Live Fire Cooking

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by kyheirloomer, Jun 1, 2011.

Do you cook over a live fire?

Poll closed Jul 2, 2011.
  1. Regularly.

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  2. From time to time

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  3. Tried it once but it wasn't my thing

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  4. Just getting started and want to learn more

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  5. Haven't yet but it's on my to-do list

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  6. Not interested

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  1. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Anyone into cooking over live fires?

    From the results of the Q&A with Steven Raichlen it's obvious that many---perhaps most---of us are into grilling. More to the point, it seems, live-fire cooking is all the rage at many restaurants.

    I got to be thinking about this when the discussion on another thread turned towards hearth and open-fire cooking. Not camping, per se, but actually preparing daily meals over an open fire or on a hearth.

    For those who missed it, Pannini posted this:

    I still smoke meats regularly. I choose to eat them.

    While I have you, I would like to know if you've done this.

    30 yrs. ago we had the oportunity to stay with my wifes uncle in France.

    We cooked most meats in or near an open fire. He had cast iron vessels under the meats to catch the drippings. He would then baste the meats with

    the drippings. The one thing I will always remember is how we stuffed and trussed all the fowl. We then hung them from various hooks near

    the flame. We then gave a twist and the birds would spin slowly in one direction then reverse it self and spin the other way. They continuously turned throught the cooking process.

    I have never been able to get same results in the ofen. Ever done this?

    pan



     To which I responded:

     A variation of it, Jeff.

     

    A fairly common practice, back in the 18th century, was to hang a trussed fowl from a string, in front of the fire. You'd twist the string tightly and let it go. It would untwist and retwist until needing to be retwisted again. Naturally there'd be a drip pan under the bird to catch the drippings. Ours are forged rather than cast, but samee-same.

     

    When Friend Wife discusses this with visitors she usually ends by saying, "even better than Ron Popeil's four payments of $39.99 vertical roaster." That always gets a laugh.

     

    Really well-to-do folks actually had things like clockwork spits which acted just like our present-day electric ones.

     

    Hearth cooking utilizes all sorts of common and specialized utensils. Most cooking is not done in the fire, itself, but in front of it (as with the birds), or over coals that are raked out on the apron. That's why so many old-time cooking vessels have legs, so they can sit above the coals. In addition, as you note, there are all sorts of hangers---S hooks, trammels, rachets, even chains---for adjusting height when you do cook in the firebox. Flat-bottomed cooking vessels were also used, and came in two types. One had a swiveled bail, that could hang from one of those hooks. The others would be used with trivets of various heights. Nowadays we mostly use trivets to protect tables and counters from hot pots. Back then they were more often used as cooking tools.

     

    Here's an interesting bit of trivia: If a shallow pan had legs, it was a skillet. If it had a flat bottom it was a frying pan. Oddly enough, there were no cast iron frying pans we can document. Instead they were made of other materials: copper, tin, hammered iron, etc. I have no idea why this was so.

     

    A lot of cooking equipment was based on reflected heat, too. There were reflector ovens, to be sure. But also things like bird roasters. We have one, for instance, that's about 16 inches square. Mounted to it are ten hooks, from which you hung small birds like quail and pigeons. This sat in front of the fire, and cooked from both sides. Ours has a built-in drip pan, including a pour spout so you could easily transfer the drippings to a saucepan to make gravy.

     

    When cabins are first built they'd use a lug pole that rested in recesses in the chimney walls. The first labor-saving device would be a crane, that rotated in sockets attached to a sidewall. With it you could swing pots and kettles out of the fire, instead of having to reach in and lift a hot, heavy container.

     

    Well, you've gotten me to hijack this thread big time. Maybe we should start a different one, if others are interested?

