Earth oven

An earth oven, ground oven or cooking pit is one of the simplest and most ancient cooking structures. At its most basic, an earth oven is a pit in the ground used to trap heat and bake, smoke, or steam food. Earth ovens have been used in many places and cultures in the past, and the presence of such cooking pits is a key sign of human settlement often sought by archaeologists. Earth ovens remain a common tool for cooking large quantities of food where no equipment is available. They have been used in various civilizations around the world and are still commonly found in the Pacific region to date.

To bake food, the fire is built, then allowed to burn down to a smoulder. The food is then placed in the oven and covered. This covered area can be used to bake bread or other various items. Steaming food in an earth oven covers a similar process. Fire-heated rocks are put into a pit and are covered with green vegetation to add moisture and large quantities of food. More green vegetation and sometimes water are then added, if more moisture is needed. Finally, a covering of earth is added over everything. The food in the pit can take up to several hours to a full day to cook, regardless of the dry or wet method used.

Fijian lovo of cooked staples

Today, many communities still use cooking pits for ceremonial or celebratory occasions, including the indigenous Fijian lovo, the Hawaiian imu, the Māori hāngi, the Mexican barbacoa, and the New England clam bake. The central Asian tandoor use the method primarily for uncovered, live-fire baking, which is a transitional design between the earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven. This method is essentially a permanent earth oven made out of clay or firebrick with a constantly burning, very hot fire in the bottom.

Samoa umu
A Samoan 'umu at the early stage of heating the rocks


In many areas, archaeologists recognize "pit-hearths" as being commonly used in the past. In Central Texas, there are large "burned-rock middens" speculated to be used for large-scale cooking of plants of various sorts, especially the bulbs of sotol. The Mayan pib and Andean watia are other examples. In Mesoamerica and the Caribbean nations, barbacoa is a common practice. Barbacoa, originally a Taino word referring to the pit itself, consists of slow-roasted meat in a maguey-lined pit, popular in Mexico alongside birria, tortillas, and salsa.

The clam bake, invented by Native Americans on the Atlantic seaboard and considered a traditional element of New England cuisine, traditionally uses a type of ad hoc earth oven (usually built on the beach). A large enough hole is dug into the sand and heated rocks are added to the bottom of the hole. A layer of seaweed is then laid on top to create moisture and steam, followed by the food. Lastly, another layer of seaweed is added to trap in the steam and cook the food, which mainly consists of shellfish and vegetables. The Curanto of the Chiloé Archipelago consists of shellfish, meat, potatoes, milcao chapaleles, and vegetables traditionally prepared in an earth oven. It has spread to the southern areas of Chile.

Middle East and North Africa

Earth oven cooking is sometimes used for celebratory cooking in North Africa, particularly Morocco: a whole lamb is cooked in an earth oven (called a tandir, etymologically related to the Central- and South-Asian tandoor and possibly descended from an Akkadian word tinuru) in a manner similar to the Hawaiian kalua. Among Bedouin and Tuareg nomads, a simple earth oven is used – often when men travel without family or kitchen equipment in the desert. The oven is mostly used to bake bread but is also used to cook venison and waran. When baking bread, the wheat or barley flour is mixed with water and some salt and then placed directly into the hot sands beneath the camp fire. It is then covered again by hot coal and left to bake. This kind of bread is eaten with black tea (in the absence of labneh). The sand has to be knocked off carefully before consuming the bread. Sometimes this type of bread is also made when the family is together, because people like the taste of it. The bread is often mixed with molten fat (sometimes oil or butter) and labneh (goat milk yoghurt) and then formed into a dough before eating. This bread is known as Arbut[1] but may be known under other local names.


Maori earth oven
A Māori earth oven

Earth oven cooking was very common in the past and continues into the present – particularly for special occasions, since the earth oven process is very labor-intensive.

