Don Deaton Prepares a Deep Pit Barbecue

This is the third deep-pit barbecue Don has served to the Fly-In crowd since 1999. These photos should give you an appreciation of how much effort and care he puts into preparation of the meat. Usually he does it alone, but this time Glenn Bell is along to help with the heavy lifting. [Click on the photos to enlarge]

The process began the previous day when pieces of bone-dry Eucalyptus wood were stacked in the pit like logs in a cabin to allow a draft of air to reach to the bottom.

With a steel rod, Don now checks the depth of the embers.

Don has slit open the water-soaked burlap bags and carefully wraps each 20-pound piece of beef, finally tying the package with soft wire.

With Glenn's help, Don spreads sand over a sheet of plywood to cut off the air supply. Oxygen must not enter the pit.

A sprinkle of water seals layer of sand even tighter.

Glenn and Don are finished. Now it's up to the residual heat in the firepit to do the rest.

The sand is carefully removed and set aside to be used another day.

Glenn lifts out a bundle of cooked meat using a hook. You can see that the wire is important.

Don ignites the wood with any combustible fluid he happens to have on hand.

The meat, pre-wrapped in foil, will be wrapped again in burlap bags bought locally.

The water will turn to steam and help with the cooking.

He marks the edges of the plywood so Glenn will know where to build up the layer of sand.

A plastic tarp laid over the sand, held down with metal bars, will discourage any animals that might try to dig because of the aroma.

The meat has cooked all day.

However, the plywood is due for replacement. The burlap bags are dry and a bit blackened but otherwise intact.

Even much of the bottom layer of burlap remains, due to the total absence of oxygen.

The pit consists of a 4-foot concrete tile buried in sand and surrounded by a concrete pad. Tremendous heat is radiating. The bed of coals is just right.

He dips the first bag in a pail of water. It will be used as a bottom layer to protect the burlap-wrapped meat from direct exposure to the hot coals.

There is enough space and heat to cook several large packages at the same time.

The sand is smoothed nicely with a push-broom so it can be covered neatly.

Just before suppertime, Don and Glenn return to the pit to remove the tarp, the sand and the plywood.

Don and Glenn load the packages of roast beef for delivery to the hungry crowd. Simply touching a bag will show you how tender the meat is.