Are you tired of the same ol’ hot dog roasting when you go camping? Learn how to actually prepare real meals without propane or charcoal. Live fire cooking takes practice, but you can slowly improve your skills. Make delicious wood-fire foods for your family with these helpful hints and tips. Also included, fire safety for young and old!
Outdoor Cooking in Real Life
We’ve been trying to improve out outdoor cooking skills our of necessity. We’re thinking we might move to raw land with no utilities to build a small, green energy home in the woods of Southern Missouri. This is both exciting and terrifying.
I have never been very good at keeping a fire going, to be honest. Very good?! Ha! I’m like the anti-fire! I stink at it.
Well, its time to un-stink at it because I may very well need to feed my family with flame of some kind. If that happens, I don’t want us to starve.
Outdoor Cooking with a Good Book
One of our favorite books for outdoor cooking instruction is Cook Wild: Year-Round Cooking on an Open Fire. If you’re interested in learning to cook outdoors (for whatever reason), this is a very inspirational book. She includes foraged foods, too, which is a boon.
My only quibble with this book is that it doesn’t, in my newbie opinion, have enough photos of the process of each recipe. I need a little more guidance than I get visually from this book but, otherwise, its stellar.
We bought Cooking With Fire and, although I haven’t tried anything from it yet, it looks really helpful and instructive. I’ll review it sometime this summer.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in learning how to build your own wood fire pizza oven, I have a great book I can recommend for that! My husband and I have read through this and are using it to make plans for building our own. Just click on the picture below to learn more about it.
The Hardest Part of Outdoor Cooking – Keep the Coals Hot!
The most difficult thing about outdoor cooking, especially if you’re preparing an entire meal for more than two people, is keeping the coals hot.
- Coals warm enough to melt a marshmallow are easy since you can melt the marshmallow at a wide range of temperatures.
- Coals that will stay at an even temperature long enough to cook a soup or roast or bread loaf are harder to coordinate. All coals want to do is share their heat, which cools them rapidly if you don’t have them piled together tightly.
To ensure success, set up two different areas in your outdoor cooking pit.
- One area will be for constant log burning, which will produce a steady stream of coals.
- The second area will be your cooking area to which you add hot coals when needed. If you only have one or two pots to cook, you may not need a huge pile of coals. You just need to be able to consistently add them throughout the cooking process.
This is really only true if you’re using wood coals, which we prefer. With charcoal, you don’t have to worry as much about maintaining heat since they’re designed to do that for you, for the most part.
As you get more adept at outdoor cooking, you might want to:
- Build fire brick enclosures to house hot coals inside your fire pit. You can balance cooking food onto these brick boxes.
- You might even get creative with some rebar and a welding torch to make your own coal cages. You can see some of these in historic kitchens, as well as in the cookbook, This is Camino.
- Try out all kinds of different grill tops to put over beds of coals or fire bricks to place burgers, pizzas, or pans.
For now, just start with a fire pit and some hot coals.
Start Simply with a Baked Potato
If you’re just starting out with outdoor cooking, a simple thing we’ve learned to make is a baked potato.
To bake a potato in the coals:
- Wash the potatoes and place them on top of a mellow bed of coals – not flaming, but still softly glowing.
- It isn’t necessary to use aluminum foil unless you want to be able to eat the skin. I don’t use aluminum foil much anymore for health reasons and so I wanted a way to bake potatoes in the fire without it. God jacketed the potato just so we could cook it over coals, I’m sure.
- Bank the coals around your potatoes and leave them to bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Continually test them and keep adding more warm coals.
- Remove them potatoes carefully to a plate to cool a bit before you open them.
- Use a your fire mitt to brush ash from the outside of your potato.
For those for whom cooking over an outdoor fire is old hat, I’m sure the idea of roasting a mere potato will seem overly simplistic to you. I thank you for your indulgence as I revel in my new found culinary project!
Care for an Onion?
Susanne Fischer-Rizzi mentions in Cook Wild that you can similarly roast an onion and so I tried it. Uber yummy, would be my very scientific report on this experiment.
Its best to use an onion with lots of layers of skin still on it. If you grow your own onions, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you purchase onions, bear in mind that grocers deliberately clean off several layers of skin before they stock onions on their shelves.
So, try to look for onions with some decent skins, but even a few layers can be a help in preventing scorching of your roasted onion. I’m dying to try this with a purple onion (my favorite) but I’ve only used yellow onions so far with great results.
- Get a good bed of coals and nestle your onion, skin and all, over them.
- Cook time totally varies but when you insert a knife (watch you don’t get burned!) and it pushes right through, you can know your onion is done.
The flavor of a roasted onion prepared this way is amazing. All the sugars in the onion sort of do this happy fusion dance in your mouth.
Plus, the onion comes out all hot and steamy and smooth. I just cut it up and eat it with whatever else we’ve prepared because it makes everything taste savory and delicious.
You can toss some salad dressing on top or some apple cider vinegar with spices and eat it that way, too.
More Outdoor Cooking Ideas
I liked reading about Bonnie at Not So Modern Housewife preparing this pumpkin soup in its shell over an outdoor fire for her family – yeah, gonna try that now!
Annie at Montana Homesteader has some useful tips for cooking on an outdoor flame, too.
For fun outdoor cooking projects with kids, please visit our series over at Hobby Farms.com. Here they are in order:
- Real Food Calzones and Kabobs
- Cooking in the Coals with meat and potatoes
- Homemeade Fish Baskets
- Campfire Dessert – NOT s’mores.
Outdoor Cooking Fire Safety
Now, as with any outdoor venture, its important to make sure the kiddos understand the safety rules. We have a toddler and their job, it seems, is to only engage in those activities which could potentially result in their death; or, at the outside, their extreme pain.
Our oldest is also a bit of pyro, despite the training she’s received to the contrary. You can be sure we spend a good deal of our time lecturing about fire safety!
- Be sure that all chairs will sit solidly on the ground and not tip, especially towards the fire.
- Have a bin for all the fire and food equipment so no one is tripping over loose marshmallow forks or oven mitts.
- Never leave the fire or the children unattended.
Be sure the kids are included in setting up the wood for the fire, bringing out all the meal components, and learn how to help you cook over the fire as is age appropriate. The best way to learn is to do it step by step with a mentor/parent.
Practice Safety Inside the Home, Too
Neither do we limit those lectures to the outdoors. Inside our home, we run fire drills every month (at least, that’s the goal). This is especially important if you use wood heat for warmth in winter.
We also had a fireman friend come in all his gear and talk to the kids about fire safety. Here are some things he did to help educate our kids on home fires:
- The fireman put on his mask and let them hear his voice through it, assuring them that he wasn’t an alien. Explaining that, in the event of a house fire, they shouldn’t hide from anyone looking and sounding like he did.
- He even walked up and down our house and pointed out good escape routes and suggested ways to run different scenarios during our drills.
- The fireman suggested we use a red ball to represent fire, and to put it different places around the house for each drill. This would enable us to plan ahead of time what we would do depending on where the fire appeared in our home.
- The fireman made sure to remind us to pick a safe place outside our home to meet up – a neighbors mailbox or the big tree across the street.
- He also reminded us to have a communication plan in place in case we weren’t all home at the same time and we needed to update family members on what was going on.
A Little Safety Side Note
These fire safety discussions, indoors and out, lead us to evaluate our overall emergency communication plan – do you have one of those?
We didn’t until a few years ago and it needs continual updating as contact information changes. Wondering why you might need one?
Please just visit this video to start a conversation on the subject with your family.
For help with getting your family’s emergency communication plan started, just visit this link.