In some part-Melanesian, Polynesian, and other closely related languages, the general term is "umu," from the Proto-Oceanic root *qumun (e.g. Tongan ʻumu, Māori umu or hāngi, Hawaiian imu, Sāmoan umu, Cook Island Māori umu). In some non-Polynesian, part-Polynesian, and Micronesian parts of the Pacific, which some islands use the similar word umu, but not all Micronesian islands having many different languages use that base word umu, however, other words are used instead of umu - in Fiji it is a lovo and in Rotuman it is a koua.

In Papua New Guinea, "mumu" is used by Tok Pisin and English speakers, but each of the other hundreds of local languages has its own word. In the Solomon Islands the word in Pidgin is Motu.

Despite the similarities, there are many differences in the details of preparation, their cultural significance, and current usage. Earth ovens are said to have originated in Papua New Guinea and have been adopted by the later arriving Polynesians.

Samoan umu

Pig on the Samoan Umu
Samoan umu preparation with pig and taro on hot rocks above ground, later covered by leaves for cooking.

The Samoan umu uses the same method of cooking as many other earth ovens and is closely related to the Hawaiian earth oven, the imu, which is made underground by digging a pit (although generally the umu is done above ground rather than in a pit). It is a common day-to-day method of preparing roasted foods, with modern ovens being restricted to western-style houses. In the traditional village house, gas burners will be used inside the house to cook some food in pots. The umu is sheltered by a roof in case of rain, and it is separate from the house. There are no walls, which allows the smoke from the umu to escape.

The Samoan umu starts with a fire to heat rocks which have been tested by fire as to whether they will explode upon heating. These rocks are used repeatedly but eventually are discarded and replaced when it is felt that they no longer hold enough heat. Once the rocks are hot enough, they are stacked around the parcels of food which are wrapped in banana leaves or aluminium foil. Leaves are then placed over the assembly and the food is left to cook for a few hours until it is fully cooked.

Hawaiian imu

The Hawaiian imu was the easiest way to cook large quantities of food quickly and efficiently for the Hawaiians. Because their creation was so labor-intensive, imus were only created for special events or ceremonies where it would be worth the time and hard work. An imu is created by first digging a 2- to 4-foot hole in the ground. Porous rocks are heated for a while and subsequently added to the bottom of the pit; next, a layer of banana stumps is added on top of them along with banana leaves. After the vegetation is laid down, the meat, fish, and any other foods are placed on top and covered once again with more vegetation. Wet cocoa sacks are also sometimes added on top to add even more moisture and trap in more heat.


Although not believed to be common in Europe, earth ovens were used from the Neolithic period onwards with examples from this period found at the sites of Rinyo and Links of Notland on Orkney,[2] but are more commonly known in the Bronze and Iron Ages from sites such as Trethellan Farm, Newquay and Maiden Castle, Dorset. Examples from these periods vary in form but are generally bowl-shaped and shallow in depth (30–45 cm) with diameters between 0.5 and 2 metres.

Exceptions do exist, such as the Irish Fulacht fiadh in common use up to the Middle Ages. In Greek cuisine, there is also a tradition of kleftiko ("thief style") dishes, ascribed to anti-Turkish partisans during the Greek War of Independence, which involve wrapping the food in clay and cooking it in a covered pit, allegedly at first to avoid detection by Turkish forces.

See also


  1. ^ "Bedouin bread - YouTube". Retrieved 2014-05-27.
  2. ^ Renfrew, J 2005


  • Wandsnider, L (1997), "The Roasted and the Boiled: Food Composition and Heat Treatment with Special Emphasis on Pit-Hearth Cooking", Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 16 (1): 1–48, doi:10.1006/jaar.1997.0303.
  • Brennan, Jennifer (2000), Tradewinds & Coconuts: A Reminiscence & Recipes from the Pacific Islands, Periplus, pp. 127–134, ISBN 978-962-593-819-6
  • Lewin, J.G; P.J. Huff (2006), How To Feed An Army: Recipes and Lore from the Front Lines, New York: Collins, ISBN 978-0-06-089111-4
  • Renfrew, Jane (2005), Prehistoric Cookery: recipes and history, English Heritage
  • The Samoan UMU!, Samoa Online
  • Imu - Hawaiian Underground Oven, Imu
  • Host a New England Clambake for a refreshing Taste Of Summer, Entertaining

External links


Barbecue or barbeque (informally BBQ or the Australian term barbie) is a cooking method, a style of food, and a name for a meal or gathering at which this style of food is cooked and served.

