Roasted Chicken, a la La Caja China

This past weekend we were busy.  We were low on cooked chickens in our freezer, so hubby decided that he would cook some more.  By some more, he meant, twelve more.  Seriously, twelve, as in the number one and two.  Tee – double-u – ee – ell – vee – ee.  Twelve. Yupe, twelve, 12.  You read it correctly and, nothing is wrong with your eyes.  You probably think that we are crazy…but, bear with me while I try to explain it below.

When we cook, we tend to go overboard.  But, with a purpose.  We like to cook a lot at one time, mainly because we don’t want to spend all of our time, for example, six hours cooking for one single thing.  If the space and the heat permit, then we usually fill up the cooking vessel with food, so we can freeze and eat them later.  Remember my post about the Smoked Pulled Pork?  The smoker fits for 3 Boston Butts, so 3 Boston Butts went in there.  So the same with last weekend, we were cooking using La Caja China roaster.  This thing fits for twelve chickens, probably more if we got smaller chickens…

Wait, La Caja China?  What is this thing?  Well, let me send you to the link of the company that makes this thing by clicking here.  Not that I will get a dime from them for directing traffic to them, or if you decided to buy one of this thing.  Nada, I just want to send you there so you can see the product, and their full explanation of how this thing works from their perspective.

La Caja China (it is translated as “Chinese Box”) is actually a cooking method adopted from the Cubans.  The Cubans would roast a pig by digging a hole in the earth, put the pig inside it, and then cover it up, and put burning charcoal on top.  So, this box was created trying to mimic the cooking method introduced by the Chinese railroad workers back then, hence the name, La Caja China.

How did we come across with this roaster?  Well, we love to tune in to Food Network.  One day, hubby saw the Throwdown with Bobby Flay, and it was in this episode when hubby saw the La Caja China.  He was intriqued by the roaster and did some more reading online.  Then he decided to buy it, and now we own one.

So shall we begin?

First we gave the chickens a bath, a soapless bath.  No bubbles here.  We just basically rinsed them and took out any of the innards that got left in there.  We wanted the cavity of the chickens to be empty.  Then, we pat them dry.

 

For seasoning, we did a variety of things.  We wanted to give two chickens to hubby’s cousin who’s watching her sodium intake, so we did two without salt.  We used peppers (black and white), garlic powder, cumin, and paprika.  Then we did four with only salt, white and black peppers, and the rest we used the BBQ Rub we used for the Smoked Pulled Pork.

 

So we lined them up on the butcher block.

 

Sprinkled the seasonings.

 

Look at this chicken’s mangled leg… Poor chicken… I guess he, oops, she broke a leg before she made it into our kitchen.

 

So when we were done with all twelve of them, they were ready to be put back in the refrigerator and let them sit overnight.

 

The next day, I cut up some veggies to flavor the chickens.  It is pretty much whatever veggies you like to throw in there.  We used onion, garlic, lemon, apple, cilantro, celery and bell pepper.  You will see in the next several pictures how these veggies helped flavor the chickens.

 

Aren’t they pretty?

 

This is what the La Caja China looks like.  It is basically a rectangle box with the inside lined with aluminum metal, and the outside covered with maybe half an inch of plywood.  It has two wheels on the front bottom part of the box for mobility.  On the other end, two metal handles are attached so you can hold the box at an angle, and then move it around.  It also supports the charcoal tray when you take the lid off to turn the chickens half way through cooking.

 

The tray you see sitting on the two handles is where you put your charcoal.  So, the cooking method is by putting fire on top of the food, while usually you see the fire is underneath the food.  It is a little different concept than usual, but it works.  You’ll see.

The front part (or what I called the front part) has a chart on how long you should cook each type of meat.  Pretty neat huh?

 

So hubby put two piles of charcoal on the tray.  He is so meticulously organized (unlike me) that he weighs his charcoal prior cooking.  In this instance, for the 12 chickens, he used 15 lbs of charcoal at the begining and then adding nine lbs midway through the cooking.  He will adjust the weight of the charcoal depending on how much he is cooking.

 

Now, this was an extra step that hubby was experimenting.  He put the chickens on his smoker for a little while to get the smoke flavor.   He had tried using several different types of smoke kickers for this roaster or Box, and none of them worked real well with the Box.  So when he was talking to his co-worker, Jim S., Jim mentioned “Why don’t you try to smoke them first?”  So that’s why he did what he did Saturday.

 

For this, he only cranked the smoker to about 150 – 175 degrees only.  He did not want to cook the chicken, he just wanted to get the smoke flavor into the chickens.

