How to Make an Underground Oven (Dirt Oven DIY)


We are now prepared for the coming Zombie Apocalypse. And if the Mayans ever get it right, we’re ready for them, too. We wouldn’t have been back in 2012, but NOW we can be secure in the knowledge that we are going to survive. No, we haven’t stockpiled weapons, but we DO have a really cool underground oven! Yep, we can cook in the dirt. It’s no microwave, but it makes for very tender pork ribs, that’s for sure!
how to make an underground oven dirt oven diy, how to, outdoor living
First we (and by we, I actually mean the men in the family) dug a hole in the ground wide enough to accommodate the grill racks. Ours was 5′ by 1½’ and 2½’ deep. They used bricks to lift the racks off the ground and leave room for the hot coals. Then the sides were built up with cinder blocks so it was completely lined all the way around. I’m more of a visual learner, so here you go:
how to make an underground oven dirt oven diy, how to, outdoor living
The next step before putting the food on the racks and closing up the oven is to build a roaring wood fire in the pit. Let it burn high and hot (continually) for 2 hours and then rake out the coals until there’s no flame and it’s just coals and ashes under the racks. While the fire is burning, it’s time to prepare the meat! Just look at that beautiful rack of pork spare ribs! Make a tasty dry rub and massage it into those babies! Then wrap the racks tightly in at least 3 layers of foil, making sure there is no meat exposed. When the fire is out, place the meat on the racks. Be careful- it is REALLY hot in there!
how to make an underground oven dirt oven diy, how to, outdoor living
how to make an underground oven dirt oven diy, how to, outdoor living
So now that your fire is burned out and you put your foil-wrapped ribs in on the grates, it’s time to commit. There’s no going back after this point, so be sure everything is ready and in there! (We should have done our corn on the cob and beans in here, too. Next year.) Place a sheet of tin over the oven and then grab a shovel- it’s time to bury it all! Cover the whole thing in 4″ of dirt.
how to make an underground oven dirt oven diy, how to, outdoor living
Now, walk away and enjoy some family time for 2½ hours. Then send down the manly men to go dig up meat from the ground. This is very cool to them and they are happy to do it. Just like they are happy to play with fire. (Don’t tell them, but next year when we roast the corn and put the beans in Dutch ovens to cook, they will actually be taking care of the whole meal.)
how to make an underground oven dirt oven diy, how to, outdoor living
For more details, photos and an update, please visit my blog post link below!
Nicole Burkholder

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!

Go

Have a question about this project?

7 questions
  • Homer Saetre
    on Nov 18, 2016

    What is desirable about a dirt oven? What is wrapped in the foil? What fuel do you use?

    • Sherry Breedlove
      on Nov 19, 2016

      Hot coals are the fuel. We did turkeys one year at girls camp.

    • Sherry Breedlove
      on Nov 19, 2016

      Hot coals are the fuel. We did turkeys one year at girls camp.

    • Mary Ann Akana
      on Nov 19, 2016

      In Hawaii it is called an "Imu" (e-moo). We use Lava rocks, banana tree leaves, stumps,wet burlap bags. The food has a smoked taste. Everything is slow cooked. The results are tender meats that shreds & falls of the bone. With so much juicy sauce. The flavors are Amazing! A small pit can cook more food than an oven. And if there ever was a poweroutage, this is a fabulous way to go. 5 stars all the way!

    • Nicole Burkholder
      on Nov 20, 2016

      1) The slow-cooked flavor is unlike anything else you'll ever try, and it takes no power so it's an option for outdoor eating/remote camping, etc. 2) This post has racks of ribs in foil, but we've done whole chickens, turkeys, and roasts in it as well 3) As stated in the post, the fuel is the heat from a large fire that is later tamped down and the remaining coals heat the oven for many hours.

    • C. D. Scallan
      on Apr 26, 2017

      You made a Cajun microwave . People in Louisiana have been cooking in these for decades . It's a time honored tradition .

    • 15330759
      on Apr 28, 2017

      Back in the 70s, we had a pit in the back yard in Phoenix --- about 5 feet deep. We piled wood, then had 4 or 5 pieces of rebar across (stuck into the sides) at about 18 inches from the surface. After the fire was just red coals, we laid metal over the rebar. We did a whole pig one year and a huge goat the next. Stuff the big critter with chickens and onions and garlic, then roll it in white sheets (foil doesn't come big enough) and soak the sheets. Then roll in burlap and wet down some more. Lower onto the tin (how DID we do that?) We must have used ropes as a sling. Cover with more tin and bury OVERNIGHT. That first time, I worried all night, going out back, hand on the cool earth. I had visions of KFC for 75 people. But the meat fell off the bones and it was outstanding. And to answer the WHY? question, because we could and who has an oven to hold that much meat? and who wants that heat in the house in the summer? and who wants to clean that mess? and don't we want that kitchen area for making deviled eggs and potato salad?

    • Cindy Brewer
      on May 1, 2017

      This is how I cook dinners at the lake. I always prepare the meals at home and keep in the coolers. The kids always love digging the hole we need and love the Brisket, and Ribs as well as everything else we put in. This is how my grandparents cooked when I was little so we keep it a family tradition for our lake time.

    • Hel6645655
      on May 23, 2017

      Wow Fez that's a good way to put it.

