The backyard fire pit: a gathering place, a source of warmth, and, when paired with your Field cast iron, a source of nourishment. Cooking over open fire with cast iron is common to almost every culture on earth. Time to join the tradition and consider every backyard fire pit session a great opportunity to do some live-fire cooking.

Here’s how to cook over a fire pit:

Modify your fire pit for cooking

Almost any style of open fire pit can be outfitted for live-fire cooking. For single skillet cooking, try a stand like the Ember Cook Stand, which can hold a skillet and be placed right over coals. For multiple skillets and the options to cook direct on an open flame, you just need a grill grate and a way to suspend it over your fire. A few fire bricks can be especially helpful for this.  If your fire pit is deep and sturdy enough, you can also place the grate directly over the fire, though you’ll want to have at least several inches between the coals and your cooking surface.

Popular brands like Breeo and Solo Stove sell add-ons specifically designed for their fire pits, or you can purchase a post-mounted grill for suspending a grate over the fire. Or try a freestanding rotisserie, which will turn your fire pit into a spit-roaster.

Choose the right fuel

While you can burn any type of wood in a fire pit, you’ll want to stick with hardwoods if you’re planning to cook over the fire. Oak and maple logs are easy to source almost anywhere and impart a mild, woodsy flavor; hickory and mesquite are also great options, but are more aggressively flavored. If you can find them in your area, fruit woods (such as apple or cherry) and nut woods (pecan or walnut) are also great. Stay away from softwoods like pine, fir, and cedar, which contain lots of terpenes and sap, and will ruin the flavor of your food. (For more on selecting the best woods for live-fire cooking, check out this handy primer from Peter Buchanan-Smith.)

Time your cook

A blazing inferno might keep you warm outdoors, but it’s not the best for grilling unless you’re only looking for the quickest of sears. Plan to start your fire about 60 to 90 minutes before you want to cook. Build it up with 4 to 6 logs (more if there's a crowd) to ensure you have enough heat to cook your full menu. This is usually enough for two rounds of cooking at higher temperatures so it's good to start with proteins first and end with things that are still edible if a little undercooked. Let your fire die down to glowing coals before starting your cook—you can always build it back up after you’re finished.  

Create heat zones

You'll want a fire-proof tool, such as a metal shovel, for moving your embers around. Take notice of the distance between your embers and the top of your grate, then lift it up and shuffle things around for what you need. If you're searing a protein you'll want a higher density of coals, closer to the grate. If you're roasting more delicate vegetables spread the coals out more and add some distance. It's also helpful to have an area to keep cooked food warm before serving. This spot is a perfect place to preheat your pan, as cast iron can warp if exposed to sudden temperature shocks so never throw a cold pan on to a super hot fire.

When setting up your heat zones, you can use your hand as a rough gauge of temperature (please be careful, especially if the flames are high). If you can hold your hand over the grate and coals for two seconds or less, it means the temperature is over 450 degrees and you can sear a protein. If you can hold your hand for 4-5 seconds then you won't be able to.

And once your fire pit session is over, don’t forget to bury a few potatoes or onions in the ashes and embers to use later.

Not sure what to cook over your fire pit? Check out our favorite grilling recipes here.