A barbecue can refer to the cooking method itself, the meat cooked this way, or to a type of social event featuring this type of cooking. Barbecuing is usually done outdoors by smoking meat over wood or charcoal. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large, specially-designed brick or metal ovens. Barbecue is practiced in many areas of the world and there are numerous regional variations.

Barbecuing techniques include smoking, roasting or baking, braising and grilling. The technique for which it is named involves cooking using smoke at low temperatures and long cooking times (several hours). Baking uses an oven to convection cook with moderate temperatures for an average cooking time of about an hour. Braising combines direct, dry heat charbroiling on a ribbed surface with a broth-filled pot for moist heat. Grilling is done over direct, dry heat, usually over a hot fire for a few minutes.


Bougna is a traditional feast dish of the Kanak people of New Caledonia. The word "bougna" comes from the Drehu word "puhnya" meaning "bundle", "pack".Bougna often contains taro, yam, sweet potato, banana, and pieces of either chicken, fish, crab, prawns or lobster. The contents are wrapped in banana leaves and are then buried to cook in a ground oven, which uses red-hot rocks heated by fire. After about two hours of cooking, the banana leaves are unearthed and unwrapped, and the contents are eaten.

Cabeza guateada

Cabeza guateada is a traditional earth oven dish from Argentina made with the head of a cow and condiments. For its preparation, the head, seasoned and protected with a blanket, is cooked in a pit in the ground.


The clambake or clam bake, also known as the New England clambake is a traditional method of cooking seafood, such as lobster, mussels, crabs, soft-shell clams, and quahogs. The food is traditionally cooked by steaming the ingredients over layers of seaweed. The shellfish can be supplemented with vegetables, such as onions, carrots, and corn on the cob. Clambakes are usually held on festive occasions along the coast of New England.


Curanto is a traditional food of Chiloé Archipelago that has spread to the southern areas of Chile and Argentina, whose remains dated back about 11,525 ± 90 uncalibrated years before present. It consists of seafood, meat, potatoes and vegetables and is traditionally prepared in a hole, about a meter and a half (approx. one and a half yards) deep, which is dug in the ground. The bottom is covered with stones, heated in a bonfire until red.


Horno ( AWR-noh; Spanish: [ˈoɾno]) is a mud adobe-built outdoor oven used by Native Americans and early settlers of North America. Originally introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors, it was quickly adopted and carried to all Spanish-occupied lands. The horno has a beehive shape and uses wood as the heat source. The procedure still used in parts of New Mexico and Arizona is to build a fire inside the horno and, when the proper amount of time has passed, remove the embers and ashes and insert the bread to be cooked. In the case of corn, the embers are doused with water and the corn is then inserted into the horno to be "steam"-cooked. When cooking meats, the oven is fired to a "white hot" temperature (approximately 650 °F or 340 °C), the coals are moved to the back of the oven, and the meats placed inside. The smoke-hole and door are sealed with mud. A twenty-one-pound turkey will take 2½ to 3 hours to cook. It comes out very succulent. Since the horno is made of adobe, it wicks the moisture into the food in a natural convection.Horno is the usual Spanish word for "oven" or "furnace", and derives from the Latin word furnus.


