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Sep 1, 2008 03:03 PM

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?

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  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!