Cooking over fire can be a thoroughly therapeutic process, the crackle and pop of the fire can be incredibly soothing. But to others it can be something that only musters anxiety. The key as with anything in life is to practice as often as possible, you will never know what you are capable of if you only get the fire pit out of the shed a handful of times a year.
There are a few hints and tips that will help you on your way and today we are going to share with you some of the things we learnt the hard way. This isn’t to say that you won’t still make a few mistakes along the way, in fact we only learn by making mistakes and understanding how to change the outcome.
Make sure that your wood is either well seasoned or kiln dried, green or fresh cut wood will just create an unpleasant smoke and very little heat. Hardwood logs are best as they will burn a little slower than softwoods and will generate a really good bed of hot embers to cook over.
Where possible try to buy your firewood from a local and sustainable supplier. Supporting local businesses is so important at the moment and a quick google search should throw up some good options near you.
Alternatively we also supplement our local log deliveries with a brilliant company called KindWood. KindWood cut and kiln dry their wood using renewable energy generated from a bio-gas plant. They do not use any power from the grid and the process is carbon-negative. Not only that but the wood is carefully sourced from well managed woodlands, which is a massive bonus for us.
If you intend to light a fire somewhere other than your garden make sure you have the landowners’ permission. Check if there are any restrictions in place as in the height of summer or a particularly dry summer some sites may not allow open fires.
If you are not setting your fire in a fire bowl or suitable fire proof container then you need to prepare the ground where you wish your fire to be. Select a level location free from any dry grass, leaves or pine needles, making sure there are no low overhanging branches. Scrape/rake the ground back to bare soil if needed.
You could also dig out sods of soil or turf and line the edge of the pit with bricks to contain your fire.
Fire gloves are a must to keep the heat from burning your hands and forearms. Long handled tongs are great for keeping a little distance between your hands and the heat from the fire. Anyform of tongs are an excellent tool for turning ingredients over the fire.
A sturdy grill to create space between the hot embers of the fire and your ingredients, which will help them to cook more evenly. This could be purpose built or just an old oven rack propped up with some bricks
An accurate temperature probe is one piece of kit I wouldn’t be without when cooking in general let alone over the fire. Giving you accurate internal temperatures of your ingredients as they cook, cooking to temperature and not time is key!
Cast iron or more importantly any cookware that doesn’t have any form of plastic that will potentially melt over the fire
Unless your boiling the kettle for a brew or boiling pots of water to cook grains do not cook over a direct flame.
Allow the fire time to burn down to a decent bed of coals or try using our 3 zone set up. Cooking directly over the flame will cover the ingredient in a layer of soot, ultimately giving us a slightly bitter taste to the food. Not only this but the intense heat from the flame is unlikely to cook many things through entirely, leaving us with undercooked potentially hazardous food – think raw poultry!
Possibly one of the most important skills we need to learn in life, not just when cooking over fire.
Allow the fire to burn down to a good bed of embers, don’t be tempted to start cooking until the fire is ready. Somedays this will take longer than others, everytime you light a fire it will behave differently, try to work with it not against it.
Sometimes ingredients will want to stick to the grill bars, give it another minute or two and it should self release. Leaving it another minute or two will create a lovely deep caramelised crust, obviously there is a fine line between deep dark flavour and burnt.
Fancy chef talk for “everything in its place”
Making sure that ingredients are washed, weighed and prepared all ready for the fire. This will make the process that little bit more effortless when it comes to cooking. Even having your pots, pans and resting trays ready will save you time running backwards and forwards mid way through your cook out.
Have everything within arms reach where possible, having your fire wood graded from tinder to kindling and all the way up to split logs helps when it comes to lighting the fire.
Get the little wildings involved in all of your open fire cooks. You’ll be surprised how much they can achieve with a little supervision and a helping hand. No matter how nervous you are, try to keep calm and collected, guiding them with a gentle hand every now and again.
The kids can, depending on their age help with every element from collecting tinder, chopping wood, lighting the fire, preparing vegetables and cooking over the hot embers. It will take practice but allowing them to cook over fire will teach them a plethora of skills they can take with them into later life.
We have plenty of family friendly feasts over fire recipes to get you started if you are looking for something a little simpler.
We use the drown, stir and feel technique as we never leave a fire to just burn out on its own, especially during the drier months. Drown the coals and logs with water, then stir around the fire area with a small shovel or stick, use the back of your hand above the fire area to check for warm areas. Use more water if needed.
Remember if making a fire on someone else’s land with their permission that you leave the site as you found it. No one should know you were ever there.