One of the first questions many Caja China users ask, is about roasting in different types of weather, and how it effects cooking time. Obviously, things are going to cook different on a hot day, than they will when it’s snowing.
I’ve roasted and grilled in all types of weather, and here are a few things I’ve learned…
The biggest favor you can do yourself is to pick up a probe thermometer. The ability to check the meat temp, without opening the box, is VITAL. I like to cook my pork shoulders to an internal temp of 195 for pulling or shredding. Then I wrap it in heavy foil, wrap THAT in a towel, and let the whole think rest in a dry cooler for at least an hour, before shredding.
Another important temp control method is to make sure that you clean the ashes out from under the coal grate every couple of hours.
Ash is a great insulator and an inch-thick layer can easily keep your Caja China 30-50 degrees below your goal temp (225-250d). The catch-22 is that you need to get rid of the ashes, but you want to avoid removing the ash pan, if at all possible.
I do this by lifting the coal grate and turning it sideways across one end of the ash pan, then I use a large metal dust pan (square edge) and scoop out as much ash as possible.
Then I slide the coal grate to the other end, and remove the rest of the ashes the same way. You see the temp jump 30-50 degrees when you do this.
I’ve found that the standard Weber charcoal chimney holds almost exactly 5lbs of coals, so I usually start with three of these and, yes, the temp will spike quite high at first.
This is why I often tent my shoulders (loosely) with foil during the first part of cooking. I’ve also found that if I use even a little less coal (say, 10lbs) the roaster will not maintain cooking temp.
It seems that there is a “critical mass” temp that the Caja China need to reach to cook correctly.
This is also why it’s so important to not lift the lid until you reach finished temp.
I’ve never used lump coal on La Caja China. Lump tends to burn hotter and faster, which is what I’m trying to avoid with the roaster, lol.
I only use Kingsford charcoal, as I’ve found it to have a uniform and reliable heat and burn time from one bag to the next.
Lastly, wind can have a huge effect on temperature. Cold, moving air will both lower the heat of the box, and the coals. Keep you La Caja China in a area protected from the wind, when possible, and use the available windscreen, especially when grilling.
As a third-generation chef, Perry P. Perkins focuses his love of cooking on barbeque, traditional southern fare, and fresh Northwest cuisine.
Perry runs the non-profit organization, MY KITCHEN Outreach Program, which teaches nutrition, shopping, and hands on cooking classes for at risk youth.
His cookbooks include La Caja China Cooking, La Caja China World, La Caja China Party, and the NEW “La Caja China Grill.”