     So, I'm curious as to how many others may be involved in this sort of thing, and how far that interest goes. While the old-time methods certainly are fun, as well as effective, let's not stop there. I'd like to see a discussion about all sorts of live-fire cooking.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2011
  2. french fries

    french fries

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    Hey KYH, 

    I am extremely interested in setting up a way to cook over open fire in my backyard. As the summer approaches I think I may have someone come and make a fire ring for me, I just have trouble finding the right equipment as far as an adjustable height sort of grill that I could put over the live fire. 

    A couple of months ago I was in France, cooking pork shoulder butts - a friend of me raises his own pigs - over an open fire. It was simple, we just went to another friend's backyard, started a fire in the middle of the tall grass, set up a couple concrete blocks on either side, a grill on top, and there went the shoulders. The result was out of this world, albeit we wished there had been a better way to adjust the grill height than to call two friends to prop up the grill while two others would add or withdraw concrete blocks. Not exactly the most romantic look either, but hey, it did the job. 

    When I was younger we'd go into the mountains, lay stones in a circle, start a bonfire, and later cook sausages by skewering them onto a fresh tree stem, and steak directly onto the flattest stone we could find around the fire - no grill needed. 

    Anyway I'm extremely interested in reproducing the experience and sharing it with friends here in my backyard as I truly miss the wood-fire smell and flavor. I also have been stocking up on grapefruit tree wood for a while, just because I got it for free, I think that would be good for a paella maybe. 

    So if only I could find a great way to place an adjustable height grill on top of my live fire I'd be set. I also posted about this topic in Steve Raichlen's forum, and he suggested that I could start right now by just making a wood fire in my Weber kettle, which is something I never thought of, for some reason. 

    Lately the only few times I cook over a live fire is when camping, which is only about once a year. 

    Thanks for starting this topic. 
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2011
  3. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    Too many fire restrictions in my neck of the woods to really practice this much beyond the Dutch Oven level with the coals or charcoal. Perhaps if I had my own fire ring in the yard. Small yard though to devote to that.

    Certainly, I've done the hotdogs/ toasted marshmallows thing and the common variations as well as the tinfoil/hobo dinner.
     
  4. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    French Fries---why a ring?

    Seriously. Many of us grew up with the idea that a fire be contained by a ring of stones. But it you think about it, that's because even if we cooked on it it actually doubled as a campfire. Indeed, that was most often the primary purpose, and cooking was secondary.

    You actually have a more efficient cooking medium if you make the pit rectangular. The coals and flames are more controlable, and your cooking equipment fits better.

    The fact is, too, that surrounding the firepit with stones is an affectation. I have a permanent set-up in my yard, for instance, and the only stones near it are the pavers we use to simulate a hearth (see below). So long as flamables are not growing near the pit the fire won't spread.

    I find it hard to imagine that you can't find an adjustible grill. The whole Santa Maria grilling style is based on that, and folks build them all over California.

    As an alternative, do a search for redezvous and other period events. I'm sure there are a few close enough to you to attend. See how the reenactors set up their firepits, and the kind of equipment they use. If you can't find them on-line, check the shooting ranges for people who shoot muzzleloaders. They usually know about period events.

    Santa Maria aside, most open-fire cooking is not done over flames. Certainly not high flames. You want a good bed of coals. If your grill isn't adjustible, use a fireplace shovel to control the heat by moving coals around as necessary. A lot simpler than having friends add or subtract cement blocks, donchathink?

    Hearth cooking is actually different than cooking in the fire itself. And you can readily simulate that. Other than boiling and high-heat searing, most hearth cooking is done outside the firebox. You shovel coals onto the hearth, place an appropriate cooking tool over it, and there you go. The preponerance of hearth-cooking implements had legs. Not just Dutch ovens. Skillets, griddles, gridirons and other cooking containers also had legs for that purpose. An alternative, for flat-bottomed pots and pans, was to use a trivet. The were made in all sorts of heights. You placed one over coals or in the fire, and put your pan on it. Some of these were also designed to hang from the lug pole or crane.

    To simulate a hearth we use 16 inch pavers from the home improvement store. There are four of them in front of our firepit at home. When attending events we carry two others as part of our camp gear.

