When Courtney and Teddy Williams were shopping for their first home in Midtown Mobile, they stumbled upon the foundation of a former backyard chicken coop. Something clicked in Teddy’s mind, but it wasn’t about chickens. He told Courtney, “If we buy this house, I’m turning that into a pig pit.” When she asked if he’d ever cooked a pig, Teddy replied, “No. But I’m going to.”
Less than a year later, with help from friend Martin DeVaney and crucial support from Courtney, who gamely weathered three days of a 90-pound pig soaking in a cooler in the house, which she called “mildly unsettling,” Teddy did just that.
To the chicken coop foundation, Teddy and Martin added cinder blocks, bricks, corrugated tin and a rack welded by a friend to fashion the smoker and flue. The pig was procured from Farm Fresh Meats in Robertsdale and brined in several ingredients, including a secret one, which “may or may not be Sunny Delight,” Teddy says, laughing.
Around 9:00 p.m., they lit the fire, and an hour later, set the pig stuffed with pineapple, onions and garlic on the smoker, toasting it with rum. They strung two hammocks in the yard so they could tend the pig all night, adding more coals and checking the smoker’s temperature regularly to maintain the ideal 250 degrees.
It was rough. “We may have slept for thirty minutes because we were so terrified that if we went to sleep everything was going to go wrong and we’d have a 90-pound pig that no one could eat,” Teddy recalls. “Like, we might be ordering a couple dozen pizzas” to feed the scores of guests already invited.
Now, after five annual pig roasts, they’ve streamlined the process, setting alarms and sleeping the majority of every hour. They also gave up making their own coals, a time-consuming process that involved “burning a ridiculous amount of firewood for an entire day” because Teddy was “determined to do everything from scratch” that first year.
No one taught Teddy how to smoke a pig. He’d never done it before or even seen it done, aside from a murky childhood memory of a family friend smoking one underground. He just wanted to try it. He liked the challenge of figuring it out and the excitement of doing something new. “It’s not a championship pig smoker,” he says. “It’s very pieced-together. But we made it ourselves, we figured it out.”
This inventive drive has always existed in Teddy, who helped his mother in the kitchen from a young age. His earliest cooking memory features a little blue stepstool he stood on to reach the counter, where he’d act as sous chef, especially at holidays, executing small tasks such as cleaning cranberries and mixing pumpkin pie filling. At the annual neighborhood Christmas party hosted by his parents, it was Teddy’s job to circulate among the guests grating fresh nutmeg over their cups of eggnog, made from his grandmother’s signature recipe.
Teddy has many Christmas and Thanksgiving memories of everyone together at the table, but his family finds plenty of ways to commune around food: through crawfish boils, oyster parties and birthday celebrations. “I’ve always loved the gathering aspect of cooking,” Teddy says. “You make a meal and gather with family and friends and a pig roast is a pretty great way to do that.”
“I’ve always loved the gathering aspect of cooking. You make a meal and gather with family and friends and a pig roast is a pretty great way to do that.”
– Teddy Williams
This sense of community is the heart of the pig roast. From the moment the idea ignited, Teddy knew roasting the pig would be the center of a party. Just like when he graduated from the University of Alabama and knew he would move to Mobile, home of “the most fitting motto of any city in the world,” according to Teddy: “‘Born to Celebrate.’ We make just about any excuse to have a gathering, have a party, enjoy each other, enjoy the neighborhood, enjoy the city. It’s in the DNA of living here.”
Teddy and Courtney’s street does function like an extended family. “On our street, everyone is so friendly. We love getting together with our neighbors,” Courtney says. In fact, after our conversation, they’re headed to a neighbor’s baby shower. “It’s as close to an old-fashioned neighborhood as you can find,” Teddy explains. “People go out of their way to make it a neighborhood, to make it welcoming.” It’s this spirit of camaraderie that made Teddy and Courtney want to host a gathering themselves.
“We make just about any excuse to have a party, enjoy each other, enjoy the neighborhood, enjoy the city”
– Teddy Williams
So, for five years, Teddy and Courtney, along with Martin, have held an annual pig roast in their Midtown backyard: a come-one-come-all, casual gathering of family and friends (and friends of friends) that is kid-friendly and dog-friendly and open all day and into the night. “We love hosting,” Teddy says. “It’s just a good excuse to get a lot of good people together and have fun.”
They chose November, taking advantage of football games (projected on huge outdoor screens) and the cool, crisp weather. They set up lawn games: corn hole and darts. And Courtney, a preschool teacher, covers a table in paper and sets out crayons and markers for the kids. “Thanks to her, there’s more than just a pig and a table,” Teddy says. “Like the brutish men that we are, all we think of is ‘cook pig, put on table.’ We have her to thank for making the party more welcoming.”
Courtney ensures there are sides: mac and cheese, baked beans, and coleslaw from Meat Boss in Mobile to accompany the pulled pork, which is served alongside buns and a variety of sauces. Teddy makes a white barbecue sauce with a garlic-citrus Cuban edge and Martin brings a few sauces made by friends at Blue Oak BBQ in New Orleans. There are tortillas and red onions to make pork tacos, as well as chips and dips, drinks and simple desserts to round out the meal.
