How to Make a Steam Pit for Cooking in the Wilderness
The steam pit is a great way of cooking out in the wilderness and yet is one of those primitive skills that is so often forgotten about these days. With a steam pit you are basically cooking your food in a hole in the ground which although it may not sound too great, the food that comes out is absolutely fantastic.
I urge all of our readers to try this as it is such a simple way of cooking some delicious food. All you are going to need is:
- To dig a hole
- Some fibrous plant material
- Some rocks
- A fire
- Your food
Dig Your Hole
We need to start off by digging our hole in the ground. It doesn’t need to be anything too large, it just needs to be big enough to cook your meal in. The more food you are cooking, the bigger the hole will need to be.
If we say that you are cooking for two people as an example then your hole will probably want to be around 12 inches across and two feet deep. Make sure that you do not throw the dirt that you are digging out as you are going to need it again in a little while.
Gather Your Plant Material and Rocks
The plant materials that you use can be anything at hand as long as it is fibrous materials such as grasses, seaweed, pine boughs full of green needles, and any other abundant non-toxic green plant material. Although you can use dry materials, it works best if the plant materials are green. Soak your plant material in water for around an hour before you add them into the pit. Using the example above as cooking for two people, you want to gather about a double armload of grass.
Next up we need to go on the hunt for some rocks. Basalt rocks are perfect for this method but if in doubt make sure that you only choose smooth and heavy for their size rocks because if they are porous they will explode from the heat of the fire.
Build Your Fire
So we have our materials and now it is time to build our fire that will be used to heat our rocks. How you choose to do this is entirely up to you although I usually build my fire in the pit to heat the rocks but if you prefer to build your fire away from the pit and heat the rocks there, that will be fine also. If you choose to heat the rocks up in a fire away from the pit then carefully place the rocks in the pit once they are red hot.
For this example, we shall use a tepee fire structure and then you would place the rocks around the tepee. If you are cooking for two then you are going to need to heat about 10 rocks that are about 6 – 10 inches across. Add the rocks around your tepee and then cover them with a layer of brush followed by wrist size pieces around your structure until the rocks are completely covered by wood. The whole area of the rocks need to be covered or they will not get hot enough.
You will need to leave your rocks cooking for about an hour and a half by which time they should be red hot and we can move on to setting the pit.
Setting Your Pit
- Place half of your rocks in the bottom of your pit and cover them with about 4 inches of damp soil or sand to insulate the hot stones and then with a layer (8 – 12 inches thick) of your plant material.
- Place your food on top of the plant material and then cover the food with another thick layer of your plant material. On top of this layer, place the rest of your rocks.
- A few cups of water poured over the top layer of green vegetation will generate more steam and conduct heat to your food more efficiently.
- Once finished, cover your pit with a layer of bark slabs so as to keep the dirt falling on to your food.
- Using the dirt you removed to make the hole, completely cover your pit until you see absolutely no steam escaping. If air gets into the pit, the food will burn so you must eliminate all oxygen from the pit.
Avoid using any toxic or bad tasting plant materials such as oak, walnut, horse chestnut leaves, cherry tree leaves, etc.
The general rule is to cook your food for around 15 minutes per pound. I suggest you get out there and practice this method so that you can play around with it and find what works for you to get the food as cooked as you like it.
If you want to cook foods like fish that can fall apart, I recommend wrapping them in large edible leaves like burdock before putting them in the pit.
Have you used a steam pit for cooking in the wilderness? Share your experiences in the comments below.