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You Can Cook Food Over An Open Wood Fire BBQ Just Got Better

Updated on October 29, 2015

Cooking Over An Open Fire

Cooking meats and other foods over an open wood fire has been used as a method of cooking since humans discovered the benefits of fire.

Food at one time however, was simply tossed onto the coals and allowed to char. The outside was burnt nearly to carbon form, while the inside, in many cases, was still raw or under cooked. Many people today still enjoy the rich, smoked flavor of meats cooked over an open fire or in a smoker box, but not necessarily tossed onto the coals. There is an easier way though, of cooking with real wood that does not involve dragging the charred piece of meat out of the fire.

Until the 1920s, anyone wanting to cook over an open fire had to either acquire wood from a vendor or cut and transport their own for backyard cookouts. Time was spent on camping trips and picnics, gathering, and cutting wood for cooking, as well.

Henry Ford decided he did not care to spend all his time gathering and cutting wood for picnics and camping trips so he decided to change how outdoor cooking was done.

In the 1920s Henry Ford was busy making cars, which at the time used wood in their production. There were of course, scraps left over from the production, that up until that point went to waste. Henry Ford developed a way to take burnt wood scraps, and compress them into what is now known as charcoal briquettes (Kingsford Products Company, 2011). These briquettes were easily transported to any picnic or campsite, and most importantly by many standards easy to light on fire.

Charcoal is still the mainstay of many backyard barbeques. It stores well, and requires little to no work to create a hot fire. However, for many there is something almost intoxicating about watching a campfire and imagining a piece of wild game, or not so wild, sizzling over the open flames. You can now though, take your imagination and make it happen right in your own backyard with little effort or expense. You do not need the traditional grill, or smoker, but simply some bricks, or rocks, metal grates and a safe place to start a real wood fire.

You can however, use a traditional charcoal grill to burn hardwoods for cooking. Keep in mind the flames though. High flame and heat can destroy the grill finish and even burn the handles of the grill lid if allowed to get to high. Keep the flames small, you are looking for the heat and smoke from the wood as much as you are the flames.

Choose your wood carefully. You cannot use treated lumber, processed wood logs or fire starter sticks soaked in paraffin for cooking or any wood used in home construction. Pine is great for a campfire but the resins in the wood will impart that resin and flavor into your meat. Pine will, as it burns produce sparks that can burn you or the surrounding area.

Hardwoods should be well seasoned, in other words, 70 to 75 percent of the moisture is gone. This is accomplished by simply allowing the wood to dry normally outside for at least a season. If wood is corded or stacked directly on the ground, do not burn the layer of wood that has been in contact with the ground for cooking. You can purchase hardwood pieces in bundles at many grocery stores, and at most home and garden centers. In some cases, your favorite retail store will have wood chunks in their garden centers or even on the charcoal aisle.

Hickory, oak, and mesquite are excellent woods to burn for cooking. These hardwoods are also the traditional woods used for smoking meats. Many times the wood is processed into wood chips for electric smokers that use wood chips and even gas grills. Apple and cherry wood are also excellent woods used for cooking and smoking meats, such as pork for example.

Determine the cooking grate size and build a small stone fireplace so the metal grates are supported by the stones. You can use firebricks and in some cases rocks from your own property. Keep in mind rocks with high moisture content may split when heated. Firebricks or building bricks can be purchased individually from any home and garden store.

The amount needed depends on the size of fire pit you want. The amount needed will easily fit into the trunk of most vehicles. For best results bricks stacked at least, three high will give you plenty of room between your food and the fire. When stacking, ensure several of the bricks on either side of the pit, are turned so the holes in them are facing out to provide air to the fire pit. Bricks used in construction traditionally have holes in them, which allow the bricks to bear more weight. A small brick outdoor fireplace will not require mortar. If you use brick that does not have holes in them, you can leave a gap in various spots for proper airflow.

Make sure the wood is sized to fit in the pit without resting on the sides or over the top of the pit. To start the fire in the traditional way you can use balled up newspaper and small pieces of woods splinters from the larger chunks. You can even start the fire using briquettes and charcoal lighter. Once the charcoal ashes over, you can begin placing small chunks of hardwood in the pit. Ensure the charcoal has burned almost completely away to achieve maximum flavor from the hardwood.

You want the hardwood to begin looking like charcoal before placing your food on the grates. Allow the grate to heat well before placing food on it. Pre-heating cleans the grate and prevents the food from sticking. You can add small pieces of wood as the meat or food cooks to create flames for searing or flame broiling. Trying to cook food with flame only however, will result in burnt food on the outside and likely food that is not done on the inside. This is particularly important when cooking poultry or ground meats.

You can cook virtually anything over a hardwood fire. Corn on the cob for example can be cooked over an open wood fire by removing the silk from each cob, and leaving as much of the husk on as possible. Soak the corn in water up to 30 minutes before placing on the grate. When you carefully peel some of the husk back and the top side of the corn is steaming it is ready to remove. Cooking past this point however, will not ruin the corn and you can prolong the cooking time to roast the corn. Roasted corn will become more chewy and sweet with a flavor all its own.

Chicken, roasts, burgers, steaks, hotdogs, pizza and even vegetables can be cooked over an open flame. Once dinner is over it is time to break out the marshmallows for dessert. Simply roasted on a stick or smashed between graham crackers with chocolate, roasted marshmallows top off any outdoor cooking experience.

For cooking pizza over an open wood fire pick up several kiln fired clay tiles when purchasing the firebrick. The tiles are not glazed and are usually red or rust colored. The clay used in the making of the tiles is what gives it its color.

Place the tile directly on the grates and sprinkle some cornmeal on the tile to prevent sticking. You will be cooking the pizza on the clay tiles so no need for foil or pizza pans. Using oils or sprays will make the crust soggy. Dutch ovens can be used to cook over an open flame, as well. Many Dutch ovens are designed so you can put hot coals on the lid to enhance the cooking process. Chicken, meat roasts, cakes and biscuits are just a few of the things that can be cooked in a Dutch oven over an open fire.

Kingsford Products Company. (2011). Retrieved May 27 , 2012, from


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