    Another possibility is to simulate the lug pole that would have been installed in fireplaces (until being upgraded to a crane, that is). For that, you use two metal uprights, flanking the firepit. A third piece then goes across those two, resting in hooks. Using various hanging devices (S hooks, trammels, rachets, even chains) lets you raise and lower the cooking container as necessary. A tripod built out of the same metal rods serves to hold a single ot or kettle. You could rig the same sort of tripod to support our grill, too.
     
  5. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    Live fire cooking equipment, like cast iron dutch ovens, tend to show up more in hunting/fishing oriented outdoor stores. Many people haven't ventured into these outdoors stores for various reasons, but it's the place to look for this sort of gear.

    There are on-line sources too, but shipping can be expensive for the heavy iron this stuff is made from.  Quite often there are local craftsmen who turn this gear out occasionally as well.

    Go to www.idos.org to look for dutch oven group in your area (the Chapters link). These guys will know the local resources best and be happy to share.

    If you're in Utah, Smith and Edwards up by Ogden is worth a visit (and the drive) as is the Army Navy store on Redwood road.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2011
  6. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    tend to show up more in hunting/fishing oriented outdoor stores.

    That's very true, Phil. But more and more we're seeing it in other places as well. The camping and grilling sections of box stores, for instance. Even supermarkets are carrying some of it; cast-iron skillets and gridirons at least. I've even seen a Dutch oven in Meijer---a local chain similar to Wallmart.

    Some of the best sources are yard- and estate-sales, flea markets, and antiques malls. Almost all of my cast-iron cookware was obtained that way. With one exception---a 14" Dutch oven I found for (don't hate me) forty bucks in an old-fashioned hardware store---I don't think I've ever bought new iron. Certainly not for myself.

    As an aside, I recently learned how to roughly date non-branded cast iron cookware, and some of my stuff is a lot older than I thought. Drives the collectors buggy when they see me put it in a fire. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/tongue.gif

    Once we move away from cast iron, the other stuff is literally everywhere. I'm amazed at all the tools and gadgets on display in the grilling sections, for instance. Wire baskets of various kinds, sheet-metal grilling pans, metal skewers, etc. etc. etc.

    Small yard though to devote to that.

    How small is small? My permanent firepit is four feet long and about a foot wide is all. Fronting it are four 16" pavers. It actually takes up less room, overall, than my gas grill.
     
  7. french fries

    french fries

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    Thanks for all the suggestions. I don't have much time to drive around which is why I limited my search to online.. and couldn't find much. Hopefully one day I'll have time to go to a few stores and check out the options. 

    I like the idea of a square/rectangle fire pit. For some reason, never really thought about it, but now that you mention it, it does make a lot of sense. 

    KYH, anyway we could see a picture of your permanent fire pit? 
     
  8. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Wish I could show you one, FF. But I don't even own a digital camera, let alone know how to download pix to the computer.  Sorry.
     
  9. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    There's a great live-fire learning experience going on for anyone who can make there way to central Kentucky this weekend. The annual Women on the Fronteir event will be held at Fort Boonesboro. Traditionally, 20-30 women turn out for this 2-day event.

    Friend Wife and I will be teaching them some of the 18th century foodways, and will be preparing 5 dishes for the evening meal:

    Roast leg of pork: Barbecue (under that name, in fact) goes back at least to the 17th century in America, and would have been a regular way of preparing pork. Basic difference with this recipe and a modern one for pulled pork is that it uses wine as the mop sauce instead of the more familiar tomato-based mops of today.

    Sausages and stewed red cabbage: Another common dish. The sausages would likely have been pork, rather than beef (beef was not commonly eaten at that time & place). But we want to provide an alternative protein for the participant, so fresh brats are our choice for this.

    Potato dumplings: A sort of rustic form of gnocci. Instead of flour, milk-soaked bread is used to bind a mixture of grated potatoes and onions. This is shaped into balls and dropped into boiling water.