The crowd has grown annually, reaching 150 people last year. “It’s taken on a life of its own, for sure,” Courtney says. The atmosphere is happy and relaxed, with people coming in and out, stopping by anytime, bringing their own friends, mingling and enjoying each other’s company and staying as long as they like.
However, the atmosphere builds a charge in the late afternoon, when the smoke takes on a fragrant tinge and the sun dips low and gold. The pig is almost ready. “There’s definitely some anticipation,” Teddy says. “The goal is to have the pig ready around halftime of the afternoon game, so around 4 or 5 p.m.” But, he emphasizes, “The pig’s ready when the pig’s ready.” The meat has to reach 195 degrees, and there’s no rushing the process.
When it’s done, the pig is laid on a table, and everyone grabs some tongs and pulls pork to their hearts’ content. Teddy’s favorite piece is the cheek, a morsel so rich and delicious it’s like “pork butter,” he says. (One year, it was gone before he got to it, so Teddy now hides a piece for himself so he won’t miss out).
Once the pig is out, Teddy can finally relax. This was especially true that first year, when he had a jolt of panic in the middle of the night that maybe it would all go terribly wrong. He hadn’t even tried the smoker before procuring a pig and setting a whole party around it.
“Thanks to Courtney, there’s more than just a pig and a table. Like the brutish men that we are, all we think of is ‘cook pig, put on table.’ We have her to thank for making the party more welcoming.”
– Teddy Williams
But that’s part of what makes the pig roast special. From the start, it was a creative process. A chance to try to something new, to make something with his own hands, to do something no one else was doing. That instinct has always been part of Teddy’s life, partly through music (he plays piano, cello and sings), and through the culinary arts. He relishes experimenting in the kitchen.
“It’s a way of expressing yourself. And I’m always up for a challenge,” Teddy says, taking after his mother, Trisha Williams, a Little Rock native whose pound cake was featured in Mobile Bay Magazine in 2018. Trisha instilled a love of making things from scratch. “My mom and I have the same rule in the grocery store: avoid the middle aisles,” Teddy says. “You can make everything you need from the stuff on the perimeter.”
Courtney recalls a time they were searching for a new cocktail recipe and passed over one that called for a whole vanilla bean, thinking surely they didn’t have that, until Trisha breezily produced one. “She’s like Mary Poppins,” Courtney says. “She has everything and she’s always coming up with something new.” When the kids were small, Trisha made birthday cakes in any shape they desired, including a battleship and a hamburger.
The pig roast radiates that spirit of ingenuity and newness and wonder. “The whole experience is a welcome departure from the norm,” Teddy says. “Piecing things together, figuring things out. Building a process, making it better.” There just aren’t many opportunities in adult life, Martin adds, “where you get to do things like that, in anything else you do.” Teddy agrees. “It’s an adventure,” he says. “Kind of like when you’re a kid and you build a pillow fort and sleep in it. It’s a different world.”
How to host a pig roast
Most pits are lined with stones or bricks to even out and hold in the heat, which leads to the best result. Pits need to be about a foot wider than the pig on each side to accommodate it.
A good rule of thumb for which size pig to purchase for your roast is to figure about 2 pounds of raw butchered pig per person, which should yield a little less than 1 pound of meat. Roasting time should be approximately one hour for every 10 pounds.
Planning is key to a successful pig roast. The amount of time your meat will take to cook depends on the weight of the pig. For the juiciest meat, the pig needs to marinate before roasting. Temperature checks after a few hours of roasting are important.
Not everyone enjoys the sight of the whole animal on the table, so go ahead and shred some meat into a serving dish for the squeamish. It’s not too much to ask guests to bring a side to share. After all, you’ve been up all night cooking the pig!
Teddy Williams’ Mojo Style White Barbeque Sauce
Makes 2 cups
3 heads (30-35 cloves) of garlic, peeled *
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to fully cover the garlic)
1 red Fresno chili pepper or Serrano pepper, stem removed
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Zest and juice of 2 navel oranges
Zest and juice of 3-4 limes
1 1/4 cups Duke’s Mayonnaise
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
6-8 dashes fish sauce
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
2. In a small, oven-safe pot, combine the peeled garlic cloves and enough olive oil to fully cover the garlic and cover with lid.
3. Roast for 2 hours or until brown and completely soft. Remove the cloves from oil using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels. Reserve oil.
4. In a blender, combine the garlic cloves, 2 tablespoons of the reserved garlic oil, chili pepper, oregano, cumin, coriander, citrus zest and juice. Blend on high until completely smooth. Set aside.
5. In a medium mixing bowl, combine all remaining ingredients and whisk until fully combined. Add the contents of the blender to the mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
*Pre-peeled/bottled cloves are fine if you don’t feel like putting in the work to peel that much garlic.