HOME > Chowhound > California >


Searching for deep-pit BBQ

I’m trying to find an old Central CA tradition that seems to be almost gone. I’m talking about deep-pit BBQ, where large pieces of beef are lightly spiced, wrapped in paper and then in wet burlap sacks, and then buried underground along with hot rocks and smoldering coals, and left to cook for something like 18 hours.

When the meat comes out, it’s smoky-tasting and so tender you could spread it with a knife. Usually served with pinto beans and mild salsa, this preparation used to be common for small-town civic events like say, a city-wide 4th of July BBQ. Now most of the towns that used to do this have switched to grilled tri-tip and the like. 25+ years ago, there were takeout places in Bakersfield that used to serve this. No longer. Since my youth, I’ve only had it once at a private party in Fresno, and more recently at a town celebration in Idyllwild. It’s still as good as I remember it.

Does anyone know of public events (or commercial enterprises) where you can still get this? I did a search, and this is all I came up with:

Any leads?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. We had started planning one about 30 years ago, that morphed into something else, but recall that we could rent the Veteran's Memorial Bldg. in Clovis that had an in ground pit just for that purpose.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PolarBear

      I'd say follow PB's lead. Contact the Clovis Vet's Hall and see who rents the pit. Approach them.

      I knew an old cowboy who worked a large ranch near Woodlake in the 50's and did deep-pit bbq's for them. He's gone now, but he described the process exactly as oerdin below. Build a big fire in a bigger pit, using live oak. Let it burn to coals, place rocks over coals to heat, cover with chicken wire (with shovel handles threaded through the ends) and wet burlap sacks, place the meat, more burlap sacks, then finally a foot or so of soil. They let it go about 8-10 hours for a side of beef, about 8 hours for a whole piglet. The wire length was long enough to extend out of the pit, and was used by three or four guys to heft the meat out of the pit once the soil and top burlap bags had been removed.

    2. The San Dieguito Heritage Museum in Encinitas has hosted an annual Deep-Pit Barbecue event in the past:
      450 Quail Gardens Drive
      Information: (760) 632-9711

      1 Reply
      1. re: trentyzan

        Dang. I just checked their site as we were planning to attend the San Dieguito event, and just this year they're switching to Santa Maria-style tri-tip. I'm sure that would be good, but it's not what I'm looking for. Will be checking with Strasner's in Bakersfield, and with Clovis, and plan to update this thread as I get more info.

        The method description by the old cowboy (as related by Toodie Jane upthread) is pretty much how I remember it being done.

      2. It may not be what you're looking for, but Save Mart Supermarkets sell a boneless chuck roast seasoned and wrapped in paper for cooking in the oven at 200° for about 8 hrs. Meat is tender and shredded nicely.

        1. Sounds similar to a Hawaii pig roast except they everything in large banana leaves with coals above and below then buried in dirt. You come back 12 hours later to find your pig and everything you buried in banana leaves fully cooked, juicy, and ready to eat (once you dig it out).

          1. Gawd, I hope this post finds someone who does it on a regular basis! There is nothing to compare it to...I still remember doing it every year as a fundraiser for our parish and it was soldout every time! Tender, juicy...unbelievable flavor!

            1. If your close to Bakersfield... Taft has a big "oildarado" celabration every 5 years in October (years ending in 0 & 5). Big deep-pit feed at the oil museum (possibly at the Petrolum Club also)

              If you can't wait... you can do it in the oven (not quite as good but...) I use Chuck or Brisket (or both) You need some seasoning called "Pappy's" (get the low salt one). Rub meat with Whorchester sauce & liquid smoke (I know one gal who uses the whole bottle of liquid smoke) Rub in the Pappys....wax paper the roast then tin-foil (you want to seal it up as tight as possible). A whole Chuck takes 20-24 hours @ 210 degrees F Internal temp around 165 degrees.... let it rest awhile before opening it up (it's suck up some of the juices)

              1 Reply
              1. re: dickinsonc

                Taft has a big "oildarado" celabration every 5 years in October (years ending in 0 & 5). Big deep-pit feed at the oil museum (possibly at the Petrolum Club also)

                So this is the year 2010???????????

                1. re: PolarBear

                  Polarbear, I always enjoy your recommendations. Thanks for tracking this down. Reminds me of the old buried pig dinners they used to do in the formerly bohemian Mountain Drive enclave of Montecito, where they also "invented" the hot tub. And like Hawaiian, this is also a Fijian method of cooking too - perhaps contacting someone in the Fijian community could give some leads too. It used to be a private party catering event when I saw these done in Santa Barbara - old cowboys here too I guess.