 

Then, he put in the drip tray inside the box.  He wrapped this drip tray in aluminum foil so he can clean it up easier.  Cleaning up this box is really a chore.  Hubby requested that I would blog about just the clean-up process.  So I’ll be sure to get my camera ready when he cleans it again next time.

 

Then, he threw on the drip tray the vegetables that I cut up earlier.

 

Spread them all around the tray.

 

Then he put the grill rack on top of the drip tray.

 

And he started putting the chickens on the rack.  Butt side up to start, then turn with breast side up midway through the cooking.  (Because that is the way the Box manufacturer said to do it).

 

The six chickens on the left hand side were seasoned with the BBQ Rub.  The two in the middle was the no salt ones, and the last four on the right were the salt and peppers ones.

 

Then he started squirting the lighter fluid on his charcoal pile.  On this cooking method, we used the lighter fluid, and not the lighter cube we used on the smoker.  Since the charcoal will be burned on top of the food outside of the cooking chamber, the lighter fluid taste would not seep down into the food.

 

Then he lighted the charcoal…

 

And Boom!!  Ha ha… just kidding… Naah… if it did boom on us, I would not be here writing about these chickens, would I?  The fire was really happy to consume the oxygen around it… Oh, and for some of you who are detailed oriented, you might be wondering.  Why in the heck the charcoal tray was crooked?  Look at the next picture.

 

When the fire heated the charcoal tray, the crooked part of the tray just came down and it was lined up with the charcoal tray holder!  The fire softened up the metal and it just plopped itself down and be a good boy.

 

After 20 minutes, most of the charcoal is burned to a white ash.  Hubby raked the charcoal and spread it around so all of the Box’s cooking chamber will receive even heat.

 

This is how the chickens looked like after an hour… They looked good, didn’t they?

 

Where did we put the tray full of burning charcoal?  We put them up on metal handle.  It was designed so that it would hold the tray when the food needs to be checked or when the cooking is finished.

 

So hubby flipped the birds… oh, excuse me,  ehm.. turned the birds over I meant…  Noticed that he put the chickens in a certain way.  During our previous cookings using the Box, he finally decided which arrangement would help him in handling the chickens.  In this case, the chicken necks were facing in the middle, and by arranging them like this, it was easier to turn the chickens over.

 

So they were all turned over…

 

And we put the charcoal tray back on top.  Hubby also added nine more pounds of fresh charcoal briquets.

 

After about 40 more minutes, the chickens were done!  Woohooo!!!!  Nice looking birds eh?

 

This is the drip tray.  By now it contained the liquid excess from the chickens.  It was a combination of melted fat and juices came out of the chickens, fruits and vegetables.  When the juice of the chicken dripped down into the tray, the juice would hit the fruit and veggies.  It would steam back up toward the chicken, along with the fruit and veggies’ flavor.  So that’s how the veggies and the fruits helped flavor the roasted chickens.

 

These were the BBQ ones…

 

These were the salt and peppers ones…. Gorgeous, aren’t they?

 

Nice, tender, juicy, flavorful chickens.  And the smoke flavor was there!  It was a light hint of smoke flavor, not too overpowering at all.  Thank you Jim for the idea!!  The crispy roasted skin was bursting with flavor, and you had to be there to taste it.

So after dinner, I cut up most of the chickens into halves.  We put them back into the refrigerator after awhile.

 

The next morning, I pulled up my FoodSaver and started working on the chickens.  I put each half of the chicken into a FoodSaver bag.  Then I vacuum sealed them with this gadget.

 

I put the opening of the plastic into the suction tray.

 

I closed the lid and locked it.

 

Then I pushed that Vacuum and Seal button.

 

And BBrrrrbbbbbrrrrrRRRR… the machine was sucking the air out of the bag, and sealed the bag when it was done.

 

These were the chickens I vacuumed sealed that day…  a Little Mountain of Chickens…

 

So now, when we want some roasted chicken, we just grab one of these bags, and heat them up, and voila!  Your chicken is ready!

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33 Responses to Roasted Chicken, a la La Caja China

  1. Olive Tree says:

    Mail me one, please?

  2. Pingback: Cooking Twelve Chickens for a Small Family | King of Pork

  3. What a great post! Every recipes tastes better with a dash of humor, and yours was just right. I’ll be trying this out in my La Caja China very soon. The bottom tray with fruits and veggies is BRILLIANT! I can’t help but think what an awesome sauce that would make, defatted and pureed.

