Pitless Pit BBQ


If you’ve ever tasted pit BBQ – whether Hawaiian, Mayan, or Texan – you know there’s no better way to slow-cook a big slab of meat to tender deliciosity. There’s just one problem: digging a giant hole in your back yard. Unless you own a backhoe or know a lot of Samoans, it’s probably never going to happen. Which is why I’m all excited about this recipe, which delivers nearly identical results on a standard Weber grill.

The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, California Rancho Cooking by Jacqueline Higuera McMahan. She in turn credits it to her cousin, Jeff Chavarria. I say big props to the whole family, and you’ve got to give this a try next time you’re working the Q for a big group. It takes two days from start to finish but it’s oh-so worth it.

Jeff Chavarria’s smoked, herb-crusted pit beef

  • 1 boneless center-cut beef chuck roast, 10-12 pounds
  • 1 head garlic, separated and peeled
  • 1 TB kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 TB freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 C chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 C chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 C chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 C minced garlic
  • 1 TB grated lime zest
  • 2 fresh Anaheim chiles, minced, including skins and seeds
  • 1 TB kosher salt
  • 1 TB freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 TB pure ground red chile (optional)
  • Several branches fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 C dry red wine
  • Cheesecloth, Heavy Duty foil, wood chunks or chips for smoking


On the first Day: Soak wood chunks or chips (either hickory or mesquite) in water. Prepare a charcoal fire in your grill and let it burn down to barely smoldering, then push coals to the edges of the BBQ. Meanwhile, using a small, sharp knife, make slits all over the meat and insert a garlic clove in each slit. Rub 1TB kosher salt and 1-1/2 TB ground pepper all over the meat.


Place meat on grill and smoke, covered, for 2 hours, turning several times. Keep the grill temperature between 200 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, adjusting vents or adding coals if necessary. Remove meat from grill and let it cool. Wrap it in foil and refrigerate overnight.


On the second day: Combine the basil, oregano, rosemary, garlic, lime zest, chiles, salt, pepper, and ground chile. Rub this herb mix on all sides of the chilled, smoked roast.  Lay out a length of cheesecloth cut long enough to wrap around the roast. Place roast on cheesecloth and start rolling it up, adding rosemary sprigs as you go. Douse the cheesecloth in red wine, then wrap in heavy-duty foil and seal tightly. For best results, perform this step early in the morning so the roast can marinate in its herb rub all day.


Prepare a fire in the grill and let burn down to the grey-ash stage (or set gas grill to Low). Place roast on grill rack, cover the grill, and cook for 3 hours, adding more coals as needed. Check internal temperature of the meat with an instant-read thermometer and remove when it reaches 160-165 degrees F. Let rest 15 minutes before carving.


If you unwrapped your roast carefully, you should have some great meat juices trapped in the foil. Don’t let them get away!


Serve it up with fresh salsa, beans, rice, and tortillas. A roast this size should feed 16-18 normal people or 12 hungry Shinewegians.


Buen provecho!


2 Responses to Pitless Pit BBQ

  1. dawn says:

    mmm, lime zest, lish.

  2. Buddy says:

    I had this meal and then I had it the next two consecutive nights!

    Super fine!

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