Deep Pit How To
Dan and David have done it again. My brother, Dan, has been cooking Deep Pit Style for decades. It’s always for a special event where there’s going to be a big crowd. It began with the Willitts’ Pump Company Christmas Celebration. Now he’s asked to do this for wedding receptions, picnics and school or church functions. Even a rodeo! David, his youngest, has taken these photos, and provided much help too. David’s our family’s official chef.
It’s that time! I have the full instructions. This is pretty foolproof. But Dan has some funny stories about first timers. Like a friend who had hoped for succulent pit style turkeys for a Thanksgiving celebration. The pit hadn’t been successfully sealed and the fire kept smoldering. When the pit cover was opened hours later only ash was left. It’s important to bring the dirt right to the very outside edges of the metal pit, the complete depth, as seen here. Otherwise air will leak into the interior and the fire will continue.
Just to clarify, we are cooking with hot ash/coals and with the heated surrounding earth. Not flame. With this said know the initial fire is key. In this 30″ diameter by 40″ deep pit Dan makes a hot oakwood or other hardwood fire and maintains this hot flaming fire for 8 to 10 hours, usually starting at 6am. Once this fire is well underway the pit is filled to the top with hardwood adding more wood as the day progresses. (Do not use pinewood.) After the 8-10 hours of burning, the coals are ready for the meat. (During the fire preparation have your burlap bags soaking in a large bucket of water for the same amount of hours.) Dan places (drops it carefully) a 26″ diameter metal plate over the ash … Lowers the wrapped meat with a hook (wrapping discussed later) onto the metal plate … Places a lid over the top of the metal pit to totally cover … And covers the lid and immediate surrounding area with dirt, packing it tightly to keep air out. Follow this packing with a good sprinkle of water. The fire and burning coals inside will eventually go out. The meat can stay in this underground oven 24 hours without overcooking or becoming cold. If the meat is placed into the pit at say 5pm it can be removed the following day anywhere from 10am to 6pm.
You can use just about any type meat; beef, pork, deer, elk and even turkey. Keep in mind this cooking method is done with large quantities of meat, often between 80 to 100 pounds. Cooking much less you might find the meat cooks to nothing. For the elk and deer meat add chunks of beef fat or pork fat to avoid the dryness you’ll find if you cook it without this addition. This type of cooking does take the gaminess out of these wild animal meats. You can cook several different types of meat wrapping them separately or not. Dan’s last pit barbecue he used 66 pounds of beef and 14 pounds of pork.
For the beef Dan uses a shoulder clod (22 pounds or more) but his favorite cut is a chuck roll at about 15 to 18 pounds. Always go choice or better.
He lays out a long piece of foil and places the beef roast on this. He makes a deep boat shaped cut from one end of the meat to the other. Inside this cut 2 huge tablespoons of chopped garlic are added, then 8 bay leaves and 2 chopped onions … Sprinkled with 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 tablespoon of seasoning salt and 2 tablespoons of coarse black pepper. He adds 1 & 1/2 ounce of each Worcestershire sauce and red wine. And lastly 1/2 cup of dried parsley is sprinkled over all. He then covers with foil making sure the opening is on the top. He does this wrap 5 more times at 90 degree angles, again making sure all openings are on top. Next this goes into the previously water soaked burlap (Keep the foil openings up to avoid losing juices during cooking.) and is tied with rebar wire. He makes a hook out of the wire so he can lower the burlap wrapped meat into the pit.
For the pork Dan uses butts. Each weighs about 9 pounds. He uses 1 tablespoon of garlic, 1 tablespoon of seasoning salt and 1/4 cup of honey over each. He wraps them in the same fashion as the beef roast. He says pork takes to changing up … be creative.
Here are the steps in pictures. We were unable to get a picture of the cooked product. This was for a wedding reception and a photo moment wasn’t possible.