    Oh, and your photo’s are fantastic…seriously, magazine quality!

    Thanks again for this great photo-recipe, can’t wait to try it!

    -Perry
    http://www.burninloveblog.com

    PS – Make sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming cookbook, La Caja China Cooking.

    • axokuaci says:

      Thanks! :) I like the chickens that came out of this Box, and we did turkeys and ducks during Thanksgiving too. For the ducks, I also added pineapple, and the ducks came out great! We tried pork butts too, and I’m trying to see if hubby would try to do a whole hog… :D but I guess we will need to have the rest of the extended family to help us finish the hog!

      If you do try to make sauce from the veggies and fruits, let us know how it comes out! So far we just left them on tray and just tossed them away.

      Thanks for the comments on the photo. I’m still trying to figure out the new camera, Canon Rebel XSi. It’s a lot easier to take picture of food than people, I found that out real soon! :)

      We’ll keep an eye on the book! Congrats! And Thanks for stopping by :)

      Anny

      • Heyya Amy,

        Just wanted to swing by and let you know that the 2nd cookbook, “La Caja China World” just released. Yummy roasting box dishes adapted from traditional recipes from countries around the world!

        Thanks!

        – Perry

        Perry P. Perkins
        Author
        “La Caja China Cooking”
        “La Caja China World”

      • axokuaci says:

        Thanks Perry! Congratulations on your second La Caja China cook book! Keep it going! :)

  4. Just FYI…La Caja China just released a cookbook, “La Caja China Cooking”
    http://www.lacajachina.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=LCC-A145

  5. Phil Young says:

    Very nice I just picked up my caja china not to long ago ..we’ve done a pork roast on it that came out fantastic if a lil on the black side…there was really nothing left over so it musta been good..I am cooking for my brothers house warming party this weekend and I have drawn a lot of inspiration from this blog seeing as we are doing chickens.(think the final count was around 9)Everything looked fantastic in your blog and I love how it was wrote,I hope mine turns out half as well and I’ll be pleased with my second time running the caja,as with every new cooking device there are little things one must learn(usually the hard way)along the way.I was thinking about adding a can or 2 of beer to the pan with the veg to see it we can get that beer can chicken thing going on with it,have you ever tried that with the caja?Or have you ever tried to make a gravy out of the drippings?

    • axokuaci says:

      Hi Phil, thanks for visiting :) I agree with you, with every new cooking device, it seems like we have to practice to get used to with its quirkiness. You mentioned about the black side of the pork roast – we now starting putting a long aluminum foil (we bought those big box from Sams – the industrial size one) right before we put the lid (thanks to Perry Perkins’s) back on top of the box (check the Turkey and Duck a la Caja post, http://axokuaci.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/roasted-turkey-and-roasted-duck-ala-la-caja-china/ Then, once the the fire has been set, and the charcoal distributed evenly, we just lifted the cover a little bit and pull the foil out. That seems help with the over charring issue.

      As far as the beer, I’m sure you can add it and it will help with making the chickens moist, and probably will help with the flavor too. We just never done it that way. And the gravy, someone else mentioned about making gravy from the drippings, and even puree the vegetables. We didn’t do it since we didn’t feel it was quite sanitary scooping the drippings out – even though we lined up the dripping pan… perhaps one day I will lay a cookie sheet or something, that will catch the juice and that I would feel it safe enough to make gravy from it… If we do that, I’ll be sure write about it.

      I hope you have a successful housewarming party this weekend, and your chickens will come out fantastic! :)

      • These pictures look better every time I see them, lol.

        I do chickens on the Caja (usually just 4 in the Cajita) almost exactly the same way except I stuff the cavities with cut lemons and peeled fresh garlic.

        I’ve also started brining by chickens (and turkeys) overnight before roasting. 1 gallon of water, 1/2 cup salt, 1/2 cup of sugar. (Make sure to rinse the birds after brining, and pat dry.) For a fancier, next level brine, Google “Alton Brown Turkey Recipe”.

        Keeps the birds nice an moist, and imparts a lovely flavor.

        -Perry
        “La Caja China Cooking”

      • axokuaci says:

        Haha….. we did the same too.. we would stuff the cavity with cut up lemon, apple, onion, and garlics… yummy… :)
        Did you inject the chickens or did you submerse them in the brine? It sounds like you didn’t inject them though… that’s going to be tough with brining 12 chickens… ha ha.. I would have to have several industrial size containers!
        Did you try duck yet? with cut up pineapple underneath it… they were delicious!

