Wednesday, 13 November 2013

How To Cook In An Outdoor Fire Pit


By Sally Hansley Odum, eHow Contributor

Along with the soothing ambiance of nature, nothing adds to the pleasure of being outside like grilling food--thanks to the aroma, warmth and aesthetic appeal of a cozy fire. With a little practice, you can cook on your outdoor fire pit just as easily as any grill or stove. You can use coals or wood in the fire pit, allowing you to choose your flavor through the various types of woods available.

Difficulty: Moderately Easy


Things You'll Need
  • Grill grate
  • Skewers
  • Seasonings
  • Aluminum foil, burlap or banana tree leaves
  • Wood logs (seasoned dried hardwood burns hotter and longer)
  • Charcoal
  • Kindling (dried twigs, slender pieces of wood)
  • Tinder (Newspaper or dried leaves)
  • Matches
  • Charcoal lighter fluid
  • Food
  • Cooking and eating utensils
  • Fire poker
  • Grill tongs

  1. Build your fire with either wood logs or charcoal. If using wood, consider starting the fire in a barrel first, or somewhere away from the fire pit. Arrange the logs loosely in a pile so the oxygen will circulate freely--this makes the fire burn better. Use a starter aid, such as kindling or tinder. Light one end of the kindling or tinder with a match, then place it under the logs. Continue this process until the logs start burning well. Once the flames die down and the red-hot embers start to fall off the logs, use a shovel to carefully transfer the embers to your fire pit. This is what you will cook over--the embers, not the flames. Cooking over embers prevents you from charring the food and ruining it in an open flame. Cook on the embers while you wait for the rest of the logs to burn down, and keep a steady supply of embers coming by adding fresh wood.
    If it's too much trouble to create the fire somewhere else and move the embers, light the wood logs within the fire pit. Start your fire an hour or two ahead of the actual time you want to cook so the embers will be ready. Follow the same process given above to light the fire. Don't put the grate on or start cooking until the flames have died down and you have nothing left but red-hot, glowing embers. (The embers are actually hotter than the flames.)
    If you plan to use charcoal, use a quick-start brand of charcoal. Or, if you're using regular charcoal, sprinkle charcoal lighter fluid onto the coals. Mound the coals in the center of the fire pit. Light the mound at the top and on the sides with a long match so it will burn evenly. The coals are ready for cooking when they turn whitish on top.
    Every once in a while, use a fire poker to move the coals or embers around to get more oxygen circulating. The oxygen will intensify the heat.

  2. Place the grill grate on top of the fire pit to grill your food. There are two methods for grilling:
    For the direct heat method, grill directly over the hot coals or embers. Cook food on the grill grate just as you would on your regular barbecue grill. From hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks to pork chops or sausages, this is the easiest cooking method. Steaks should take 20 minutes, or less, to grill, depending on your tastes. Hamburgers take around 20 minutes, or less.
    For indirect heat grilling, cook away from the hot coals or embers. Arrange the food on the grate where it is a little off to the side of the main hot spot. The circulating air is still pretty hot, and your food will cook more slowly. This method is often used for whole chickens or other small fowl, corn on the cob, baked potatoes and other vegetables. A whole chicken sliced in half will take about an hour to cook over indirect heat. Cook 30 minutes breast side down, turn and cook 30 more minutes breast side up. Corn-on-the-cob wrapped in tin foil will take about 20 minutes over indirect heat; turn the corn frequently to keep it from burning. A baked potato wrapped in tin foil will take about 45 minutes; prick it with a fork to see if it's done.

  3. Cook in a fire pit with skewers. Soak wooden skewers 30 minutes in water before loading with food. Metal skewers should be cleaned and lightly oiled. Place the loaded skewers on a grill grate over medium-hot embers or coals.
    Roast hot dogs, sausages, small vegetable pieces, beef or pork kabobs, seafood morsels, marshmallows and a variety of other small items on skewers. Small vegetables pieces and shrimp cook within a few minutes. Chunks of beef and pork may take 15 minutes, or longer. Hot dogs and sausages take about ten minutes.
    If you want to cook with skewers like you would around a campfire, simply load marshmallows or hot dogs onto the ends of the skewers. Hold the skewers directly over the embers and the food will cook within a few minutes.

  4. Cook over your outdoor fire pit with a cast-iron frying pan, or stew pot with a lid. Cook fresh fish, Brunswick stew, steamed vegetables and more in your cast iron cookware. Place a frying pan with cooking oil on the grill grate directly over very hot embers or coals (it is mandatory that you use high, direct heat for pan or pot cooking on the fire pit--you can even have a few flames). Consider mounding the coals or embers up under the pan or pot to make sure it is as hot as it can get. Cooking times will vary depending upon the dish. Fry fish until golden brown on one side. Then turn and fry the other side until golden brown.
    Pan-sear scallops or vegetable slices in butter in less than 10 minutes.
    Brunswick stew made from scratch will take up to three hours. A fish stew will also take about three hours. These great stews need to simmer a long time to perfect their flavors.
    Broccoli takes 4-to-6 minutes to steam, green beans take 10-to-20 minutes, carrots 4-to-10 minutes and squash 3-to-8 minutes.

  5. Cook in your outdoor fire pit as if you were having a clam bake on the beach. Line the pit with stone, rock or brick. Loosely pile on your wood. Get the fire going well and let it reduce to red-hot embers. You want the stones so hot that water sizzles on them.
    Rake off the embers from the fire and cover the rocks with seaweed. Take your food and place it in cheesecloth squares (for a clambake this would be corn on the cob with silk removed but husks intact, whole fresh clams, live lobsters, peeled whole onions and baking-size potatoes). Create individual serving packets and tie them up at the corners. Put the food packets in wire baskets; lay the baskets on the steaming seaweed and cover with more seaweed. Then cover it all with a tarpaulin. It will take around two hours to cook. The rocks or stones hold enough heat to allow the seaweed to steam the food. This method of cooking is slow, but yields moist and flavorful food.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use a dutch oven to cook in the fire pit over high, direct heat. Some barbecue pits come equipped with rotisserie attachments that allow you to rotisserie cook chickens, small pigs, turkeys or lamb. It takes a lot of wood to make sufficient embers to cook big meals. Make sure you have enough wood on hand to produce the embers you'll need.