As obscure as it may sound, an earth oven is an ancient cooking technology that dates back globally tens of thousands of years and is still used by cultures all over the world. You could even say the tender and juicy, slow-cooked food produced from earth ovens are one of humankind’s first forms of comfort food, since archaeologists search for evidence of earth ovens as a marker of human settlement.

Earth oven cooking involves no electricity, gas, or live flame, simply digging a pit large enough to steam, smoke, or bake the desired amount of meat, fish, vegetables, or even dough for bread-making. On the bottom of the earth oven are smoldering hot rocks that slowly release heat, which is trapped in the cooking pit by a covering of fresh vegetation or wet burlap and dirt. Sealed in the earth oven, moisture has nowhere to go, but locked into the food.

You may be even more familiar with earth ovens than you think. The New England clam bake, originally invented by Native Americans, is a method of cooking seafood in an earth oven traditionally built on the beach. It utilizes fresh seaweed strewn over heated rocks to steam soft-shell clam (steamers), mussels, lobsters, and other regional seafood, as well as corn on the cob, potatoes, and onions as side dishes. The imu, a Hawaiian earth oven used to slow roast Kalua pig or turkey, can be commonly found at luau feasts. Traditionally, in Mexico, barbacoa, which is a steamed meat, is cooked in a hole, covered with maguey leaves. Additional variations of earth ovens exist in the Americas, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Pacific.

While it would take strength, time, and space, digging out your own earth oven is not as complicated as it may seem and it would make for the perfect reason to invite your friends over for a celebratory feast that is unique, yet as down to earth as it gets. Here are a few guides to get you started on making your own earth oven.

New England Clam Bake

Want to create your own New England clam bake? The New England clam bake is a traditional method of cooking seafood passed down from Native Americans to the Pilgrims and carried on by New Englanders. Get the guide here.

Kalua Pig

One of the most iconic Hawaiian foods, Kalua Pig, is cooked in an imu. The pig is smoked and steamed until it is fall off the bone tender, yet golden and crispy on the outside. Get the guide here.


Ready to dig deep into barbecue’s roots and serve up your own Sunday barbacoa like it is done by traditional cooks in Mexico? Get the guide here.

Header image courtesy of Pixabay.

See more articles