Fire pit cooking is fun, we’ve established that. But did you know there is more than one way to cook in your fire pit? Whether you have a fire pit that is specifically designed to double as a barbecue or have a simple campfire fire pit, there are several options for cooking on a fire pit.
Types of Fire Pit Cooking
- Skewer Cooking – This is the most simple and primitive form of fire pit cooking. It can be done on any type of fire pit, even in your fireplace! You don’t even need a fire pit grill, just an open fire pit where you have access to a hot fire! It is limited somewhat in what you can cook, but if you get creative you can make some tasty treats.
You basically need a long skewer or two. They should ideally have wood handles so you don’t burn your hands and be at least 2 feet long. It is easy to roast hot dogs, sausages and marshmallows (to make s’mores!) over an open fire this way. Just don’t accidentally drop them in the fire pit! If you get creative you can cook other smaller foods (you won’t be able to hold up a heavy piece of meat for long on the skewer!) such as small game birds (quail, pigeon squabs, etc.).
Direct heat grilling – Open direct heat grilling on a fire pit grill is similar to cooking on a barbecue with the lid off except that you are doing it over a real firewood fire. “Direct heat” refers to the fact that your food is cooking directly over the heat source, rather than away from the heat source cooking in the circulating hot air (see below). This type of grilling is ideal for smaller food items that cook fast or that require high heat searing. You can cook a classic grilled steak, marinated chicken breasts, brined pork tenderloin or chops, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, lamb chops or game birds this way. The hot direct heat cooks your food quickly to a nice golden brown caramelized color and leaves the interior succulent and juicy!
Indirect heat grilling – “Indirect heat” means that rather than cooking your food in direct proximity to the hot embers or fire, your food cooks slowly in the hot air circulating around it, similar to how foods roast in the oven. This is beneficial for larger roasts because over direct heat they would burn on the outside before the interior was even warm! Indirect cooking on your fire pit grill requires two things: (1) Your fire and/or glowing embers should be off to one side of your fire pit or grill. This creates an area on the fire pit grill where there is no direct heat below it. I recommend placing a small metal pan of water below this area to catch drippings and to vaporize and humidify the air in your fire pit grill. (2) You need a solid lid for your fire pit grill. Not all fire pits come with a lid, whereas most barbecue grills do. If not, you will either have to improvise something or find a lid that fits your grill.The goal is to keep heat contained under the lid so that your food, placed away from the fire or coals, cooks slowly in the swirling hot smokey air inside your fire pit grill. This is ideal for larger roasts that take a long time to cook, like tri-tip roasts, whole chickens, and whole racks of ribs.
Rotisserie cooking – Rotiserie cooking is the ultimate in slow grilling to make sure your roasts are evenly cooked and browned all around. The concept is similar to indirect heat except that you don’t have to keep going back to flip your roasting meat several times throughout the cooking process. It simply turns on the rotisserie! This insures even cooking and prevents one side from getting all the heat while the others go cold. This does require some special equipment though. A rotisserie can be hand turned or hooked up to a motorized rotisserie to continually turn your roast on its own.
- Pot or tin can cooking – Another “primitive” way to cook on a fire pit grill is to simply hang or sit a fire-proof pot or pan (such as a cast iron pan) on your grill or directly into your fire. This is great for stews and soups or even pan frying fish or vegetables! It is also ideal for cooking on a campfire! If you don’t have a cast iron pot or the necessary equipment to hang a pot over your fire, you can even use a heavy metal can covered in tin foil. But be careful, if you put some smaller cans in a hot fire they can melt!
Advantages of fire pit cooking
Firepit cooking is gaining popularity! While outdoor grilling used to be done only on a charcoal or propane grill or barbecue, more and more people are discovering the joy of building a wood fire and using your barbecue pit to grill delicious food while enjoying the warmth and aromas of a real wood fire.
There are several things that are great about an outdoor fire pit:
- Barbecue pit and outdoor fire pit – One great thing about fire pit cooking is that your fire pit can double as an outdoor fire pit and a fire pit grill. In other words, on some days you can sit around the outdoor fire with friends and family to enjoy the warmth of a great fire. On others you can also use it as a barbecue pit to grill or roast delicious grilled foods. Better yet, do both on the same day! What other grill do you know of that can boast this dual functionality.
- Cooking with firewood – There is nothing like the flavor of a fat juicy steak grilled over real firewood embers. The aromas that are infused in the food are nothing short of amazing. You can even vary it by finding different types of firewood which have different characteristics. Almond wood, apple wood, cherry wood, oak, and many other wood types are commonly available in most areas. You can also find hickory or mesquite chips to add stronger flavors.
- Large size – Do you have a big appetite? Or many you just like to cook for a big group of friends before you watch the big game on your million inch flat screen TV. Fire pit cooking is for you because most outdoor fire pits are larger than most standard grills. This is a good thing for two reasons, you can gather a lot of people around the fire pit to enjoy the fire and you can cook a whole lot of steaks on there at the same time.
- Versatility of recipes – Most any recipe you can cook on a grill can be cooked on a barbecue pit. If you find a lid for your fire pit you can roast large pieces of meat with indirect heat. You can sear steaks, burgers, hot dogs, sausages or game birds. You can even throw a frying pan over the fire and pan-fry scallops or vegis. Many barbecue pits even have rotisserie attachments to allow you to rotisserie cook chickens, turkeys, suckling pigs or even a lamb if you have a big enough pit!
- Versatility of fuels – As I said above, the fire pit and grilling guru loves to cook with real firewood. But with fire pit cooking you have the versatility to cook with any fuel you’d like to get your grill nice and hot. If you’d prefer to cook with charcoal, you can throw it in your fire pit grill just like a regular barbeque. Sometimes firewood is not available. Also charcoal is quicker to light and get ready to cook. The ability to use either keeps you ready for any fire pit cooking contingency.
- Marshmallows and smores – Who can forget that one of the most fun things to cook over an open fire (especially if you’ve got young children!) is roasted marshmallows to make smores. Sure, you can do this on a grill or on your stove if you get really close. But isn’t it much more fun to be able to relax around the toasty fire, sitting back with a beer or wine, and leisurely cook your marshmallows over a real wood fire? Its like camping with a campfire right in your back yard!