A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from November 17, 2007
Cajun Microwave (La Caja China; Roasting Box)

A “Cajun microwave” is not an electric microwave oven at all. It’s a “roasting box” where the food is cooked underneath the heat source (usually coals). There were “Cajun microwave cookbooks” printed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but these refer to the more-common microwave ovens. The “Cajun microwave” meaning a “charcoal cooker” is cited from 1986; it’s a popular method of Cajun cooking in Louisiana and in East Texas.

“La Caja China” ("the Chinese box") is a Cuban version of the same thing that was trademarked by a Cuban-born Florida resident in 1987.


Real Cajun Recipes: Cajun Words
Cajun Microwave
Always inventive, this wooden charcoal heated box was used to cook meat outdoors.

crawfishguy.com
The Cajun Microwave is a cypress roasting box designed to cook large pieces of meat and other items, including whole roast pigs (the famous Cajun dish known as “conchon du’ lait”), turkeys, lamb, chickens, deer, beef, vegetables and other items. 

La Caja China Grills
La Caja China #1 Model: LCC-G100 - Complete Units
Our Price: $299.99
Up to 70 lbs Pig, 16-18 whole Chickens, 4-6 Turkeys, 8-10 Pork Ribs Slabs, 8-10 Pork Shoulders or any other type of meat or fish.

(OCLC WorldCat record)
Title: Tony Chachere’s micro-wave Cajun country cookbook :
featuring seafoods, wildgame and Cajun style dishes /
Author(s): Chachere, Tony.
Comingore, Ruth, ; editor.
Publication: Opelousas, La. : Cajun Country Cookbook,
Year: 1979

(OCLC WorldCat record)
Title: Microwave bayou :
featuring Cajun cooking made easy /
Author(s): Richey, Nina. 
Publication: [Gonzales, La. : Richey,
Year: 1983

21 November 1984, Valley Independent (Monessen, PA), “Cajun Christmas just an American memory,” Valley Bonus, pg. 4, col. 3:
Bookstores offer an official Cajun handbook and a Cajun microwave cookbook with a recipe for :baked juicy swamp rabbit.”

27 November 1986, Galveston (TX) Daily News, “Cajun Thanksgiving: Deep-fried turkeys,” pg. 1D, col. 4:
These days, Ms. Laurent said, pigs are cooked in front of a fire, over a fire, or in a “Cajun microwave”—a charcoal cooker big enough to hold a 40- or 50-pound pig.

A pig that size would cook 1 to 1 1/2 hours on each size in the charcoal cooker, she said.

19 November 1987, The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), “Nothing’s zapped in a Cajun Microwave”:
Standing in the fenced yard of his camp on the Vermilion River, Foreman tends two “Cajun microwaves,” occasionally lifting the lid to check the pigs’ progress, filling the air with a rich aroma. “With the old-fashioned boucherie you hung the pig by a chain over a fire. This gives the same effect, but without all the smoke,” said Foreman, indicating the wooden boxes holding the cooking pigs. 

8 September 1988, Miami (FL) Herald, “Tradition Helps Cook Up Invention” by Lydia Martin, pg. 15:
La Caja China is a wooden rectangular Box, big enough to hold an 80-pound pig,

31 May 1998, Houston (TX) Chronicle, “Bubbas know about good taste” by Harry Shattuck, Travel section, pg. 1:
Certainly, none prepares fall-apart-tender beef in a “Cajun microwave.”

And none smokes succulent pork in a “Cajun spaceship.”

Only Les Bubbas claim those distinctions, as I gleefully discovered at a “duck camp feast” in Lafayette, La.

Les Bubbas, an ever-expanding assemblage of Acadian-heritage part-time chefs, are self-appointed informal ambassadors of a proud culture. Especially its hospitality. And its food. 

Their appearances are seldom scheduled. But throw a party, and they are quick to volunteer. In Lafayette. Or Quebec.

“All we ever ask in return is all the beer we can drink, or maybe a little red wine - you know, to get the imagination flowing,” says Ray Guidry, described by his associates as “the head bubba.”
(...)
Guidry helped pioneer the “Cajun microwave,” so named because it’s a not-so-instant and not-so-new outdoor cooking mechanism that at first impression could be mistaken for an enormous steel box.

