How to Pit Cook a Turkey

Updated on December 13, 2016

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.

Fi-Shock WC-14200 200-Feet, 14 Gauge Spool Galvanized Steel Wire
Fi-Shock WC-14200 200-Feet, 14 Gauge Spool Galvanized Steel Wire

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?

See results

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!

Questions & Answers

    Let's Talk Turkey!!

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      • Otto Phillips profile image

        Otto Phillips 3 years ago

        This is amazing!!! We need to try pit cooking a turkey during one of our camping trips for sure, the kids would love it!

      • Lady Lorelei profile image

        Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

        @Christian DuBois: I think quite a few of us have a bit of caveman (woman) trying to get out of us a little more often. I love food cooked outdoors and over an open campfire.

      • Coreena Jolene profile image

        Coreena Jolene 4 years ago

        @SusanDeppner: I guess we got too excited to eat our delicious turkey, sorry for that. The next time I will make sure to take a picture and post it :)

      • SusanDeppner profile image

        Susan Deppner 4 years ago from Arkansas USA

        Ooh, I was looking forward to a picture of the finished product. Guess it got eaten before it got photographed! This sounds like a really fun project for a family camping trip.

      • profile image

        anonymous 4 years ago

        Chickens & ham is really good done this way also. Going to do my 1\ST turkey this weekend. The chickens were well done after 3hrs. We did put them in a cooking bag, before wrapping with foil.

        Great site, thank you for the info.

      • Coreena Jolene profile image

        Coreena Jolene 5 years ago

        @OUTFOXprevention1: Well it isn't for everyone, but our turkey was cooked thoroughly and no sand or dirt got inside. Everyone loved it.

      • OUTFOXprevention1 profile image

        OUTFOXprevention1 5 years ago

        Sounds risky! I would have to be extra careful since I am the food safety general! Thanks for the lens.

      • Christian DuBois profile image

        Christian DuBois 5 years ago from New York

        As a Neo-caveman, I'm loving this technique! Thank you

      • WriterJanis2 profile image

        WriterJanis2 5 years ago

        Never even thought about cooking a turkey while camping. Blessed!

      • Lady Lorelei profile image

        Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

        Wow this is such an amazing step by step instructional on how to cook a turkey in the ground. You did a fabulous job on this lens.

      • profile image

        JoshK47 5 years ago

        Popping back in to bless this lens! :)

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        enjoyed eating meat this way, had it a lot and appreciate the way you presented this to your readers today.

      • hntrssthmpsn profile image

        hntrssthmpsn 6 years ago

        I had no idea you could pit cook a turkey! What a great way to make preparation a whole-family adventure! Awesome!

      • Coolboots profile image

        Coolboots 6 years ago

        Wow, I have never heard of this, but it sounds pretty cool! Who doesn't love yummy turkey.

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        ....angel dust goes well with turkey perfection!

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        Amazingly presented to serving the perfect turkey....any turkey would be proud!

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        Never had a Turkey. However, I am sure it is a much healthier way to cook than frying. Really well presented and beautiful Lens!

      • profile image

        pawpaw911 6 years ago

        Looks like a fun thing to try. I might give it a try some time. Thanks.

      • paperfacets profile image

        Sherry Venegas 6 years ago from La Verne, CA

        Our one time try at pit cooking did not work too well, but with these directions, who could fail?

      • tvyps profile image

        Teri Villars 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

        Wow, what a detailed lens. Hopefully, you don't pit cook the Flamin' Cat. I thought about doing a deep fry this year but I would be the one you see on the news running down the street on fire while everyone filmed me for YouTube. Blessed!

      • profile image

        JoshK47 6 years ago

        Sounds like a delicious way to prep a turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas - I'll have to keep it in mind. SquidAngel blessed!

      • profile image

        anonymous 6 years ago

        Wonderful information!

      • savenlives profile image

        savenlives 6 years ago

        Awesome, I love this!!! Great lens :)

      • Showpup LM profile image

        Showpup LM 6 years ago

        How fun! I really enjoy the idea and LOVE the photos that really help explain the process.

      • nigel7725 profile image

        nigel7725 6 years ago

        Good information for the great outdoors.

      • BLouw profile image

        Barbara Walton 6 years ago from France

        Going to swap oven for spade - cheaper! Many thanks for a lovely and useful lens. Blessed.

      • emmaklarkins profile image

        emmaklarkins 6 years ago

        Great step-by-step guide!

      • katemiya profile image

        katemiya 6 years ago

        I've seen pigs cooked in a pit, but never thought about the possibility of cooking a turkey that way! You've done a great job introducing us to the process, too.

      • EMangl profile image

        EMangl 6 years ago

        wonder what my neighbours would say if i make a turkey in the garden below our apartment house .-)

      • KellydeBorda profile image

        KellydeBorda 6 years ago

        What a great lens! Very informative and lots of fantastic pictures. Blessed by the Barbecue Angel!

      • gamecheathub profile image

        gamecheathub 6 years ago

        It blows my mind that you actually put the dirt over the top of the aluminum foil turkey. I've never had turkey like this before, but it looks really cool!