It’s that time of year when many of us find ourselves using grills less frequently and fire pits more often. But that doesn’t mean you should hang up your tongs and spatula for the season. Consider every backyard fire pit session a great opportunity to do some live-fire cooking. Here’s how to do it right.
Modify your fire pit for cooking
Almost any style of open fire pit can be outfitted for live-fire cooking. All you need is a grill grate and some way to suspend it over your fire pit. 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. If your fire pit is deep and sturdy enough, you can also place a grill grate directly over the fire, though you’ll want to have at least several inches between the flames and cooking surface. And a freestanding rotisserie 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. It’s best to let your fire die down to glowing coals before starting your cook—you can always build the fire up after you’re finished. 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.