                2. Every year since I was a kid, I would have deep pit BBQ at the Kern County Fair in Bakersfield. MMMMMmmmm. Check out www.strasnersbbq.com/kcfair.htm. 45 years they've been doin' BBQ.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: skipsmcgee

                    if that link doesn't work, try this one, and click through to the Kern Cty Fair:


                    seems they also open up the pit for other fairgrounds events through the year. Would love to hear about it if you connect!

                  2. Glick's Deli in Visalia takes orders for deep pit BBQ. Also, in October, outside Pixley the Valley Musicians Benefit Fund does a huge weekend event called Risi's Pond and those guys do AWESOME deep pit. Great food and music run by a great group of people.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: wsweetie

                      wsweetie: Sounds great. Any contact info? A web search only turns up an empty site.

                        1. re: kamdraft

                          Glick's in Visalia appears to have re-opened by a family member.

                    2. There is a place in Armona, CA. Very small town but close to Fresno & Hanford. They deep pit turkeys for thanksgiving. Normally you can bring your own turkey or they can supply it. I assume they can do this with other meats as well. It is also a restaurant and the food is quite good. It is called Raven's Deli. They also have their own brand of seasoning which is top notch. I use it on everything!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sleepyportugee

                        Armona is about half way between Lemoore and Hanford (@ 6 mi east of Hwy 41, 20 mi west of Hwy 99 around Visalia).

                      2. There is a BBQ joint in Arroyo Grande on the Central Coast, o/o by three young brothers.
                        Gibson Bros BBQ is located at 1436 E, Grande Ave (east of Oak Park) near Spencer's Mkt. 805-474-5674.

                        (They do conventional open grilling over oak . They serve chicken, trip tip, pork ribs, linguica and hot dogs along with sides of mashed potatoes, potato salad, slaw, beans, etc. Sort of a sports-bar scene without the bar--a man-cave sort of place, small but family friendly. Most business is takeout.)

                        I asked them if they did or know anyone who does deep pit BBQ on the Central Coast, and they replied that the family has local Hawaiian friends who deep pit-cook pigs on a regular basis. They postulated that they should be able to special order deep pit bbq through these friends.

                        1. My mouth is watering just reading all of this! I am originally from Bakersfield and grew up on deep pit tri tip. My grandfather and father had deep pits in their backyards and it brings back memories just talking about it! I live in North Carolina now and have never been able to find this cut of meat around here. The butcher always looks at me like I have four eyes when I ask him if he knows what it is :) A Trader Joe's just recently opened near me and I found a tri tip roast there! Only problem...no deep pit. I know its not as good in the oven but it will satisfy my tri tip craving. Does anyone have any good recipes for in the oven? My method is seasoning it, wrapping it in foil, and putting it in a brown paper bag in the oven at about 250 degrees for at least 8 hours. I'm open for other suggestions!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: calicarolinagirl

                            My BIL does it low-and-slow on a covered kettle bbq. Just simple s&p rub, then at about 300 for 2-3 hours for a large roast. No foil, no brown paper (curious, what is the purpose of the paper?) Just brown both sides and monitor heat. You can cut it with the side of your fork.

                            Here's a good explanation of the meat cut for your butcher :

                            This posting contains the offical meat cutting designation of 185D. Maybe print out the article and highlight the designation so the store meat cutter can look it up. Maybe he/she/you can start a new trend in your area. Many of our Central Coast supermarkets have portable BBQ's going out front on the tourist weekends to sell cooked Tri-Tip. It's a good way of introducing/selling cuts of meat to bbq'ing vacationers.

                            Also great as a fundraiser. Something beside the same-ol same-ol BBQ. Meals of 3 slices of meat (or a sandwich) simple green salad, and garlic bread and salsa go for anywhere from $7 to 10, depending on the benefit recipient.

                          2. a bot off topic but this may be helpful as to methodolgy. A friend posted about deep pit bbq in the Carolinas, using a whole young pig. Perhaps the method described will be helpful to some reading this.

                            (O'Neal cooked whole hogs and other bbq for the Obama campaign workers in S Carolina during the primaries. Click on the link 'Homeboys for Change' for a video about his Obamaque adventures.)

                            Whole American Hog blog post:


                            1. I recall seing this as a 7 year old at the Madera County Fair in Chowchilla, decades ago. Horrified I was, watching a tractor dig meat out of the ground, then handed to me on a plate. Looks like they're still doing it once a year in May. Mark your calendar -- See you there in 2011!


                              1. The deep pit at Glick's old fashioned meat market in Visalia is really good. You need to order ahead 559-732-6439

                                1. Hey, Steve!

                                  El Borrego de Oro in East LA serves freshly slaughtered farm-raised lamb barbacoa in the Hidalgo style. It is slow-cooked for 8-10 hours in a stone-lined earth pit, buried below ground, with hardwoods and mesquite covered with Maguey cactus leaves. The result is seriously delicious, despite not having the intense smoke flavor that some equate with good barbeque. Incredibly tender, juicy and flavorful. This is “barbacoa estilo Hidalgo” and its subtle savoriness is as it should be – authentic and traditional.

