Not all wood is created equal, so let’s talk about which wood is best to burn for cooking or ambiance.
Who doesn’t enjoy the warmth and the energy of a fire! In the winter months a fire makes the home feel cozy, even if it’s just the flicker of candle light.
Not all fireplaces give off heat (I know mine doesn’t even though it’s large), but there is just something that makes me feel warm to light a fire at the end of the day and enjoy the energy and sounds it puts out.
Summertime, though, my thoughts of fire shift to cooking outdoors. While here in America most outdoor cooking is done with a propane fire or charcoal (already burnt wood), Brazil was different in its approach to cooking with fire outdoors, sometimes even indoors.
Which wood is best for the various types of fire we want to make? I had to learn this the hard way.
Pine. While pine is the wood or rather tree, we are in search of most, during the holidays, it is not the wood to burn.
We love pine because it has the most aromatic scent. The needles and the wood itself seems to just ooze with aroma. That’s because it does… ooze.
The resin in pine, all types of evergreen, is what makes that lovely smell we associate with holiday season, but that resin is horrible for cooking. It puts off an almost black smoke that ruins the flavor of the food.
That same black smoke, in your fireplace, also contributes to coating the inside of the chimney with creosote (a tar-like chemical). Pine is a soft wood and burns fast. A chimney needs a really hot, consistent burn not to ruin the chimney with a lining of creosote, created from resin in wood.
While many other types of wood are best used for cooking, fruit or nut trees in particular, they all need to season first if we are to obtain the best burn and flavor.
Seasoning wood simply means it needs to sit outside and dry out. Dry out? Yes, freshly chopped wood is almost 50% water content. That hissing and slow smoke in your fire is actually water. More steam than fire.
Summertime is the best time to gather and season wood. The heat of summer will help dry out the wood. Store it outdoors, up off the ground and with air flow around the wood pile.
When ready to burn, tap two logs together to listen for the sound they make. A ring sound is dried, while a thud sounds is still moist.
When To Order Wood
If possible, order your wood in the summer months. This assures you that you’ve given the wood time to dry out.
There have been times I waited until the holidays to order wood. The darn stuff was still green, filled with moisture and did not burn.
Wood for the grill will dry faster if it has been split and chopped into smaller sizes and left to dry out in the sun. But again, stay away from wood with high resin content; pine, cedar, spruce, fir, eucalyptus and other’s with strong scent which usually indicates that it has resin.
Cooking With Fire
If cooking directly on the grill, you already know the grill is made of cast iron. If cooking in a pan, over the fire, use cast iron. Cast iron conducts the best heat especially over fire.
Olive oil and salt is all that is needed when cooking over fire. Rub your meats, seafood or veggies with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt and cook. Any other flavor is simply a matter of personal choice.
Long metal kabob sticks are my favorite tools for cooking over fire. I find them easy to maneuver and the food cooks faster on them.
- Mini eggplant
- Mini peppers
- Fresh herbs – rosemary, parsley, basil
- Olive oil
- Coarse salt
- Mixing bowl
- Slotted spoon
- Grilling Tongs
- Slotted Grill Topper
- Grilling basket – one that closes veggies in place
- Grill or Grate over a firepit
- Citrus press
- Garlic press
- Chopping knife
- Cutting board
- Basing brush
- Measuring cup
- Measuring spoons
- Grill glove – a thick one for the hands
Fire Cooked Garden Veggies and Squid
- Squid – 1 lb
- Mini eggplant – 8 (fairytale eggplant)
- Mini peppers – 8
- Fresh herbs – 2 sprigs each, rosemary, parsley, basil
- Olive oil – 1/4 cup
- Lemon – 1
- Garlic – 2 cloves
- Coarse Salt – 2 tsp
- Separate the squid tentacles from the tubes. Toss in 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 crushed garlic, 1/2 lemon juice and zest and a sprinkle of salt. Place on a cast iron grill topper. Chop some of the herbs on top and set aside.
- Cut the fairytale eggplant in half, lengthwise. Same with the peppers. Toss in 1 tbsp olive oil, remaining lemon and zest, remaining crushed garlic, salt and transfer to a grilling basket that will close and hold the veggies in place.
- Get the grill hot. Place the veggie basket on one side for 10 minutes, turn it over and place the squid tray along side of it. Cook for 5 minutes, basting more olive oil if needed. Remove and serve.