One of the most primal preparations for food is open fire or ‘pit’ cooking. The complex flavors of smoke will permeate and season just about anything you cook over a wood fire. This last weekend I thought I would celebrate the summer and my backyard by having some friends and family over for a fire pit grilling party. The event was a huge success, with everyone getting their fill of delicious fire roasted meats and vegetables. Although we had a wonderful time and everyone was very happy, there was a tremendous amount of planning and calculation that went into our fire pit party. This week I want to share some of the tricks and details that really make cooking over a wood fire enjoyable and safe. Cheers!
Pit placement & safety equipment
Regardless of the size of your pit you will want to make sure you don’t start any wildfires. Place your pit a good distance from any wood structures, trees, brush or any flammable materials. Make sure you clear the ground at least four feet around the perimeter of your pit and keep a shovel, bucket, plenty of water and fire extinguisher close. It’s also advisable to check the local laws and regulations for burning in your area, some places have seasonal designations for open fires.
If you are out in nature and there are an abundance of large rock from which you can build your pit that is great. I, however, found that you can get a perfectly round four foot diameter pit built easily using retaining wall bricks.
When it comes to a grill I have decided to use nine gauge non-galvanized expanded steel grating. This material is very common and can be purchased easily, although you might want to request they cut it to your specifications which may take a few days extra. It is very important that you get non-galvanized steel. Galvanized steel is processed with lots of chemicals and can make you sick. In addition I also used two pieces of non-galvanized angle steel (optional) to separate my 2’x4′ sections of grill for quick and easy access to the fire.
Seasoning your grill
Once you have your pit built you can season your grill. My advice for this is to use a relatively soft wood such as pine since it burns hotter and puts off more flame. You should also season your grill well in advance of your gathering to avoid any sticking on the big day.
Place your grill over the flames and allow the flames to burn off any potential processing chemicals that may have made it onto your steel in the factory. I would do this for about an hour or more making sure the entire grill has been purged.
Once the flames have died down and are embers you can start to season the grill.
Using a wire BBQ brush with a long handle and a pair or leather work gloves to protect your hands brush the grill to remove any debris or excess carbon.
Wipe vegetable oil onto the grill using an all cotton rag (That you don’t mind ruining) fixed to the end of a stick or a pair of long tongs, repeat this about every 30 minutes until there is a nice sheen or about ten times or so.
Cooking over your wood fire pit
Start building your fire several hours in advance so you can heat up the pit. This will help reduce ash and flare up as you will have enough heat to keep things cooking without needing flames.
I started my fire out with some pine, or fir followed by a harder wood such as oak to build embers. Once I have enough heat to cook I added some smaller pieces of fruit wood such as cherry, apple, or pear and allows them to smolder and slowly catch. This generates fantastic smoke and that is why we went through all this trouble.
Allow your grill to heat up as you would any other BBQ grill then give it one more brushing of oil and start grilling. Please remember to be safe when grilling. Wear flame resistant clothing, good leather shoes, tie your hair back and get yourself a pair of thick leather gloves (I use welding gloves). Grill on!
Looking for some events that involve fire and meat? Well, here’s a few for you:
Mondays through Saturdays I Memphis BBQ Food Tour – Memphis, Tennessee Taste authentic, mouth-watering BBQ… Memphis style! Guests will sample a variety of dry-rubbed and saucy wet ribs, pulled pork, BBQ nachos and barbecue spaghetti. Learn the subtle differences in delicious regional favorites that round out this restaurant tasting tour. LimoLance will explain the Memphis in May competition style BBQ as compared to traditional Memphis BBQ. Join Tastin’ Round Town for a chef-guided tour of some of Memphis’ best BBQ eateries. The tour involves both walking (2 blocks) and shuttle van service.
Saturday, June 22 I CLBC Annual Pig Roast – Elmsford, New York After a one year hiatus, Captain Lawrence Brewing Company’s Annual Pig Roast is back, and bigger than ever. Come celebrate with Scott and the CLBC Brew Crew in drinking your favorite CLBC beers (and a few new ones) alongside the Village Dog’s whole roasted Pigs. Your ticket price includes: access to the event, beer, bus transportation, and live music. Village Dog will be slinging pig and other gastronomical obscenities for a few extra bucks. A portion of the proceeds from your ticket will be donated to Hemlock Hills Farm.
Wednesday, June 26 I Sunset Grilling with the Masters – Carlsbad, California Learn from the Pros with Twenty/20’s “Sunset Grilling with the Masters” Summer Barbeque Class Series. Twenty/20 at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa partners with DiningOut to present “Sunset Grilling with the Masters” just in time for summer backyard entertaining. This cooking series will have local barbeque heavyweights showing guests “how to” techniques and tips, along with featured complimentary beverage and food from the grill. This week’s installment will feature Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens Executive Chef Alex Carballo will be teaching how to use high heat to low heat cooking techniques.