“It’s actually a lot of steps to make Chinese-style roast pig,” says East Court and Mike’s BBQ chef and owner Jack Tsoi. “It’s not an easy task, this line of work.” Tsoi has been perfecting the art of roasting up to 10 whole pigs a day for the last 20 to 30 years at his popular Toronto shop, ensuring that each pig leaves the oven with even, crispy skin, juicy meat, to be served in a variety of dishes.
The first step is the laborious process of butchering the pig, cutting it down to balance the shoulder and ham to ensure everything cooks evenly in the oven. The meat is boiled in hot water to shrink the skin, and when it’s dry, rubbed down evenly with salt. It dries out overnight, and then Tsoi uses a torch to burn the hairs off of the skin. Once this is done, Tsoi and his apprentice, Clarence Kwan, hang the pig from a retractable beam, and slide the whole pig in the oven.
Next begins the careful dance of sliding the pig in and out of the oven every few minutes for the first half hour to check for bubbles and burning, and to poke and brush the skin down to ensure it’s cooking evenly. “This is a very labor-intensive job, for real,” Tsoi remarks. Once he’s happy with the skin, the rest of the pig bakes uninterrupted in the oven.
“After all of the roasting, one of the most important parts of being a barbecue master is being able to chop,” says Kwan. “The chopping part is one of the most exciting but craziest things,” he finishes, as Tsoi brings his butcher’s knife down heavily, making a satisfying crunch as the knife slices through the skin and meat. Once it’s chopped, it’s ready for customers, who stream in during the lunch and dinner rushes to try the crispy pig over rice, in sweet and sour sauce, or as char siu.