How to Pit Cook a Turkey
You can cook your turkey while you are camping!
You don't have to give up having a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey just because you are enjoying camping with your family. You can cook a fantastic turkey in a pit in the ground. It is a unique experience and really fun to try.
Read about a California family that is active in the offroad community and camps in the California desert. It is a challenge finding new ways to fix food on camping trips. There are some other web pages about cooking a turkey in a pit while camping so they read up and thought they would give it a try.
If you love turkey and love the great outdoors, you will be cooking in a pit in no time.
Photos are ©Jolene Belmain or used with permission from FlaminCatDesigns.
Caution While Pit Cooking
1. Place barriers around the pit cooking area for safety.
2. Children should not be allowed around the area.
3. If you allow your child to help, supervise them.
4. After the turkey is done, the pit area remains hot for several hours.
Keep kids away, and don't forget to fill the pit back in!
Step 1: Dig a hole in the ground for your pit.
They were camping in the desert where the soil is sand and soft, so some large rocks were used in the base of the pit to give it some stability and also the rocks will soak up the heat from the briquettes and help with the cooking.
Be sure your pit is deep and wide enough to include not only your turkey, but also the briquettes, rocks and a good several inches of earth covering your cooking bird.
This pit was approx. 3 feet deep and a little less than 3 feet wide. The turkey was about 15 lbs. You will need to make adjustments for the size of your turkey.
Use a long handled shovel to dig the hole in the ground.
Even out in the sand, after the soft top layer is pushed away, most camping areas are a mix of hard packed earth.
You will get the leverage you need with a long handle shovel.
Step 2: Prepare the charcoal briquettes.
(They found it best to have someone prepping the turkey in the motorhome or trailer while someone else is working on the pit.)
Pick your favorite brand of charcoal briquettes and buy enough to surround your turkey in the pit.
For this pit they used 2 bags that were 20 lbs each.
This will vary by the size of your turkey and the size of the pit you dig.
You will see that the charcoal briquettes were lit outside of the pit.
This made it easy to put a small amount of charcoal in at a time and surround the turkey and even put some on top of it.
If you were to just lay the turkey in the pit on top of a layer of charcoal, only the bottom would be cooked and the top would remain raw.
When your hot briquettes are all gray, it's time to put the turkey in the ground.
Get plenty of Charcoal Briquettes!
You will need enough briquettes to surround your bird.
Two 20 lb bags were just right, for the turkey we cooked.
Step 3: Prep your turkey for cooking.
Wash the thawed turkey with cold water and then patted it dry.
Next, rub the whole outside of the turkey with butter and then seasoned the turkey with your favorite turkey seasonings just like on a roasted turkey. (poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, garlic, onion)
(One of the readers here shared with that they placed the turkey in an oven bag after it was seasoned and then wrapped it with foil. They said it worked out perfect.)
Take some heavy duty aluminum foil and started wrapping the turkey, completely covering the turkey, over and over.
It was about 4 times entirely around our turkey. Make sure the foil is sealed tightly.
Next, take some really heavy wire and wrapped it around to fashion a handle for lifting the hot turkey out of the ground.
Heavy duty wire is needed to lift your turkey.
Many campers already have some sort of wire in the RV or sport trailer.
A couple of old wire coat hangers could work, but now days, most the hangers are plastic.
14 ft of wire might seem like a lot, but a few wraps around the turkey and there goes a few feet.
You can save any left over wire for the next turkey you cook.
Step 4: Layer your briquettes, bury your turkey and cook.
Once you are sure your turkey will fit in the pit, then lift it back out and place on a table, or have someone hold it.
Next, shovel a layer of the hot briquettes onto the rocks and bottom of the pit, entirely covering the bottom of the pit.
Now put the turkey back in on top of the briquette layer.
Alternate shoveling briquettes and dirt onto the turkey.
Take care that you have briquettes surrounding all sides of the turkey and leave enough to also put a layer on top of the turkey.
This will allow the turkey to cook all the way around and prevent an area of the turkey from remaining raw.
Continue until your briquettes and turkey is entirely sealed up with dirt and you can still see your wire handles sticking out.
There should be several inches of dirt sealing up your pit.
You don’t want a breeze clearing off the dirt and cooling your briquettes.
Cook your turkey at least 4 to 5 hours. This turkey cooked all day and it was falling off the bone.
Note that an unstuffed turkey cooks faster than a stuffed one.
Some roasting facts that also apply to pit cooking:
When oven roasting an 18-24 lb turkey, it is recommended to cook for 4 to 5 hours.
Minimum cooking temperature is 325 deg F.
A meat thermometer can be placed between the inner thigh, the wing and the breast,
but do not touch the bone with the thermometer.
The minimum turkey meat temperature is 165 deg. F for a fully cooked turkey.
Step 5: Time To Dig Out The Turkey
Be very careful not to stab your turkey with the shovel while trying to dig it out.
You do not want dirt to get inside your turkey or the juices to run out and be lost in the dirt.
A short shovel is much better for digging gently around the briquettes and the turkey. With a short shovel, you have more control and can use smaller digging strokes to prevent tearing the foil around the turkey.
You may want to wear some gloves or oven mitts to keep from getting burned.
Place the turkey on safe surface for the hot turkey. A large aluminum pan is recommended.
Take a few minutes to fill back in the hole in the ground to prevent anyone from falling in and getting hurt or getting burned.
Keep the barriers up around it until the next morning.
Unwrapping the turkey is a bit messy, so have a place prepared for it. If you have an outside picnic table that you can remove the foil and place the turkey onto a platter or tray, it is much less messy than inside your RV.
This turkey was done so well it was falling off the bone. But you want to have a carving knife handy if yours is not as well done.
How are you cooking your turkey?
It's Turkey carving time!
Many campers rough it and don't have access for using a fancy electric knife.
A great carving knife will do the job without electricity.
Step 6: Let's Eat - Invite a few family and friends.
Enjoy your turkey and make some great memories.
Happy Holidays! and Happy eating!