Underground pit barbecue
I’ve been wanting to write on this subject for quite some time. It is fast
becoming an arcane subject, soon to be lost to the world. The term
barbecue originated with French trappers. They took a goat and put a
spit from the beard to the tail From the barb to the cue. They cooked it
over high heat to seal in the liquids and then, let the fire die down
to a slow cook.
The underground BBQ is different from all other methods.
Steaming the meat avoids carbonizing it. It avoids creating all the carcinogens that come with over-cooking
My father was quite adept at this and, was in charge of the BBQ pits at Rancho San Antonio for their yearly fund-raiser / BBQ. There is little understanding of the cooking process.
I found no information on the net and, wanted to post it somewhere so that it would show up on a search.
The essential idea of the underground pit BBQ is simple. Steam the meat
for 17–24 hours. Even the toughest meat becomes very tender. If you
cook a turkey, you unwrap it and just pick out the bones. All the meat
is left. If you cook brisket, it comes out very tender. I built my first
pit BBQ when I was ten y.o. I built my last one about 2 years ago.
The first one had firebrick for the base and, red brick for the rest. My
latest one was all firebrick. The bricks came out of the old Kaiser
steel mill in Fontana, Ca. I, of course, started with a hole in the
ground. I levelled it and used rebar and concrete. The BBQ is 3 X 6 X 5
feet. 5 feet being the depth. The brick doesn’t need a lot of
structural strength so, building it isn’t critical.
I was missing quite a bit of info on the mechanics of cooking so, I looked on E-bay. I found 2 books.Better Homes and Gardens Barbecue Book 1965Sunset’s Barbecue Book 1938I’ll
do a lot of quoting from these books. They have a lot of illustrations
but, a hole in the ground is just a hole in the ground.
Remember to never put more than 25 lbs of meat in one bundle. Build another pit
if you are planning to feed more than 160 guests. Take 25 lbs of
meat—beef, mutton or venison—Fairly fat. Lean venison can be used
by putting it in with a pound or two of sliced bacon. Do not cut meat
into smaller pieces than is necessary. Season with 1/2 cupful of salt,
1/4 cupful of black pepper, 1/4 cupful of sugar, 2 tablespoons of garlic
salt or, 6–8 cloves of garlic.
Wrap the meat in 2 thicknesses of cheese cloth. (plain cotton works fine).
Sew up the bundle. (I just wrapped it with a lot of twine). Wrap this
bundle in 2 thicknesses of burlap and sew it up. Tie both ways with
baling wire. (The meat will just fall apart after it is cooked this
way. The wrapping should be pretty secure)
It is a good idea to form a loop of wire that sticks out from the bundle.
This will be a big help when you go to fish out the meat with a pole
& hook after it is cooked. Some burlap is treated so that it won’t
burn. I don’t know if this treatment will flavor the meat. IF you cook goat, everything in the pit will come out tasting like goat. Dunno about deer.
The whole idea of the pit BBQ is; heat up as much masonry as hot as
possible. You will need to burn the fire for hours to heat up a few
thousand pounds of bricks. The whole idea here is to steam the meat.
That is why you use cotton and burlap, so that the steam can pass
through. Do not use brown paper.
OK, you have a wheelbarrow of well-wrapped bundles of meat. You are
standing next to your BBQ. After several hours, the fire has burned down
to a bed of coals. You are counting on the heat in the masonry more
than you are counting on the heat from the coals. You have a barrel of
water at you side.
You dunk each bundle into the water and toss it into the pit. You do this as fast as possible.
Sixty seconds form the time that the meat leaves your hands, you should have
at least a foot of dirt covering the lid. When finished, you’ll have 3
ft. of dirt over the lid.This is just a bit excessive. You MUST seal out all air or the meat will
just burn up. You need to watch the pit for the first hour to detect
any smoke / steam leaks. Deprived of oxygen, the coals rapidly go out.
All that water that you threw in with the bundles is turning to steam.
Fire brick will take this shock better than plain red brick.
It is best to build the BBQ with a ledge to fit a steel lid. Some lids are
2 piece, Some are one piece. 1/4 inch plate is about right. Since
you have a good lid, you only have to concentrate on sealing up the
The meat must remain in the pit for at least 15 hours. No harm done if it is in for 24 hours. I recall that 17 hours was just about right. It depends on the temperature of your masonry.There
is a pit BBQ vid on Youtube where they roast a pig. They did NOT have a
masonry pit and, the meat was not very cooked. Search youtube on,
Pig roast underground! learn how to roast a pig underground! Pig cook!
They give this recipe;
@chatsworth777 "THE BEST RECIPE FOR REMOVING GAMINESS IN WILD PIG
In a deep sink, tub,etc place the dressed pig, cover completely w ice,
fill to cover pig with water, pour in 2-20 oz. jugs apple juice, 1/2
cup vinegar, 1/2 cup salt.Cover and let stand, overnight, DO THIS 3
TIMES (my pigs were 70-90 lbs ea.),cook anyway you want. I did this
with 2 wild pigs we caught and fed about 120 people, no gamines at all,
meat was pinkish white when we smoked em, and not a bite was left."
Since there are a lot of pigs running around in places like Texas, this would
be a handy recipe. Bear is known to be greasy and tough. It might be a
natural for the pit BBQ. If you get a moose or elk, it seems like you
are forever chopping it up into little pieces to cook it. A pit BBQ
would be a good way to avoid all that cutting. Just invite over 100
Remember that; when an animal dies, it undergoes rigor mortis. The whole idea of ageing is to undo rigor mortis.You can even BBQ a road-kill deer and feed it to your dogs. 18 hours of
steaming is bound to kill any pathogens except prions. Don’t take "mad"
Search Youtube for …El Borrego De Oro - Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo…To see the Mexican version of the pit BBQ.
I hope that some of you can give this a try. The book has instructions
for a pit BBQ that uses a lot of rocks rather than masonry.