  6. I don’t usually inject the chickens, but I did inject AND brine the six turkeys we did for the local homeless shelter last Thanksgiving.

    You could always use gallon, or 2-gallon zips to brine the chickens, or…here’s how redneck I am…I didn’t have enough containers to hold all the turkeys, so I bought a BIG sheet of disposable painters plastic (yes, I know, not food grade, but it was only overnight) and draped it over and inside the Caja China, with a couple of feet extra on all sides.

    Poured in my brine, tossed in a couple of bags of ice, and the turkeys. In the morning, I took out the turkeys, rolled the Caja out to the “back forty” and tipped it until all the brine had drained out.

    Threw away the plastic, and easy-peasy, it was done!

    I like the cut-pineapple idea for the duck. I did a couple of Peking Ducks in my Cajita, you can see that process here: http://burninlovebbq.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/peking-duck-ala-la-cajita-china/

    -Perry
    “La Caja China Cooking”

    • axokuaci says:

      Thanks for the tip Perry! One of our cousin will be bringing turkeys leftover from Thanksgiving, and we probably could use one of those coolers to brine the turkeys too! Love the looks of the Peking ducks… they made me drools!! :)

  7. Brian Hall says:

    Total cook time for 12 birds was an hour and 45? If i read correctly. Thanks!

  8. Cyndi White says:

    Did you ever write your piece about cleaning your La Caja China box? I’ve had mine since the first year they were in business and I still haven’t found an easy way to clean it. I must say my charcoal rack don’t bend up like yours do. Have you come up with an easy way to do this?????
    And the rack you used for the chicken, did you purchase that from La Caja???? I only have the two sided rack for whole pigs and such. Guess I should look on their website to see if they have a rack this size for sale. Please let me know about your cleaning.

    • Anny says:

      Hi Cyndi, thanks for visiting. My husband asked me awhile back to write about cleaning the box, but I haven’t had a chance to write about it. We both agree that there isn’t an easy way to clean the box.

      Hubby lined the grease tray with aluminum foil so that he can just pull out the most of the congealed fat and have a less messy greased tray to deal with. He usually will let the box cooled down and let the fat congealed. He used the Dawn dish soap and those SOS pad to help him clean the box. When we remodeled our kitchen, we went ahead and put an outdoor sink so he can clean his box and grates for other grill. So he had access to hot water when he cleans the box.

      I’ve been talking to Perry Perkins at http://www.burninloveblog.com/ and he said he used steam to help him clean the box. He would pour boiling water into the box after cooking, close the lid, let it steam and that will loosen the stuff that stuck inside the box. He also said that La Caja China website sells degreaser that really helps in cleaning the box.

      My husband said the stainless steel model now has a spout, so the grease/water can be drained easily. With the old model, we had to tilt it to drain the box.

      La Caja China sold the rack we used for the chickens, so I’m sure you can order it from them.

      I too had been scouring the web to find a way to clean the box easier, but so far, we just haven’t find it. Perhaps an upgrade to the stainless steel version is in the near future? :)

      I hope this help and good luck to you Cyndi :)

      • Ray says:

        Hi
        I use Krud Kutter from Home Depot. It is a great degreaser and works well. It is non toxic and non poluntant and food safe. Spray it let it sit wipe if off. Do it again if you have any left.

      • Anny says:

        Thanks so much for the tip Ray! Have a nice day!

      • Ray says:

        No problem I found this out with my Engraving business and as the Camp Cook for my RV group. We are doing chicken at the August outing and using the la China so was looking for some tips. Thank for all the good posting and tips. Have to get the rack yet but not a problem. #rdcustomengraving #diablo bounders on facebook.
        Ray

      • Anny says:

        You’re welcome Ray :) I’m glad that our posts help.

  9. Thank you for that recipe, Anny. I´m going to try this today. Best wishes from germany

  10. Ed says:

    I cook 6-8 whole pigs in my Caja China every year. I found the easiest way to keep the box clean is to line the entire inside and drip pan with heavy duty foil. This process takes about 10 minutes, and costs a little more for a roll of foil, but it saves a lot of elbow grease at the end of the day when you are tired from cooking and eating.

    • Anny says:

      Thanks for the tip Ed. Hubby usually lined the drip pan with heavy duty foil. It’s a great idea to line the inside of the box too. We get our foil from Sams, although the off brand is not as heavy duty as the Reynold’s one. Gotta love my Sam’s Club :) Thanks for visiting :)

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