Man vs. Wild. Food vs. Flame. The genesis of our species is directly & intimately connected with outdoor cooking – The most primal of grilling experiences, both leveraging & seducing every degree of our senses – An experience requiring complete attention to it’s science, as much as a the art. Far from state-of-the-art supermarket stores, propane tanks, ornately designed backyard patios, composite stove-top grilling plates & the buffet of amenities stored in your kitchen drawers & walk-in pantries, lies this animalistic form of meal preparation – from the hunt, to harvest & preparation of feast over flame.
Our sole means of reconnecting with generations long past – our bloodlines a pedigree of ancestors who cultivated, inherited, perfected & passed on this skill – not for means of culinary entertainment, but as necessity of survival. And, heck, if that romantic vision of connecting with your heritage doesn’t strike a chord – allow me to offer – “summer nights under the stars, tents, beers, campfires, gargantuan hunks of beef, s’mores, laughs & campside shenanigans.”
That said, when prepared appropriately, this method of cooking infuses the single most phenomenal array of complexity & depth of essence, textures & flavors. But, to achieve desired results, there are several tricks to the trade in rustic backwoods livefire cooking – a craft most often honed over years of success, trial, & error. In this post I’ll share with you my Top10 surefire best practices for cultivating outstanding outdoor fare. Take note of these tested recommendations & I assure
with exception of unforseen adverse weather conditions, bear attack, contraction of poison ivy, or backwoods horror flick serial killer on the loose scenarios that your next rustic wood fire cooking experience will not only be positively memorable, but unforgettably delicious.
1. Safety first. Ensure you’re stationed in an open-air, outdoor cooking-approved zone, the fire pit is both lined with stone & dug at least 12-18″ deep. In the event flames must be tamed, maintain a bucket of water or sand on hand at all times. And, above all, never, ever leave your fire unattended – Unless you desire an army of Park Rangers, a cavalry of horseback Mounties, Smoky the Bear & Homeland Security hunting your guilty-as-charged, forest-fire-starting, sitting-behind-bars, broke-as-a-joke ass down, like wounded prey.
2. On a lighter, less ominous note, just cause you’re in the woods doesn’t = forgetting about sanitary measures. Thoroughly scrub down grill grates & mix in an abrasive wash of your hands. A clean grill = a happy grill. A happy grill = healthy campers. Healthy campers = Happy campers.
3. Utensil Necessities: Digital-read internal temperature thermometer – I know, I know – pretentious, right? Well, thank me later. Basting brush. Long tongs. Forks & knives. Salt & pepper. If employing use of a fat, select canola for it’s high smoke-point (or if not interested in lugging a jar of oil into the woods, I’ve found prepackaged individual servings of mayonnaise both reasonable in transporting & assisting in maintaining moist cuts of protein, while aiding in developing a mouthwatering exterior crust.). A few sheets of tin foil. Heat-shielding gloves. And, 1 massive military-grade Machete… for important things – like, you know, chopping vegetables.
4. Build a raging fire in teepee-fashion, using the following process – Stack & ignite Tinder (small dry twigs, leaves, brush, etc.) at bottom of the pit. Then, build a teepee of Kindling (finger-sized branches) over the Tinder. Finally, build a teepee of Firewood (forearm to bicep-sized logs) around the Kindling. The key is applying one layer upon the other after each produces a self-sustaining flame.
5. Never use softwoods or artificial fluids to ignite or maintain a flame. Period. They are both infectious to the flavor & will spoil the edibility of grilled fare. When electing woods for fueling your grilling pit, my favorites are dry hardwoods or fruit woods – Hickory, Pecan, Walnut, Maple & Mesquite to Apple, Cherry & Peach Wood.
6. Wood fires are extremely hot – much moreso than your traditional gas or charcoal grill, radiating intense amounts of infrared heat. The art of outdoor rustic cooking lies in controlling the flame, smoke & temperature. Cooking too hot will carbonize your fare instantly. Cooking too low will produce proteins tasting of a bowling alley ash tray. The key – Allow the fire to super-heat the grill grates while the wood smolders down until ashes glow bright orange-pink & emanating smoke subsides. Note: a mature fire could take upwards of 45min-1hr to develop.
7. Next, establish a 2-zone cooking surface by raking ⅔ of the embers to one side of the pit. Then, slant the embers down to the lower, opposite side of the grill, establishing 1 higher-piled direct-heat hot zone & 1 lower-piled, indirect-heat cooler zone. Leverage this strategy to sear high-hot to encrust, then bring food to temp low & slow, basting intermittently to both maintain protein moisture, infuse smoky essence & develop a well-balanced crust.
8. Wood fires burn harder than charcoal. For every 30-45 minutes of cooking, add a log or 2 of firewood to grillpit’s hot zone. This is critical for maintaining sustainability of heat, particularly when cooking tougher or larger cuts of meat & whole birds, that may require longer cooking periods.
9. Baby kittens cry when you press, prod or puncture a protein at any juncture before it’s served. Baby kittens, ladies & gentlemen, Baby kittens! For best results (and happy kittens), cook proteins to within 5°F of desire internal temperatue, then remove said fare from grill grates, tent under tin foil & rest untouched for 5-15 minutes. This wait period allows the meat’s denatured internal proteins to reabsorb & redistribute their displaced juices after the transformative grilling process. Figure your meat requires approximately 5min of rest under tin foil for every 12oz in weight or 1″ of thickness – which ever is greater.
10. Now. Crack an ice cold brewski. Howl at the moon. Grill onward. Like a boss.