Cooking Beef In A Pit Oven

by Paul Nicholls

tender beef cooked in a pit oven

Tender and juicy. Silverside Beef cooked in a pit oven. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

There is nothing better than spending time with friends out camping. When one of those friends brings a beautiful cut of Silverside Beef from his own stock for dinner, it seems only right to cook it in a special way. Of course, we could just put it in a Dutch oven and cook it in a more conventional way but the flavour you gain from cooking it in a pit oven really is something else. It is more time consuming, but so much more rewarding. Joining me for this culinary treat was Martin Tomlinson, who supplied the Beef, and Andrew Casey, who helped make the oven.

Preparing the oven

We dug a hole approx. 2ft x 3ft x 18ins deep. This allows enough room for a layer of stones at the bottom and around the sides leaving plenty of room for the food.

a hole 2ft x 3ft x 18 ins aprox ready for pit ovena

We dug a hole approx. 2ft x 3ft x 18ins deep. Photo: Paul Nicholls

preparing the fire for a pit oven layering rocks and branches

We layered rocks in between branches of different sizes. Photo: Martin Tomlinson

To get the rocks up to a good cooking temperature, (cherry red hot) We layered rocks in between branches of different sizes. Personally, I prefer to light the fire in the pit as I find the warmed ground helps the cooking process. Safety point: Avoid using flint or rocks that have been in water as when they get hot, they could explode.

Starting the fire

We lit the fire using the bow drill method. I find the extra effort put in is reflected in the depth of flavour that comes out.

Safety point – Once we had the fire lit, we moved a safe distance away for at least half an hour, just in case any rocks exploded.

using the bow drill to start a fire

We used the Bow Drill method to light the fire. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

capturing the glowing ember in a tinder bundle.

Capturing the glowing ember in the tinder bundle. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

add the flaming tinder bundle to the prepared pit oven fire

Adding the flaming tinder bundle to the prepared pit oven fire. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

Preparing the meat

We used the time while the fire was burning to prepare the meat.

wrapping the meat in burdock and garlic mustard leaves

Preparing the meat; wrapping it in Burdock and Garlic Mustard leaves. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

To protect the meat while it is cooking, we wrapped it in Burdock leaves and some Garlic mustard leaves which are food safe and then tied it all up with some Willow bark.

wrapping meat in burdock and garlic mustard leaves which are food safe

Preparing the meat; Burdock and Garlic Mustard leaves are food safe. Photo; Paul Nicholls

tying up the meat parcel with willow bark

Tie up the meat parcel with Willow bark. Photo; Paul Nicholls

Once the fire had died down and the rocks were at the optimum temperature, we added the vegetables and the meat to the oven.

arrange the food carefully in the pit oven

Carefully arranging the food in the hot pit oven. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

To seal the oven, we cut green branches and laid them across the top to make a lid. We then laid more Burdock leaves over that to stop any mud falling in. NB: Note the amount of rocks needed to effectively heat this size of oven.

laying burdock leaves to make a lid for the pit oven

Laying branches and Burdock leaves to make a lid for the pit oven. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

We then gently covered the whole thing in mud to seal in the heat.

covering the pit oven with mud to seal in the heat

Quite proud of ourselves! The pit oven covered in mud to seal in the heat. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

Cooking time

We left it for about an hour and a half (minimum) Not so different from a conventional oven!

uncovering the steaming pit oven

Uncovering the oven. Caution should be taken as there will be plenty of steam. Photo; Martin Tomlinson

Caution should be used when uncovering the oven as you can see the steam in the above image. Also, do this carefully so no mud falls into the oven, spoiling the food. DO NOT USE YOUR HANDS.

Food cooked in a pit oven

Dinner is ready! Photo; Martin Tomlinson

perfectly cooked beef in a pit oven

Delicious, perfectly cooked Beef! Photo; Paul Nicholls

In my opinion, a pit oven is one of the best ways to cook a larger joint of meat. It certainly is one of my favourite methods. Why not try it sometime? Send us pictures so we can see how you did yours!

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Paul Nicholls, from Bedford, attended his first Bushcraft course in 2008, where he met Paul Kirtley, who was leading the course. The course had a huge impact on Paul and he spent the subsequent six years learning and practising more new skills. Now known as “Spoons” to his bushcraft friends, Paul has developed a particular love of carving. After helping with Frontier Bushcraft informally in 2013, he was invited to join Frontier’s instructional team in 2014.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dave Howard

Hi Paul, Andrew, Martin and last but by no means least, Spoons; WOW !! You guys did a cracking job. I love the theory that using more effort, lighting the fire with the bow-drill, added to the flavour of the meal. The meat was beautifully cooked, proving the point I like to make that just because you are living outdoors for a while does not mean you have to eat as if you are on a crash diet , (or on army MRE rations again). I love the way using the stones provided a long cooking time, I guess you could have made a fruit dessert too if it had been later in the year. Thanks for sharing your experience and expertise.
All the best to you all, Dave.

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