Sitting around a campfire late into the night is one of the best parts of summer. This joy doesn’t have to be reserved to those too few and far between camping trips though! Fire pits are wonderful and relatively easy to come by to feature in your own backyard. If you’re all about ease and efficiency you can pick them up from a variety of stores in many different shapes and styles. If you’re more hands on then there are many guides to building your own! Regardless of your method, it’s easy to get one of your very own to sit around late into the night in the convenience of your own backyard.
As an added benefit, fire pits easily serve dual purposes as a pleasant heat source for social gatherings and as a cooking device, much like the campfires on those coveted camping trips. Fire pits can be used for cooking nearly anything and since many fire pits are larger than a standard barbeque grill this expands your options.
Building Up the Fire
One of the first things to consider when you begin your adventures in fire pit cooking is what you want to be burning and how that will affect your food. Coal is a quick and simple option for cooking. It burns hot and lights easily. What burning coal won’t give you is the nostalgic open flames and burning logs that are most beloved of the campfires of your childhood. For the kind of flames you’ll want to sit around exchanging your wildest stories long into the night you’ll want to be burning wood. For cooking, you’ll want to stick to using dry, seasoned hardwood that will burn hot and relatively cleanly. Green wood won’t burn well and soft woods will ruin your food. Hardwoods, especially from fruit and nut trees, will both burn well and impart to your food delicious smoky flavours. Smoke bombs are available for purchase as well if you want to buy simple packets to toss in your fire for the desired smoke flavour.
Once you’ve decided what you want to burn, make sure you’re building your fire in a safe fire pit. If it’s on the ground it should have a good deep sandy base with no vegetation anywhere near it. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t use any fire pit on a windy day so that embers don’t get tossed around where they can start an uncontrolled fire or cause injury.
You’ll want to build a smaller fire for cooking over. You can build it up later to sit around and socialize but for the business of cooking your meal a large fire will burn the food while leaving the middle raw. Start fairly small, adding larger pieces of wood as necessary to achieve a good hot bed of coals and some flames for direct heat. It’s a good idea to build the fire to one side of the fire pit and move the hot coals to the other. This lets you grill or use a skillet over the fire while baking food with the coals. Regardless of how you arrange your fire, you’ll want to make sure that the flames have died down some before you start cooking so that you’ll have a more even heat and less charred food.
Cooking with Sticks
The good old traditional way of cooking over a campfire is with sticks or long handled skewers. Ideally your skewer should be at least two feet long with wooden handles so your fingers don’t burn. If you’re relying on a stick, green wood that has been stripped of bark is best because it is much slower to burn.
Hot dogs, sausages, and marshmallows are the obvious choices for cooking with a stick but there are many other good options as well. Kebabs are an easily customizable and crowd-pleasing choice for a filling meal. They’re an easy way to accommodate a large crowd with diverse dietary preferences. Assorted meats and vegetables make for a good dinner while a variety of cubed fruit supply dessert options.
Bread dough also wraps easily around a skewer and after baking can be brushed with butter and sprinkled with herbs and parmesan for a savory side or can be dipped in cinnamon sugar for a dessert.
Cooking in Foil Packets
Cooking in heavy-duty aluminum foil packets is one of the simplest ways to cook in a fire pit. You simply wrap your food up in the foil and set it in or near the coals to bake. Place the packets on top of the grill to steam the food to yummy perfection.
The most popular foil example of this is the baked potato. Wrap your potato up in foil and tuck it in with the coals for a delicious, crispy skinned potato. To spruce up the homely dish, slice most of the way through the potato in rows and stuff the potato with onion, garlic, bacon bits, and parmesan cheese before baking it.
Fish with vegetables or chicken breast with vegetables make delicious packets that can sit on the grill and steam. Simply wrap it all up and leave it until cooked through.
Baked apples are another traditional foil wrapped fire pit food. Simply core the apple or cut the apple in half and core it. Then stuff the apple with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, raisins, pecans, and oats before wrapping it all up in foil. Bake the apple in the coals for 15 – 20minutes and enjoy.
Barbecuing, Frying, and Stewing
With a grill over your fire pit, you have yourself a barbecue. Cook steaks, grill corn, and flip burgers just like you would on a standard barbecue. While the mesh grill that comes with many fire pits to protect from flying sparks will hold some heat, finding a solid cover for your fire pit will make cooking much faster. A variety of rotisseries are also available for larger roasts, such as whole birds, to ensure even cooking. Some rotisseries are built to attach to your fire pit and others to stand around it. There are many styles out there so one is sure to fit your needs.
With a grill over the fire pit you can also cook over the direct heat in skillets or pots and dutch ovens as well. Cast iron is usually recommended for this because they’re sturdy and because aluminum or stainless steel cookware will become quite black on the bottoms from the flames and smoke. Small or delicate foods that would fall through a grill can be fried, seared, or sautéed in a skillet while a pot or dutch oven will let you stew, boil, or braise foods. This versatility lets you cook a variety of whole meals outside.
When you’re done cooking – build up your fire and enjoy it long into the night on a nice full belly!