family-owned and operated, preserving the rich heritage of this culinary art form.
Unlike other styles of barbecue, such as Texas-style with its focus on brisket or Santa Maria-style grilling, cooking a whole hog is a unique endeavor. Pitmasters must overcome the challenge of cooking different parts of the animal, such as the shoulder, loin, and ribs, which all cook at different rates. Achieving even cooking and avoiding dryness requires meticulous time management and temperature control (Sask Pork).
While whole hog roasting may not be synonymous with New York State, there is a hidden gem nestled in the Catskill Mountains that is keeping the tradition alive. Chef Norberto Piattoni, originally from Argentina, found his passion for open-fire cooking and a commitment to local sourcing during his culinary journey. Together with his friend and fellow chef Danny Newburg, Piattoni founded The Modestos, a series of outdoor cooking dinners that showcase the simplicity and deliciousness of well-prepared food (Chefs for Impact).
At The Modestos, Piattoni works with regional farms to support local agriculture, sourcing his pigs and ingredients from the Catskill region. His approach to seasoning the pigs is a departure from traditional Southern spice rubs, incorporating ingredients like palm sugar, galangal, and coriander seeds. To create the perfect roasting environment, Piattoni gathers sticks from the forest to build the crosses and structures that hold the pork while it cooks. The pigs are lined up early in the morning, carefully monitored throughout the day, and served for a 5 o’clock dinner service. In addition, Piattoni and his team cook complementary sides on planchas over a live fire to ensure a harmonious culinary experience (Eater).
What sets The Modestos apart is not only its commitment to exceptional cuisine, but also its mission to make a positive impact on the community. Proceeds from the dinners support programs that combat food insecurity, exemplifying Piattoni’s commitment to using food as a catalyst for social change.
In conclusion, the art of whole hog roasting finds an unexpected home in the forests of the Catskill Mountains, thanks to the passion and talent of Chef Norberto Piattoni. Through The Modestos, Piattoni showcases his expertise in open-fire cooking, his commitment to local sourcing, and his mission to address food insecurity. With each succulent bite of perfectly roasted pork, diners at The Modestos not only enjoy a culinary treat, but also contribute to a worthy cause.


Whole hog cooking is a traditional method of barbecuing in which an entire pig is roasted over an open fire. Different parts of the pig, such as the shoulder, loin, and ribs, are cooked simultaneously to ensure even cooking and flavor distribution.

Where did the tradition of cooking a whole pig come from?

The tradition of whole hog cooking can be traced back to Native American culinary practices. However, it gained prominence among enslaved people on plantations in the southern United States, who used this method to feed large crowds. Over time, it became a cherished culinary tradition passed down through generations.

What makes whole hog cooking different from other styles of barbecue?

Unlike other barbecue styles that focus on specific cuts of meat, such as brisket or ribs, whole hog cooking requires skillful management of different cooking times and temperatures. Pitmasters must ensure that each part of the hog cooks evenly and remains moist, avoiding overcooking or drying out any particular area.

Why is whole hog roasting not commonly associated with New York State?

Whole hog roasting is typically associated with southern regions like Tennessee and the Carolinas. But there are exceptions, such as the Catskill Mountains in New York, where chef Norberto Piattoni practices this culinary art form in the woods.

How does Chef Norberto Piattoni approach roasting a whole pig?

Chef Norberto Piattoni, Pitmaster in the Woods of New York, works with local farms in the Catskill region to source his pigs and ingredients. He incorporates unique seasonings such as palm sugar, galangal, and coriander seeds, departing from traditional Southern spice rubs. Piattoni builds crosses and structures from sticks gathered in the woods to create the perfect roasting environment for the pigs.

What is The Modestos’ impact on the community?

The Modestos, Chef Norberto Piattoni’s outdoor cooking dinner series, supports programs that fight food insecurity. Proceeds from the dinners are used to address this pressing issue, making each dining experience at The Modestos not only a culinary delight, but also an opportunity to contribute to a worthy cause.

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