A huatia (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈwatja]) is a traditional Peruvian earthen oven which dates back to ancient Peruvians, pre-dating the days of the Inca Empire. This type of oven is commonly associated with the peasants in the southern regions of the Andes in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

Although the term is often used simply to refer to any simple dirt cooking pit, this is not considered the proper way to build a huatia. The most

traditional construction (although perhaps not the most common today) is to carefully build a dome or pyramid from rocks over a dirt pit using nothing but gravity to hold the dome together. This dome/pyramid must have an opening in which to place other rocks, kindling, and the food to be cooked. A fire is built inside (special rocks such as volcanic rocks must be selected which can resist the heat) until the rocks become sufficiently heated. Once the food (meat and potatoes most often in addition to herbs) is inside the dome/pyramid is allowed to collapse, either by the action of the heat or by manual intervention, to bury the food. It is then left to cook for many hours soaking up flavors from the surrounding soil. Although any fire in the pit is extinguished the heat remains for a long time. Eventually the food is dug out of the ground and served.

As a practical matter the Pachamanca is today served in many parts of Peru even though the tradition of the huatia is changing (i.e. to simplify the cooking process). It can be debated whether the elaborate construction process of the traditional huatia really adds anything essential to the actual flavor of the food as opposed to simply burying the food. It is, nevertheless, part of the Peruvian heritage.


Hāngi (Māori pronunciation: [ˈhaːŋi]) is a traditional New Zealand Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven, also called an umu. It is still used for large groups on special occasions.


Kālua is a traditional Hawaiian cooking method that utilizes an imu, a type of underground oven. The word kālua, which literally means "to cook in an underground oven", may also be used to describe the food cooked in this manner, such as kālua pig or kālua turkey, which are commonly served at luau feasts. Luau, in Hawaiian is actually the name of the taro leaf, which when young and small after being steamed for a few hours resembles cooked spinach. The traditional luau was eaten on the floor over lauhala (leaves of the hala tree were weaved together) mats.

Traditionally, a hardwood fire is built inside a pit large enough to contain the food you are cooking, the stones, and the vegetation used to cover the food. Stones are placed on top of the fire in the pit, taking around 2-3 hours to reach their maximum temperature. Most important is the selection of stones that contain very little moisture to avoid stones exploding from the steam generated by the heat. Once the stones have become extremely hot, they are spread out over the coals and the pit is lined with vegetation such as banana trees that have been pounded to make them pliable. A layer of ti leaves (Cordyline fruticosa) would then be spread over the layer of pounded banana trees and the food to be cooked placed on top. Meat to be cooked would be salted and in the instance of cooking a whole pig, some hot stones would also be placed inside the body cavity to ensure the meat is fully cooked.

To maintain even heating and to retain the meat's natural moisture, the meat is covered with more layers of vegetation such as ti and banana leaves then covered with a layer of soil at least several inches deep ensuring that no steam is escaping. The layers of vegetation covering the food must extend past the edges of the pit to ensure the food isn't contaminated by the soil it is buried under. The meat is then left to cook in the pit for several hours. When the meat is fully cooked, it is removed from the imu and shredded. Modern adaptations to the traditional cooking method include the use of wet burlap material as a substitute for the vegetation or to reduce the amount of vegetation needed, and also the use of non-galvanized steel chicken wire or mesh wrapped around the food to aid in its removal when cooked. The characteristic flavor of Kalua Pig is imparted by the smoke from the hardwood but more importantly the use of ti leaves to wrap the meat. The flavor of the ti leaf is what differentiates Kalua Pig from other methods of cooking a whole hog slowly using a hardwood fire.

Kālua pig is a main tourist attraction at many luaus, though it is sometimes made using a gas or electric stove with artificial mesquite or kiawe liquid smoke. Other tourist businesses use substitutes instead vegetation or use an imu pao, an above ground variation of the imu. The term "Kalua pork" has been used by famous Hawaiian cook Sam Choy to describe pork shoulder butt which is rubbed with sea salt, wrapped in ti leaves, and slowly cooked in oven using liquid mesquite smoke rather than an imu.

