How to cook meat underground

The smell of meat baking on hot rocks: there's nothing more satisfying than cooking your food out in the wild, and if there are a lot of you, a ground oven is the best way of ensuring a hearty and flavoursome feast

  1. Dig a pit large enough for your food (a 60cm cube will be enough for a couple of chickens, a leg of lamb, some sweet potatoes and other root vegetables). make sure the ground is not peat and that it is clear of large roots so the fire remains contained.
  2. If the hole is damp, light a fire inside it to dry it out. Make another fire next to the pit to heat your stones.You will need plenty of firewood to obtain a fierce and sustained burn.The stones can of course be heated in the pit fire but this means more shovelling later!
  3. Choose your stones carefully. so that explosions and toxins can be avoided, they must not be glassy, soaking wet or limestone. once you’ve found suitable rocks, place them at the heart of your fire and heat until they glow.
  4. Shovel any ash out of the pit and place enough red hot stones inside to cover the bottom, using either a shovel or a couple of long forked sticks. Remove ash from the stones.
  5. Place your food straight on top of the stones. Large pieces of meat may benefit from a rock placed on top of them.
  6. Cover the pit with stout green sticks, then a good thick layer of foliage ensuring both are from non-toxic plants. on top of this, shovel the soil that you removed while digging the pit. This will seal in the heat and steam.
  7. Cooking time varies depending on ambient temperature, the heat of the rocks, what’s in your oven and the size of the pit. A good guide for this sized oven is 1.5 to 2 hours.
  8. Once cooking time is over, the soil can be carefully scraped back and the foliage gently rolled up like a mat. You’ll now be savouring the smell in anticipation of the feast as you remove the hot supporting sticks.
  9. Lastly, remove the contents of the oven and place on fresh foliage ready for the hungry crowd. Enjoy!

You can learn the ground oven technique alongside other bushcraft skills on a Woodlore course. For more info visit Buy Ernest iPad issue 2 for Ray Mears' guide to building a birch bark canoe.