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Why open fire grill anyway?
Nothing is as authentic as cooking outdoors on an open-fire grill. The act of cooking over a flame is as old as civilization, and the connection between food and fire is strong. Once humans harnessed the ability to control fires and cook food, we have been trying to master the art. It’s such a simple concept, and you can’t really get it wrong, but you can definitely get it right. So right, the food can taste better than anything you’ve ever considered. You can burn the food, but you will quickly get the hang of tending your meat over a fire and learning how to make the most of the flame to give amazing flavor to your food.
But the main reasons I recommend open fire grilling are: it’s fun, it’s a way to connect with your primal self, it’s authentic, and the food tastes absolutely amazing.
Let’s get started
Is open fire grilling safe?
Cooking over an open fire has its hazards, as does any time spent with fire. Don’t be an idiot and keep your drunk or drugged up self or friends away from the fire. Keep some water close by in case the fire spreads.
A few things to keep in mind; select a safe space away from anything flammable, including trees. A good rule is to keep everything at least 10 ft away from the fire.
Burning your food and then eating it is not a great idea. Some charring is expected and is even desired. But eating burnt food regularly can cause health problems and it tastes bad.
Keep a fireproof glove to hand so you can safely use the grill if required, and make sure you have a food thermometer so you can check if your food is fully cooked.
Choosing your grill
You can keep it as simple or as complicated as you like. You can make your own our of green wood poles and canes if you like. People have been doing this for centuries, but let’s look at some options for open fire cooking.
Simple open-fire grills
If you have a campfire and want to grill, you have three really simple options. Let’s look at at a few of my favourites.
Firebricks and grill grate – Get two firebricks either side of the fire. You’ll have to keep it small and manageable and place a grill on top. If you don’t have fire bricks, then you can use large stones (be careful, they can explode) or anything else that could be used to balance a grill rack. I’ve even used logs on either side of the fire before.
You can also buy a grill grate with folding legs or one with a leg that has grill grates that swivels over the campfire.
Spend you hard earned money or be creative and make one.
Garden firepit grills
Fire pits are ubiquitous in every garden now, it has become fashionable to have a raised fire pit in the garden to sit around in the late summer evening or autumn. But not all of them get used for cooking. Some have amazing grill attachments that make grilling a social activity.
Getting a fire pit is one of the easiest ways to get yourself into cooking your meal outdoors in your backyard. A fire-pit can be moved so easily, and plenty are available at a great price.
Professional open-fire grills
If you’re getting serious about outdoor grilling or have some cash to splash, then there are some serious open-fire grills to be had.
You can get stainless steel Argentine-style grills that have a large fire brick enclosed firebox that heats up the space evenly and targets the multiple grates and grilling areas. These are pieces of art and have a price tag to match. One of my favorite brands is Tagwood. They have some of the best freestanding grills and their flagship model subtly called The Beast.
Another simple favorite is the Kudu grills. They take up a much smaller footprint but have lots of different grate options that ensure you always have the best option for cooking over an open flame.
Choosing your wood
Choose your wood carefully. Make sure it has completely dried out for the best results. The wood needs to have a moisture content below 20% or else too much heat will be lost through the moisture. Use a good hardwood like ash, oak, or beech to get a really hot burn that will get you up to temperature and create a good bed of hot embers.
Do not use any type of pine wood, it’s has too much moisture and can make food taste awful when the sap burns
Hot tip: Add some coal to the wood to create an even heat distribution and help you maintain a hot bed of embers.
Seasoning the grill rack
It’s time to get cooking, but you need to get used to seasoning the grill before you cook. It helps make them not stick, making the cooking process easier for you and the cleaning easier too.
Before you start cooking, get some oil. Vegetable, sunflower, or peanut oil works fine. Put the oil on a paper towel and wipe the grill grate. Now start your fire and get the grill hot. If you do this each time, then the grill will get a dark color that has its own flavor characteristics.
Direct and indirect grilling
One of the first techniques to master when cooking around a fire is indirect grilling. Direct grilling occurs when you barbecue directly over the hot coals. Indirect cooking is the opposite. It is when you have a grilling area away from the heat so you can slowly cook something, like a whole chicken, without burning it to a crisp.
It’s one of the first cooking over fire techniques you need to learn. It’s simple but so useful you will realise you can cook anything over a live fire.
Harness the smoke flavour
Cooking over a live fire adds a new flavor profile to you grilling. With the many different types of wood you can cook over, each one can add a new flavour to your meat. Experiment with different woods and see how they can add to the dish.