                                  Great mix of lean, fat and gristle with a typical order, however you can request any particular cut that you prefer. You can even get whole cabezas (heads). They also make a very good consommé (soup) to accompany the barbacoa, made from the juices that fall off the lamb as it cooks.

                                  The owners raise sheep on a farm in Chino, CA, where the actual preparation takes place. Freshly prepared barbacoa is delivered to the two restaurants daily. I prefer the ambience and service at the original #1 location on Whittier Blvd, although parking can be a challenge.


                                  El Borrego de Oro #1
                                  2403 Whittier Blvd.
                                  Los Angeles, CA 90023
                                  (323) 780-4213

                                  El Borrego de Oro #2
                                  2808 E. Washington Blvd.
                                  Los Angeles, CA 90023
                                  (323) 780-1132

                                  1. Steve,
                                    We started our own family tradition several years ago of having a "pit party" the night before Thanksgiving. We live on a couple of acres just north of Clovis. I dug a hole about 4' x 6', lined it with brick, and made a steel lid with handles on it. After the out-of-town family arrives on Wednesday afternoon, we start the fire around 4 p.m. Everyone hangs out as we build the bed of hot coals for 4 or 5 hours. Then, around 9 o'clock, we put the meet in the hole, cover the hole with the lid, then covering the lid with about 4 inches of dirt blanket.

                                    Because several local friends also come over and bring their meat, we've had as many as 18 turkeys, roasts, etc. (whatever anyone wants to cook). Each piece of meat is seasoned and individually wrapped in 3 layers of foil, then wrapped with wet burlap bags, and tied with coat hanger wire.

                                    We then open the hole at around 9 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. Everyone comes by to pick up their meat. It's sooo much fun! Spending Wednesday with friends and family sitting around the fire, then everyone getting some of the best meat of the year - you can't beat it.

                                    Happy Holidays,


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: rickyd857

                                      Rick--it'd be great if you could take some photos this year and post them!

                                    2. Hi Steve,
                                      Our parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe - Rosehill in Los Angeles hosts a California Deep Pit bbq fundraiser the first Sunday in October every year. It's been a tradition for over 50 years at our parish. It is served as a dinner plate which includes meat, beans (also cooked in the pit), rice, cole slaw and a roll or served in a burrito.

                                      There is a big brick lined pit, preparation is done by our local boy scout troop master and parish groups.Entertainment, games and other goodies.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: gabster70

                                        Hi Gabster,

                                        I missed the first Sunday in October 2011. Was it still held? I bet it was with that 50 year history.

                                        I'm going to mark my date book now!

                                      2. Bakersfield seems to have several places that include deep pit beef on their menus.

                                        Anyone tried these?

                                        Fred's BBQ Factory

                                        Martin's Meats & Deli

                                        Pappy's Down South BBQ

                                        Champs BBQ & Catering

                                        Milt's Coffee Shop

                                        Fabious Corner

                                        Poor Boys BBQ & Catering

                                        Hot and Smokin' BBQ

                                        Caesar's Italian Deli

                                        Too Fat Sandwiches

                                        Quig's BBQ & Catering

                                        And CSU Bakersfield has an annual event, last one was October 2012,

                                        Then in Buttonwillow:

                                        Willow Ranch Restaurant

                                        12 Replies
                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          Thanks for the updates, Melanie. I tried Champs a couple of times, a few years back. The first time it was great -- pretty close to the deep-pit of my youth, the second time, just so-so.

                                          But I guess my tastes have changed. If I had to choose between Champs best, and Salinas City BBQ's brisket (I know, not deep-pit), the S.C. BBQ would win. However, that won't keep me from seeking out deep-pit.

                                          1. re: Steve Green

                                            I've never had deep-pit that I know of, so thank you for bringing this up even if was years ago. If I were closer to Bakersfield, I'd take a couple days and try them all!

                                            One of those spots, I think it was Hot & Smokin' had a photo of some very good looking brisket for Brisket Wednesday.

                                          2. re: Melanie Wong

                                            Used to eat at the orignial BBQ Factory. After it closed started over to Champs. As they sold out, didn't continue the same quality. Fred reopen his business and it is the BEST IMHO? Have tried Fabious but didn't like as much. Of course these are only my opinion. :-)

                                            1. re: Bakersfield Hound

                                              Thanks for checking in! I've not had deep pit beef before. Please tell me what a quality product is like. What makes Fred better than the others?

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                I don't remember that Fred does "deep pit" style. He really shines with the tri-tip. The beans are very good and the salsa is OUTSTANDING. In my opinion, deep pit bbq is a chuck roast that has been cooked for hours and becomes tender and falls aparts.