    • Lew11462833
      on May 23, 2017

      I actually have a question. How do you cook beef, pork and chicken at the same time without taking the dirt off the tin? Do you have different levels for different meats?
      Lewis

    • Linda
      on May 23, 2017

      I lived in CA several years and every July 4th my friends did a goat in a pit. Got stones lined in it, did the coals as done in this post, I think it was wrapped in wet burlap..anyway, it cooked overnite, OMG it was fantastic

    • Six racks of ribs and you didn't incite me?!? (Just kidding!)

      Thanks for posting this! Some who didn't have the benefit of Scouts or country living may try something new, and the rest of us either needed reminding or enjoy the memories. And the flavor really IS amazing!


    • Debra Thomas
      on May 24, 2017

      I love cooking this way. I cook stew, roast everything when camping in the underground oven. At home for Thanksgiving the guys always dig a pit and cook the turkey over night. it is very tender and delicious!

  • Lew11462833
    on May 23, 2017

    How do you cook beef, pork and chicken at the same time in the underground oven? Do you have different levels in the oven for different meats? When I cook, I like to cook different meats for those who have preference of meat to eat. I like your oven size. It would do me right to have one that size. Great job for those who dug the hole! Awesome!!

    • Jewell Martin
      on May 23, 2017

      @Lewis.Groome This is for long, slow cooking. Meats like steak or prime rib can't be cooked "to order". On the other hand, smaller items like cut up chicken, pork chops, vegetables, can be smoked along with a rack of ribs. The items you don't want to cook too fast need some extra wrapping. They can be wrapped in foil, shiny side out. They can be wrapped in multiple layers of foil. They can be wrapped and placed in a covered pot. A shelf of more grating and bricks will also keep smaller meats farther from the heat so they cook slower; therefore the large cuts and the smaller foods will all be ready at the same time. I hope this helps. Best wishes 😇

    • Nicole Burkholder
      on May 26, 2017

      ^^^ Yes. :)
      We generally cook all the same kind of meat, because we serve it all up on a tray family style. We've done several whole chickens, a turkey and loads of ribs. You want meat with bones to help keep things moist if you cook for too long :)

  • Loretta Hand McLeod
    on May 23, 2017

    Do you have to worry about dirt getting into the food?

    • Loretta Hand McLeod
      on May 23, 2017

      I mean when you dig it up.. How do you keep from getting the meat dirty?

    • Linda
      on May 23, 2017

      The meat is wrapped up..read the post !!

    • Dawn Marie Sutton
      on May 25, 2017

      No, the tin is between the dirt and the meat. The tin protects the meat from accidentally getting spaded.

    • Nicole Burkholder
      on May 26, 2017

      The tin cover keeps out the dirt when piling it on and removing it later. Then there's the addition of aluminum foil wrapped around the meat (or a dutch oven or something similar.)

  • Sarge
    on May 24, 2017

    My question may sound silly but I know very little about cooking (and I do mean very little)... there was a huge piece of "tin" covering the food. what is the purpose of covering the tin with the dirt? is it to anchor it down or to somehow seal it. wouldn't using extra bricks do the trick?

    • Laura Hanna
      on May 24, 2017

      I am not the author of this article, but the dirt will insulate and keep the heat in. the heat will dissipate pretty quickly through the tin.

    • Nicole Burkholder
      on May 26, 2017

      Yes, to the keep the heating even and slow, it needs to be buried. Think of it like the big pits they use to cook pigs at a Hawaiian luau :)

    • Terry Halcrow
      on May 31, 2017

      If you don't want to use tin-foil (which doesn't contain tin). use banana leaves or corn husks. Soak them overnight, while your meal marinates.

    • Karen Tucker
      on May 31, 2017

      Have done this cooking whole hog cut in 15lb chunks. We also triple wrapped in foil and then added double wrap of soaking wet burlap and tied each with wire. Easier to lift out with a long hookj when wire wrapped. Wet burlap helped steam and keep meat moist. Meat fell of the bone when taken out

  • Barbara Milan
    on Jun 30, 2017

    Let it burn high and hot (continually) for 2 hours and then rake out the coals until there’s no flame and it’s just coals and ashes under the racks.
    Do you "rake out" all the coals; or, do you just remove those that are burning? I don't understand what you mean by your above statement. I've never grilled before, so treat this ? as a sincere one.

    • JayJen Jackson
      on Jul 20, 2017

      I believe it means to rake the coals until there is no fire. Don't take them out. Just take them back and forth until there are no visual flame.

  • Valerie Mitchell Heron
    on Aug 12, 2017

    This is Interesting ! Question, why cook underground instead of useing a slow cooker. Is it the taste? What is the advantage if it

  • Karen Lee Fetterolf
    on Aug 26, 2017

    When you chose your site, how did you make certain that the fire would not be able to spread underground or would not damage under- or above-ground things?

Join the conversation

4 of 205 comments
  • I am going to try this project. Great POST ! ! ! ! How hot does it get in the oven/hole once you cover it up?

    • Nicole Burkholder
      on Dec 11, 2017

      I honestly couldn't tell you! It's a low and slow heat, so my guess would be about 250 degrees? We cook for several hours so it can't be much warmer than that. But we've never put a thermometer in there. :)

  • Gerardo Jerry Ascencio
    on Dec 11, 2017

    Great. I will be putting a thermometer into mine and will gladly post my results. Happy pit cooking ! ~! ! !

Your comment...