Back in 1985 Roberto Guerra's father told him about a wooden box he had seen in a Chinatown in Cuba. It was used to cook pigs. Two years later, La Caja China was born. Some speculate this box was invented by Chinese workers who were brought to Cuba in the 1800s. Others believe it was inspired by the Cuban tradition of making a "box" or enclosed cooking space.
Whatever the true origin, this Miami company sells its signature box to customers across the country. About 90 percent of the business is outside of Florida and international.
Short Order tagged along to a pig roast for the company's new website shoot. Guerra, a charismatic patriarch who takes his cooking seriously, maneuvered the pig in and out of the box with expert ease and told us " We started slowly. I was working for an export company and we were making and selling only a few cajas a year". The company still makes all the boxes locally using local materials. "The only thing we don't produce here are the oven mitts".
Guerra tells us the company grew slowly. Most customers were South Floridians familiar with the Cuban cooking tradition. Then, in January of 2004, the New York Times ran a piece about the wonders of The Caja China. "Our website crashed because we got so much traffic" and their business skyrocketed. Since then, Guerra has brought his son, Avian, into the family business and today there are five different caja types. The most recent addition, the Semi-Pro model, is a sleek box with diamond-cut polished steel exterior made with hotels and restaurants in mind.
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Having appeared on several Food Network shows and in big name catalogs, they are now a national brand. Their peak selling season is during the months leading up to Memorial Day, followed by winter months leading up to the holidays. But as Guerra will attest, the beauty of the Caja China is that you can cook more than just pigs in it. And because it's self contained, you won't be held back by bad weather.
Called "The Patron Saint of Pigs" by his friends, Guerra cooks about 50 pigs a year. But, he tells us, his favorite is actually roasting chickens in it. He has been know to prepare up to 18 at a time for big family gatherings.
As the roasting came to an end, everyone hovered around and got ready to dig in. The skin was crisp and flavorful, the meat, juicy and tender. With the yucca, beans and rice, tamales and mojo, the meal was complete.
Be it pigs, chickens, lamb or duck, the Caja China puts out a tasty product.