                                                1. re: Bakersfield Hound

                                                  Thanks. I'd found each of those websites linked above because they did mention deep pit style, nearly all beef.

                                                  I wonder why Bakersfield seems to be the hold out in the state that still features this style.

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    I think it's because like Santa Maria, it's usually about the Tri-Tip.

                                                2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                  Haven't had Fred's, but in my experience it's much more about the method than the cut of meat used. When it's done right, it has a light smoky flavor, and the connective tissue is pretty much gone, so you have piles of meat that have fallen apart into individual strands (much like the Hawaiian kalua pork). Occasionally you get pieces from the edge that have gotten a bit of a direct roast, as it's not a perfect process. Sort of like pulled pork, but even softer. It's been basting in its own fat, so this is not a low-fat dish -- on the other hand, much of that fat liquefies and drains away.

                                              2. re: Melanie Wong

                                                Since I'll be passing through Bakersfield tomorrow, I thought I'd give a call to the places Melanie listed above, that claim to serve deep-pit BBQ. Unfortunately, as I feared, they're using the term "deep-pit", shall we say, rather loosely. I was able to reach all but two of those on the list (although I skipped the ones who just do catering). When I um, grilled them about their cooking method, the responses ranged from "we do our deep-pit in a smoker", to "well, not necessarily in the ground, but it's BBQ", or "we do our deep-pit in the oven", to "I don't know, it comes already bagged".

                                                So to sum up, apart from the catering-only places I didn't call, no true deep-pit BBQ at all. Melanie, I do appreciate your taking the time to make up the list in any case, and I'll continue to keep my eye out for the real deal.

                                                1. re: Steve Green

                                                  Unfortunately, that sounds like the same kind of liberties as encountered with the word "barbecue". Maybe CSU Bakersfield party is the last hope.

                                                  Do you recall the two you did not reach?

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Fabious, and Fred's (no answer, and fax machine, respectively). To clarify -- for all I know, the catering-only outfits I didn't call might do deep-pit.

                                                    The guy at Quig's said although they don't do deep-pit, they smoke their brisket for 16 hours. That sounds promising, however they won't be open weekends till the fall. Maybe I'll catch them on the way back through later in the week. Then again, I just might take a _long_ detour to Salinas City BBQ. That really was some of the best 'Q I've ever had.

                                                    1. re: Steve Green

                                                      Glicks in Visalia does great deep pit (in the ground) twice a week,but they have it every day...beef,sometimes pork ect...Glicks Old Fashion Meats and Deli
                                                      604 W Murray Ave, Visalia, CA 559-732-6439

                                              3. For some strange reason my prior reply to a post and said initial post on an annual deep pit barbecue held in Bangor has been removed. Perhaps they thought it was a reference to Bangor, ME?

                                                The 70th annual Bangor Barbecue will be held May 19. From the Oroville Mercury-Register:

                                                "Activities for kids, an extensive raffle, vendors, live KKCY radio broadcast and food are planned from noon to 5 p.m. at Bangor Park. The menu includes deep pit barbecued beef, potato salad, beans, green salad and roll and cost is $10 for adults, $5 for ages 4-11 and free to those 3 and younger."

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Pius Avocado III

                                                  Here's the contact info I'd posted earlier:

                                                  Bangor Community Hall and Park
                                                  7500 Oro Bangor Hwy.
                                                  Bangor, Ca.
                                                  Butte, CA 95914
                                                  (530) 679-0807

                                                  I'd been told that the beef would be tri-tip, but the other poster said that it has always been rolled roasts.

                                                2. Growing up in Arizona, this was the type of BBQ served at every event. Always beef, tender, shredded, in sauce. I haven't had it in years, but have been talking about it lately. I'd like to taste it again too, but so far, looking on this thread, not seeing anything too hopeful. Thanks for posing the question.
                                                  Hey, if you can get to Twain Harte by the 17th, they'll be doing it. http://www.twainharterotary.org/DeepP...

                                                  1. I'm wandering downtown Kingsburg (off Hwy 99) at the moment. Spotted this poster for deep pit BBQ event coming up Nov 9.

                                                    1. I went to the deep pit bbq at the Hat Creek Hereford Ranch,CA. in July.They put on a fundraiser for the volunteer fire dept.You got a large piece what looked to be boneless ribeye.Melt in your mouth.Also green salad,beans,garlic bread,and a cookie.It's a large plate of food. For $10.00.Next year I going to get a extra plate to go.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: emglow101

                                                        Found the flyer here,

                                                        Please let us know when it comes up next year. I'd love to try it.

                                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                          I'm already looking forward to it .Mid July. It's hot out .On a pristine cattle ranch between Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta. Beautiful country,and for a good cause.I saw the backhoe that dug the pit and the firemen who managed the bbq, but caught it at the end. I want to be there in the beginning next year to see how it is done. Mark your calendar. I believe next year is the 35th annual.