Masonry oven

A masonry oven, colloquially known as a brick oven or stone oven, is an oven consisting of a baking chamber made of fireproof brick, concrete, stone, clay, or cob. Though traditionally wood-fired, coal-fired ovens were common in the 19th century, and modern masonry ovens are often fired with natural gas or even electricity. Modern masonry ovens are closely associated with artisanal bread and pizza, but in the past they were used for any cooking task involving baking. Masonry ovens are built by masons.


An oven is a thermally insulated chamber used for the heating, baking, or drying of a substance, and most commonly used for cooking. Kilns and furnaces are special-purpose ovens used in pottery and metalworking, respectively.


Pachamanca (from Quechua pacha "earth", manka "pot") is a traditional Peruvian dish based on the baking, with the aid of hot stones (the earthen oven is known as a huatia), of lamb, mutton, pork, chicken or guinea pig, marinated in spices. Other Andean produce, such as potato, green lima beans or "habas", sweet potato, occasionally cassava or yuca, and humitas (sweet treat) as well as ears of corn, tamale and chili, is included in the baking.

The dish is essentially made in the central Peruvian Andes in three main regions: 1) The upper Huallaga valley, in Huánuco and Pasco vicinity, where it is made with pork and seasoned with chincho, a local herb; 2) in the Mantaro valley and neighboring area around cities like Huancayo, Tarma and Jauja; they use lamb and a different seasoning; and 3) in several places of Ayacucho department. In the Peruvian Amazonia, the southern and northern Andes, and the mostly desertic coast the dish is uncommon due to the lack of firewood or the type of stones needed without any content of sulphur. Meat is wrapped in marmaquilla or chincho leaves before being put in this kind of earthen stove.

This important part of Peruvian cuisine, which has existed since the time of the Inca Empire, has evolved over time, and its consumption is now widespread throughout modern Peru, where regional variations have appeared in the technical process of production, but not in the ingredients or their baking. It's important to note that the preparation is not only limited to Peru, but also that it exists with minimal variants in other Andean countries, for example Ecuador.

Pandanus conoideus

Pandanus conoideus is a plant in the pandan family. Its fruit is eaten in Papua, Indonesia. Papuans call them kuansu. Indonesians call them buah merah ("red fruit"). The fruit is typically prepared by splitting it, wrapping it in leaves, and cooking it in an earth oven.[1]

It grows in all Papua regions, especially in Jayawijaya mountain area (Wamena and Tolikara), Jayapura, Manokwari, Nabire, Timika, and Ayamaru Sorong. It is traditionally believed to be a good supplement as a skin and eye medicine, and as worm treatment.

There are around 30 cultivars of Red Fruit, but only four variants have high economy values: merah panjang (long red), merah pandek (short red), cokelot (brown), and kummiming (yellow). The Red Fruit variant used as medicine is merah panjang (long red). The size is around 100 cm in length, 18 cm in diameter length, and 7.5 kg in weight. The fruit has a blunt edge and cylindrical shape.

Fruits of the pandanus family have specific characteristics that distinguish them from other fruits, including their very concentrated red color, indicating that the fruits are rich in beta carotene.

Highlanders in Papua New Guinea call it Marata fruit and make a red sauce out of it which is called marita sauce. Marita sauce is a ketchup-like substance which is used to flavor food.


Paraparaumu (Māori: [ˈpaɾapaˈɾaʉmʉ]) is a town in the south-western North Island of New Zealand. It lies on the Kapiti Coast, 55 kilometres (34 mi) north of the nation's capital city, Wellington.

Like other towns in the area, it has a partner settlement at the coast called Paraparaumu Beach, which lies directly opposite Kapiti Island. The two towns form part of the Kapiti Coast District. Together with the nearby Raumati and Raumati South they are among the fastest-growing urban areas in New Zealand, and are major dormitory towns with workers commuting to the cities that make up the Wellington urban area. The four towns between them have a 2012 population of over 49,000 people. Inland behind Paraparaumu is the Maungakotukutuku area.