    Carrot pudding: A savory pudding based on grated carrots and spices, bound with bread crumbs and eggs.

    Stewed tomatoes: This is a made dish, that goes beyond the canned stewed tomatoes we're all familiar with. Starting either with canned or fresh tomatoes, they get cooked down a little with salt, pepper, and herbs, then biscuits are crumbled in. A really nice side dish to almost anything.

    Other demonstrators will be baking bread and putting up preserves.

    Everything will be prepared on open fires.
     
  10. panini

    panini

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    This thread has got my brain buzzing, thanks
     
  11. butzy

    butzy

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    I do a fair amount of cooking over open fire.

    Even at the lodge we sometimes have to resort to this due to the occasional powercuts. By now we can cook every single dish on the menu over open fire!

    The staff always cooks their food over an open fire anyway.

    When cooking over an open fire we normally use cast iron pots with 3 legs. They are called potjies here and are extremely popular with the South Africans esp. They are mainly used to make stews (they call it potjie-kos here and they take it extremely serious....)

    Then of course BBQ grids, either on legs or resting on stones, or the type that can be folded and you can put meat in between (I find these extremely handy for making toast as well).

    Meat is still the main thing to prepare.

    Some people also do pot-bread (bread made into a dutch oven). I've not yet mastered this skill..
     
  12. panini

    panini

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    I don't know where the rest of my post. poof

    I have purchased most all my cast iron pots/cauldrons fry pans on ebay. With the economy a lot of sellers offer free shipping.
     
  13. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Sounds like a plan, Jeff.

    What have you actually purchased that way?
     
  14. panini

    panini

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    a larger size 16" skillet. I don't hesitate to throw that on the grill either.

    I have what I call a cauldren with 3 legs. And I have accumulated graduated skillets.

    Oh a Dutch oven, I call it a bean pot. I'm going to cruise ebay right now.

    Jeff
     
  15. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Here's a piece of trivia for you: whether or not you have a cauldron depends on its size. Up to 13 gallons it was called a kettle. 13 or more made it a cauldron, even though the shape was the same.

    Another one: If you had a pan with legs, it was a skillet in the 18th century. If it was flat bottomed, it was a frying pan. Nowadays, of course, we use the two words interchangeably. And of cotoday, no matter whether you call it a skillet or a fry pan it has a handle, which wasn't always the case back then. I have yet to find any documentation for 18th century handled fry pans of cast-iron, however. Seems they were made of other materials, i.e., copper, brass, hammered iron, tin, even clay. But, alas, no cast iron. 
     
  16. panini

    panini

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    Oh, then I definately have a kettle.

    I have been scouting our koi pond out by the pool. It;s empty and had a back waterfall.

    I'm thinking a great place for fire pit. I'm curious if you need a certain type of rock and mortar?

    Sophie has already hired a kid for the summer to knock down the falls part of it.

    LOL can't say I 'm well liked by the HOA. I got cited after a small get together with 3 smokers, 3 grills and 4 bug pots going.

    65pp give or take:>D
     
  17. teamfat

    teamfat

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    I've always been in the 'flames burn, coals cook' camp.

    One of the most memorable meals involving fire was a bit unusual. We seasoned a large beef rib roast and wrapped it tightly in many layers of foil. We dug a hole in the fire pit, put the roast in the hole and covered with a couple inches of dirt. Started a fire about 2 in the afternoon in the pit, kept it going all afternoon, and of course during cocktails ( well, beer and whiskey as I recall ) Also had some oiled and foil wrapped potatoes arranged around the fire. Eventually moved the embers to the side and dug out the roast after maybe 6 - 7 hours under the fire.

    Wow. It was REALLY good.

    mjb.
     
  18. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I'm curious if you need a certain type of rock and mortar?

    Other than not using sedimentary rock, I don't think it would matter much. Keep in mind, too, that you can dye mortar if desired.

