What is a Roasting Spit?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A roasting spit, or simply a spit, is a tool used for roasting large pieces of meat, like whole legs, or even small whole animals over fires or in various types of rotisserie ovens. The roasting spit is a long skewer, which is pushed through the uncooked meat. This skewer is now typically made of metal, especially for use in rotisserie ovens, which often turn the meat mechanically to create even cooking. For outdoor cooking, a roasting spit can be made of wood or other materials that are specially treated so that they will resist burning.

A roasting spit is used to roast large pieces of meat, like whole pigs at a Hawaiian luau.
A roasting spit is used to roast large pieces of meat, like whole pigs at a Hawaiian luau.

Spits have been used for numerous centuries, and it’s hard to directly trace their origin. The benefit of using them, even without some type of handle or crank to turn the cooking meat, is that you can readjust the roasting spit to more evenly cook meat. This avoids having to attempt to touch very hot meat when you flip it, in order to get it fully cooked, which given the lack of pot holders in the distant past, was a considerable advantage.

A roasting spit is one or sometimes two large skewers pushed through meat to cook it in a rotisserie oven.
A roasting spit is one or sometimes two large skewers pushed through meat to cook it in a rotisserie oven.

Once homes included indoor fireplaces, metal roasting spits became common for roasting joints of meat. Improvements to the spit include adding handles so that meat could be turned with greater ease, and without hurting the hands. Burns to the hands in the pre-antibiotic era were serious business, since they could easily become infected and create a blood infection. As a result, interest in avoiding burns and staying healthy was especially high.

Whole chickens can be roasted on spits.
Whole chickens can be roasted on spits.

Today, in modern homes, you may find roasting spit varieties of many sizes. Some are made to insert in rotisserie ovens, and others can be fitted on top of a gas or charcoal grill. By following directions, you can get an even roast to different parts of meat. Roasting whole chickens on spits is common, as is roasting joints like a leg of lamb, or beef roasts of various sizes.

You’ll also find traditional roasting spit varieties in a number of cuisines throughout the world. Hawaii’s luau dinners may include spit roasting whole suckling pigs. Sometimes people who camp make use of various roasting spits found in the wild if they are living “off the land.”

You can use relatively young branches that are green as roasting spits to cook fish, rabbits, or pieces of venison. Of course, you had better make sure it’s legal to hunt or fish in the area you plan to stay. If not, bring hot dogs and use either homemade or store-bought spits for wonderful results. Marshmallows over a campfire are similarly made with roasting spits of various types, typically branches.

Kebabs are cooked on a variant of the roasting spit. They are usually on small metal rods that can be turned easily and grilled over open fires, or even in ovens. For those who don’t favor roasting meat for personal reasons, you can use a roasting spit to cook especially large vegetables or make vegetarian kebabs with small spits.

Roasting spits are useful for campfire cooking.
Roasting spits are useful for campfire cooking.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Although it sounds kind of sad, lamb roast on a spit is so tasty -- really, once you try it, you won't be able to get it out of your head.

I had my first spit-roasted lamb when I was on vacation in Greece, and it is really just so juicy, but tender, with a charcoal smell and taste...oh, I'm making myself hungry just thinking about it!


@firstviolin -- Roasting a pig on a spit is labor intensive, but by no means impossible. And the flavor is phenomenal, so it make all the hard work worth it.

There are a couple of ways to spit roast a pig, so first you have to decide if you want to roast it open style, or if you are going to close the stomach cavity.

Whichever you choose, you'll need to choose a pig that is young and well-fed, and be sure to baste it often.

When you buy the pig, your butcher should be able to give you some tips on how to cook it properly, better than someone on the internet could do.

Best of luck!


What are the best tips for spit roasting a pig? I've always wanted to hold a really classic 4th of July feast that included roasting a pig on a spit, but never knew how to go about it.

Can anybody clue me in?

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