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Top Tips for Cooking on Wood

As we come out of a remarkably mild winter with far less firewood burnt than in previous years, you may just decide to hang on to them for the colder months ahead. However, spare a thought for the joys of summer wood burning and a wood fired BBQ. As summer approaches, it’s time to clean off the bbq or firepit and enjoy the wonders of cooking on wood.

Whilst many of us will be using charcoal on the barbecue or perhaps just sitting around the firepit for some evening heat, you might consider making more of that log pile and go back to a more natural way of cooking your lunch or evening meal. Nothing beats that lovely aroma of wood smoke and the enviable flavour of food cooked over wood. We often get asked if cooking over wood is safe – the answer is yes if you follow some basic rules.

Peppers, steak and sweetcorn cooking on wood

So here are some useful tips to ensure trouble free cooking:

  1. Ensure your logs are really dry and below 20% moisture content as this will ensure you and your guests aren’t over-whelmed by clouds of smoke – If you bought kiln dried logs then they should be ready to go. Make sure you have a good stack, ideally of thinner cut logs, next to your cooking area.
  2. Take your kindling and Flamer natural firelighter, build your Jenga-style framework of 6-8 pieces of kindling and place the logs at an angle over the kindling, then light the flamer. Avoid chemical-based fire igniters when cooking food on your wood fire. Fire starter gel often contains chemicals such as kerosene to make them easy to light and long-burning.However, they add unwanted chemicals and taste to whatever you’re cooking.
  3. It’s really important to make sure you light your fire about 30-45 mins before you plan to cook. Getting a really good base to the fire is key and using smaller logs initially will help.
  4. Airflow is crucial around the logs. Whenever adding logs to the fire always place at a vertical angle to assist airflow.
  5. For the best results, wait until the logs burn down to white hot embers – the perfect heat.
  6. To keep the heat going, add more logs to one side of the grill, while cooking over the hot embers on the other side. Use indirect heat to cook food more slowly and evenly.
  7. As always, keep safe and keep young children away from hot surfaces - for those that are ready to learn, it’s a great opportunity to start teaching youngsters about fire lighting as it is a valuable skill to have.
  8. Always keep your grill clean by removing grease and fat. This will help to prevent flare ups and flash fires.
  9. If cooking at a campsite or ‘wild camping,’ be responsible and considerate to your surroundings. Make sure you have permission for a fire and keep the fire off the ground.
  10. Have a bucket of water to hand but always keep the fire small, under control and never leave unattended.

What wood should I use for cooking?

Hardwoods such as oak, ash and beech are best for providing cooking heat, as they give a good long burn and can add a great flavour to your food. Fruit woods, such as apple, can also provide fantastic flavour. Softwoods, such as spruce and pine, will burn faster and, at times, may become too hot. They also contain higher levels of resin, which can turn to bitter-tasting creosote when burned. Many people using a BBQ are adding a little hickory or mesquite near the end of the cooking time for extra smoky flavour nowadays.

What food should I cook on a wood fire?

Different meats cook at different temperatures. Small pieces of meat, such as chicken breasts, cook best over a medium heat. For a larger joint, such as pork roast, get the meat close to the fire for the first few minutes, turning it to seal in the juices, and then move it away from the high heat so it can cook slowly over a gentler fire. The best way of making sure the temperature is correct is to use a thermometer (link to the piece we’ve just posted about smoking)

Another way to improve your cooking of larger roasts is to build or buy a rotisserie attachment for your firepit. A rotisserie allows for very even cooking and succulent, juicy results.

Whilst indirect heat is best for meat and most veggies, the hot embers are, however, perfect for cooking items such as potatoes wrapped in foil. Use a garden rake with a long handle and metal head to rake the embers around the pit to control the temperature.

To keep the heat going for a long time, you can keep adding wood on one side of the wood grill while cooking on the other.

So get fired up for cooking on wood and the primal delights of eating outdoors.