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A contribution from Darren at about the joys of cooking on wood.

Most barbecue enthusiasts agree that you can't beat the experience of cooking over an open flame. But have you ever considered eschewing the traditional charcoal briquettes for good old-fashioned wood? If not, perhaps the time has come to give it a try.

Getting Started

Building a wood fire for cooking is not so different from building a regular campfire. You'll want to make sure that all the wood you're using is completely dry, and begin by stacking smaller pieces of kindling in a crosswise pattern. Layer a few larger sticks on top and light the kindling beneath it. When the bigger sticks have caught fire, add one or two small logs and proceed from there.

If you need some extra help, or if you just want to get those logs stoked as soon as possible, consider investing in some natural wood firelighters (also known as Flamers). These small bundles are made of natural wood shavings with a bit of paraffin added. Completely odourless and easy to light, they'll give your fledgling fire the boost that it needs. The Flamer should be positioned in the centre of your kindling before you build the tower, and allowed to burn for several minutes before the larger logs are added.

Alternatively, you can use a gas or charcoal grill with an attached wood smoker component. Here's a guide to finding the best smoker grill combo.

Safety Precautions

Cooking over an open fire requires some finesse. Here are a few basic safety considerations to keep in mind:

  • Allow the flames to die down before attempting to cook the food. If the flames are too high, they'll char the exterior before the inside has a chance to cook through.

  • If you're cooking meat products, have an instant-read thermometer on hand to make sure the internal temperature has reached a safe level.

  • Keep hot utensils safely out of reach, and never place them near flammable objects.

  • For campfire-style grilling, keep the area around the fire pit clear of anything that isn't essential to the cooking process. This "safe zone" should be comprised of hard-packed dirt (no leaves or grass) and measure about ten feet in diameter.

Tips and Recipe Ideas

  • Prepare large batches of grilled or smoked meats at once, and incorporate the leftovers into sandwiches and salads later on. This will help you save on fuel costs. Just be careful not to crowd the grill, or the food won't cook evenly.

  • Wrap whole baking potatoes and sliced onions in aluminium foil and place directly on the coals for about 45 minutes. Be sure to count how many packets you've added—it's easy to mistake them for hot coals.

  • Consider using a sheet pan for fatty foods like bacon, sausage, and duck breast to reduce the risk of flare-ups.

  • Invest in a cast-iron Dutch oven to experiment with making soups, stews, or roast chicken on a wood fire.

For more grilling tips, check out this BBQ guide.

In Conclusion

Wood provides grillers with a natural and simple alternative to other fuel sources. Best of all, it imbues the food with unforgettable flavour. Once you've sampled an authentic wood-fired meal, you'll be able to taste the difference for yourself.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!


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