"Paraparaumu" is a Māori-language name meaning "scraps from an earth oven"; "parapara" means "dirt" or "scraps", and "umu" means "oven". It is sometimes pronounced "Para-Param", particularly by longer-term residents of European ethnicity, or simply "Pram" by local youth.The village of Lindale is a located just north of the Paraparaumu town centre. It began as a Tourist and Agricultural Centre, but later gained a reputation for cheese and the Lindale Barnyard petting farm.The old State Highway 1 and the North Island Main Trunk railway both pass through Lindale. The railway line was formerly owned by the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, and construction of the line was completed when the ends from Wellington and Longburn (Palmerston North) met near Lindale in Otaihanga in 1886. There are proposals to extend the commuter train service, operated by Tranz Metro to a new station at Lindale, subject to Wellington Regional Council funding.

Pascuense cuisine

Pascuense cuisine or cuisine of Rapa Nui incorporates seafood such as fish, octopus (heke), eel, sea snails (pipi) and crustaceans (lobster), as well as sweet potato, taro, banana, pineapple, coconut, pumpkin, and poultry, pork and lamb meat.Traditional foods include umu, meat, fish, vegetables and fruit wrapped in banana leaves and roasted in umu pae – an earth oven. Po'e, pudding made of mashed bananas, pumpkin and flour is baked in the umu pae as well. Other favorite dishes are tunu ahi, fish grilled on hot stones, or ceviche. Pascuense cuisine also includes meat dishes, such as pork or mutton ribs.

Pit barbecue

A pit barbecue is a method and constructed item for barbecue cooking meat and root vegetables buried below the surface of the earth. Indigenous peoples around the world used earth ovens for thousands of years. In modern times the term and activity is often associated with the Eastern Seaboard, the "barbecue belt", colonial California in the United States and Mexico. The meats usually barbecued in a pit in these contexts are beef, pork, and goat.


Rosvopaisti (Finnish lit. “robber’s roast”) is roast meat cooked in a cooking pit. It is said to have Mongolian origins and to have become generally known through Veikko Huovinen’s novel Lampaansyöjät (Lamb Eaters).Rosvopaisti can be made with almost any meat: lamb, mutton, pork, bear, reindeer, elk etc. The pit, preferably soil of sand or clay, is about one metre long, 70 cm wide and a half metre deep where stones or bricks are heated up for several hours. The meat is wrapped in layers of dampened parchment paper, newspaper and aluminium foil. The coals are pushed aside and placed upon the meat parcel(s) at the bottom of the pit. Then the coals are covered with another layer of soil. A fire is started on top of the meat on the ground to ensure proper temperature. It takes approximately between 8 and 12 hours to cook the roast.


A tandoor ( or ) is one of a variety of ovens. The most common is a cylindrical clay or metal oven used in cooking and baking in the Northern Indian subcontinent. The tandoor is used for cooking in Southern, Central, and Western Asia, as well as in the South Caucasus.The heat for a tandoor was traditionally generated by a charcoal or wood fire, burning within the tandoor itself, thus exposing the food to live fire, radiant heat cooking, and hot-air, convection cooking, and smoking in the fat and food juices that drip on to the charcoal.

Temperatures in a tandoor can approach 480 °C (900 °F), and it is common for tandoor ovens to remain lit for long periods to maintain the high cooking temperature. The tandoor design is something of a transitional form between a makeshift earth oven and the horizontal-plan masonry oven.

Tikin Xic

Tikin Xic, pronounced "teekeen sheek" in Yucatec Mayan and meaning "dry fish", is a fish dish prepared in the Meso-American style. The fish is prepared whole then marinated with adobo de achiote and sour oranges then wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked in an earth oven beneath a wood fire.

Mixed medium
See also

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