    You'd be best checking with somebody who builds chimneys, as my pit is nowhere near that fancy. It's a rectangular hole, about four feet long, 18 inches wide, and four or five inches deep. Bisecting it the long-way is a wrought-iron lug pole supported by wrought-iron uprights. Hooks, trammels, chains, and rachets hang from the lug pole.

    I've always been in the 'flames burn, coals cook' camp.

    I don't know as there's really another camp, Teamfat. Although there are exceptions (hot dogs on a stick, come to mind), most cooking is done over coals or a low fire. The Santa Maria barbecue method does use a high fire, but the food is mostly elevated well above the flames.

    Sometimes you do cook over flames. But this mostly applies to things that you are boiling or stewing. Last night, at the Women On The Frontier event going on at Fort Boonesboro this weekend, our menu for about 27 people, was divided almost in half, in terms of coals vs flames:

    1. Roasted pork shoulder with cabernet/anchovy butter sauce. The pork was cooked over coals, low and slow. Sauce was made over a combination of flame and coals. This could cook fast, because it's basically a wine reduction sauce.

    2. Sausages in stewed red cabbage. This was done over flames.

    3. Carrot pudding. Baked in a Dutch oven. Obviously with coals. But the sauce that went with it was done over flames.

    4. Potato dumplings in turkey gravy. This was almost completely done over flames, as the dumplings are made by boiling. Just before serving they are reheated in the gravy, in a spider, over flames.

    5. Stewed tomatoes. A combination of coals and low flames.

    Coals vs flames, along with distance from them, are the primary way of controlling heat levels. But there's also a lot of moving coals and flames around, for the same reason. For instance, with the pork dish, the meat is laid out on a grill, and a few fresh coals moved under it from time to time to maintain a fairly even temperature level.
     
  19. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Something else to keep in mind: It's a good idea, with cast iron in particular, to have cookware dedicated to the live fire cooking, and a method of storing it. Live fire produces lots of soot and other by-products which adhere to the outside of the cookware, and are sometimes difficult to remove---particularly with iron, because you do not want soap to touch it.
     
  20. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Just an update on the Boonesboro event.

    We wound up feeding about 27 people, once all the women, their spouses, and some of the staffers were factored in. We'd never done a period meal for that many before, especially not with the constraints of using only 18th century tools and techniques. Making it even more difficult was the weather: temps in the high 90s, humidity nearly that.

    We had three ladies helping out. A good thing, or we'd have never gotten everything done on time.

    As it turns out, however, we did. All five dishes were prepared, plus an extra treat of pickled radishes we made using our own chive vinegar and radishes from the kitchen garden I manage at the Fort.

    I have to say, though, that we probably learned as much as the women attending the event.

    All five dishes were deemed exceptional by the crowd. But I found it interesting to see which were the most popular.

    Far and away the most favored was the Carrot Pudding. Virtually nobody had heard of it before, and everyone raved about it. There were no leftovers, and we probably could have planned on a greater quantity.

    The Potato Dumplings were almost as popular. Again, most attendees were unfamiliar with them. And the only thing left in the serving dish was a smear of gravy.

    Understandably, the Roast Pork was popular. I'm sure that's because pulled pork is basically familiar to eveyone. We started with a 12 pound Boston butt, and ended up with just enough leftovers to make lunch for Barbara and myself on Sunday.

    The big surprise was the Sausage and Stewed Red Cabbage. Going in we expected it to be almost as popular as the pork. But such was not the case. We wound up with more than half the sausages, and about 75% of the cabbage leftover. We took that home, broke it down in portion sizes, and froze it.

    The Stewed Tomatoes were popular as well. In fact, about half the attendees were familiar with them, albeit under other names. Several of them, for instance, told us their mothers called them Tomato Dumplings. So there's an instance of an 18th century dish being passed down---at least in the Appalachians. There was just enough left over to have with our next-day lunch.

    All in all it was a successful meal. But if we were to repeat it I think we'd substitute something else for the sausage dish. Probably something using poultry; of which there are numerous possibilities.

    If anyone is interested, I'll itemize the equipment we actually used.