The meat goes on a rack near the bottom; charcoal is placed on another rack toward the top. “Or we use wood if we don’t have any charcoal,” says Robert Domingue, Guidry’s colleague. “We build the heat from the top. The walls (side and bottom) have up to 3 inches of insulation. It has a cover. We can smoke a 25-pound roast in our “microwave.”

“Everyone has his special technique, too. You might take a knife and put a slit in the roast, then stuff it with a little onion or garlic or salt and pepper. Or you might prefer a little sage. Anything you like.”

The “spaceship” is an L-shaped smoker that all but defies description. “I can guarantee that there’s nothing else in the world quite like it, because I spent a lot of years experimenting to get it right,” says Paul Benton, the inventor.

The heat source is in the lower (horizontal) part of the L, and the meat is hung in the vertical part so that smoke circulates and surrounds it. Benton hangs up to three kinds of meat at one time, with the fattiest at the top so the flavoring drips onto the others. His secret ingredient? “I brush the meat over and over with 7-Up and honey,” Benton confides.

Google Books
Boudreaux’s Cajun Party Guide
by Larry Boudreaux
Baton Rouge, LA: Boudreaux Cajun General Store
2003
Pg. 193 (Cajun Microwave):
Although the Cajun microwave has earned its reputation at Cochon de laits, they are great for a venison hindquarter, for an alligator roast or tail, for a Cabris de Lait and, for lamb with a medley of vegetables. If it can be roasted, the Cajun microwave can do it.

A shady tree welder should be able to build a Cajun microwave fairly easy for around $100. No problem to add a foot for a larger pic as long as you till your welder in advance.

You can use a Cajun Microwave on top of the ground or bury it in a shallow hole about one foot in the ground. Typically the ground will hold more heat and the pig wil lcook around 50-70% faster. Cooking a pig on a rack can take about ten hours. The same pig in a buried Cajun Microwave can be done in as little as six hours.

Place two 2x6 boards on the ground next to the pit so that you can remove the top every 30 minutes to baste and check the pig. When the meat falls off the bone, it is done. Put the meat in a clean ice chest and serve the hungry crowd.

7 January 2004, New York (NY) Times, “Roasting a Pig Inside an Enigma” by Sam Sifton, pg. F1:
The item described on Mr. Guerra’s site was called La Caja China—a Chinese roasting box. This turned out to be a rectangular plywood wheelbarrow lined with marine-grade aluminum, with a steel top upon which you could build a fire and under which you caould cook a pig, or a great number of chickens.
(...)
Mr. Guerra, who was born in Cuba and who lives and works in Miami, related a story about how the Chinese Army tortured its prisoners with heat and how somehow this had led Cubans to develop a sort of cooking that in turn resulted in the invention of the box, by his father, in the early (Pg. F5—ed.) 1980’s.
(...)
The Cajun microwave, he continued, was but one example of this creativity. “Some of these things are very high-tech affairs,” he explained, with elaborate winch systems for moving the pig in and out of the heat.

But the basic technique was the same as with La Caja China: place a pig in a closed environment beneath rather than on top of a heat source.

14 January 2004, New York (NY) Times, “A Musical Clue to an Enigma,” Letters, pg. F5:
To the Editor:
Regarding the article “Roasting a Pig Inside an Enigma” (Jan. 7) on the Cuban pig-roasting box called the caja china, I have a possible explanation for the derivation of the name. The cajita china (small Chinese box) is a percussion instrument. First imported to Cuba by Chinese immigrants, the cajita china is now a traditional feature of Cuban danzon, rumba and son bands. The instrument is shaped just like the pig cookers, rectangular with an opening on the top (there are no handles, but the Cajita China is played with two sticks).
HARLEY SPILLER
New York
(...)
To the Editor:
I thoroughly enjoyed your article on the caja china. Just a few linguistic observations that may or may not be relevant to the origins of this contraption’s name. A “caja china” in everyday Spanish is a set of nested boxes: a box within a box within a box. (...)
JAMES D. FERNANDEZ

July 2004, Money, “Everything But the Oink” by Paul Lukas, pg. 136:
Essentially a roasting box on wheels, the Caja China (ka-ha chee-nah) has a recessed lid that serves as a charcoal tray. The heat from the coals radiates through the box’s metal interior panels, cooking the hog—or the lamb, or turkeys, or whatever--very efficiently. Since the coals are outside and the meat is inside, the food doesn’t pick up any charcoal flavor, but you can put wood chips into the box for smokiness and provide additional flavor by injecting the pig with a marinade before cooking.

The Caja China has been popular for years among Miami’s Cuban community (similar devices are sometimes called “Cajun microwaves” elsewhere in the South) but is just now drawing notice from food journalists. If the succulent, bronze-skinned pig I cooked is any indication, it will be attracting more well-deserved attention in the months to come. 

March 2005, New Orleans Magazine, “Stuffing” by Dale Curry, pg. 40:
They needed vegetables, they said, having polished off a meal of chauvin (stuffed pig’s stomach), boudin, pork cooked in a “Cajun microwave” and duck gumbo. One Texas journalist said of Cajun cooking, “If they serve a vegetable, they find a way to stuff it.”

2 May 2007, American Press (Lake Charles, LA), “Beavers are eager to cook” by Eric Cormier, pg. D1, col. 1:
“Cajun Men Cook” is the brainchild of the nation’s one and only Beaver Club in Lafayette. (...) First published in 1994, the book has been reprinted seven times.
(...)
For example, this book introduced me to the Cajun Microwave, which “resulted from a search for a new method of cooking pork outdoors,” the book states.

“Typically, the Cajun microwave is nothing more than a wooden box (untreated and unpainted), lined with sheet metal or heavy foil.”

(Trademark)
Word Mark ELI’S CAJUN MICROWAVE
Goods and Services (CANCELLED) IC 011. US 034. G & S: MICROWAVE OVENS. FIRST USE: 19860518. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19860518
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 73614113
Filing Date August 11, 1986
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition November 3, 1987
Registration Number 1474064
Registration Date January 26, 1988
Owner (REGISTRANT) PRUDHOMME, ELI, JR. INDIVIDUAL UNITED STATES BOX 541 ROUTE 3 CARENCRO LOUISIANA 70520
Attorney of Record ANDREW V. GALWAY
Disclaimer NO CLAIM IS MADE TO THE EXCLUSIVE RIGHT TO USE “MICROWAVE” APART FROM THE MARK AS SHOWN
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD
Cancellation Date August 1, 1994

(Trademark)
Word Mark LA CAJA CHINA
Translations The English translation of the words “LA CAJA CHINA” in the mark is “the Chinese box”.
Goods and Services IC 011. US 034. G & S: commercial cooking ovens for baking meat. FIRST USE: 19871027. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19871105
Mark Drawing Code (3) DESIGN PLUS WORDS, LETTERS, AND/OR NUMBERS
Design Search Code 26.11.08 - Rectangles comprised of letters, numerals or punctuation and letters, numerals or punctuation forming the perimeter of a rectangle or bordering the perimeter of a rectangle.
Serial Number 74140955
Filing Date February 19, 1991
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition February 18, 1992
Registration Number 1686254
Registration Date May 12, 1992
Owner (REGISTRANT) La Caja China, Inc. CORPORATION FLORIDA 7360 N.W. 78 St. Miami FLORIDA 33166
Assignment Recorded ASSIGNMENT RECORDED
Attorney of Record Jesus Sanchelima
Type of Mark TRADEMARK
Register PRINCIPAL
Affidavit Text SECT 15. SECT 8 (6-YR). SECTION 8(10-YR) 20020326.
Renewal 1ST RENEWAL 20020326
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (2) Comments • Saturday, November 17, 2007 • Permalink


Hey all,

I’ve got some great La Caja China recipes posted at http://burninlovebbq.wordpress.com/

Also, keep an eye out for my upcoming cookbook, “La Caja China Cooking”

Thanks!

-Perry

Posted by Perry P. Perkins  on  07/11  at  02:34 AM

In this post, it is stated that he called by his peers the head bubba, but I am the TRUE IMMORTAL HEAD BUBBA http://headbubba.com/ . I Just wanted to clear up some things as this was just brought to my attention.

Posted by Head Bubba  on  12/01  at  08:23 PM

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