Building the perfect fire for cooking! Our chimney starter full of flaming hot charcoal being poured into our kettle grill.
In Part I of our series on lighting an outdoor fire for cooking, I addressed fire production for the outdoor fireplace or fire pit cook, known as open fire appliances. In Part II, I’ll address the needs for kettle, drum and box grills’ fire set up.
The Wood-Fired Environment
There are many choices in equipment for working with a wood fire but each has different material components that determines how much work would be involved to cook on the unit. Here is the primary point when you’re selecting equipment for live fire: how will you cook on that equipment?
If your plans are to always do indirect cooking whereby the source of heat (fire, coals) will be on one side and you will cook on the non-heat side (in my opinion, the preferred method for all cooking), then know that most any equipment selected will work. However, the time for the equipment to heat up may play a factor, as the heating time is directly related to the insulation of the grill. Plus the amount of radiant heat it can hold.
If a unit is manufactured from heavy metal, brick, clay, or ceramic housing, then it will perform exceptionally by giving radiant and retained heat. Why is that important? Because producing retained and radiant heat means less fuel consumption and even cooking results.
The Kettle Grill
For thinner material grills like the traditional kettle grill which are very popular, low cost, and preferred
by many, you can compensate for the potential heat loss and improve efficiency by adding fire bricks to the walls and floor of the grill. You will simply start your live fire directly on the fire bricks rather than the charcoal grate. Fire bricks will work well in any grill that could improve on its insulation.
The overall cooking space in a drum/barrel grill is larger than that of a kettle grill. However, just like any metal material, there are different grades so quality can be variable. Same rule applies to these grills: if the insulation is not great, add fire brick to improve the performance.
These units are traditionally made of high heat metal with a deep, metal charcoal pan that includes grid and vents. A grilling grate is suspended above and there often is a lid to the unit.
Fire Set Up
As I’ve stressed before, a good fire needs 3 elements: fuel (wood, charcoal), oxygen (air intake vents), and heat. As with any fire cooking, a small, hot fire is ideal.
Double Filet Wood Chunk
To start your fire in one of these pieces of equipment, first open the air intake vents at the base of the charcoal firebox area. This will ensure that oxygen can stimulate the start of the fire. Since this is an enclosed firebox area, the size of the wood pieces may need to be adjusted from what you would commonly use in a fireplace or fire pit/fire ring.
I like to use the log cabin method of starting a fire with this equipment. Lay 2 longer pieces of hardwood parallel to each other with about 3 inches of air space between them. Lay 2 more hardwood pieces on top perpendicular to the first pieces. Place the last 2 in position to match the base woods’ alignment. In the center, add a pile of tinder which can be hardwood chips, pine cones, even newspaper if need. Again, I like to use wood in its natural form as much as possible. Pile some kindling size wood pieces on top of the tinder pile. You can drizzle vegetable oil on top of the kindling and tinder to assist with ignition which proves helpful if you plan to light with a long wooden match. I prefer to lite my fire using a MAP torch.
Don’t Rush It
It is imperative that you allow the fire to go through the full stages of combustion before you introduce foods to the cooking grate. Too much flame and smoke will ruin the foods. The ideal is to wait until the fire burns down to glowing embers. If your equipment has the room in the firebox, rake or shovel some of the hot embers to one side and add just a small quantity of additional hardwood to keep the heat steady. The rest of the hot embers are what will be used to cook with.
Position the foods based on the heat needed for the cooking. Meats will require more of the heat while vegetables and one pot dishes will take the medium to low heat. An infrared thermometer will aide with knowing heat levels in your equipment or you can use the hand test: hold your hand over the coals the distance your foods will be. If you can only hold your hand for a count of 2 seconds before you need to pull it away, that is high heat. 3-4 seconds is medium-high, 5-6 seconds is medium and 7-8 seconds is low heat.
I hope you gained some new information on lighting a fire. Whether you plan to cook over/in your kettle, barrel or box grill. Leave us a comment and subscribe so you don’t miss anything concerning wood fired cooking, flavors, and the science behind the fire.
Cold Smoked Cheese is a very simple technique with very rewarding results. Follow our instruction and enjoy some all natural smoked cheese.
THE EASY METHOD TO COLD SMOKED CHEESE
The cooler season is here and that’s the perfect time to think about cold smoking techniques that bring special flavoring to heat sensitive items. First up for us, cheese! We’re lighting up the Technique Cast Iron Stove Top Smoking Pan and loading it up with our favorite varieties of cheese in preparation for a couple of recipes. If you don’t own a stove top smoker pan, see our blog titled “The Kitchen Find” which will guide you on using items likely found in your own kitchen.
90°F or Less
Cold smoking requires that you keep the temperature below 90°F. That may sound like a challenge but when you use a stove top smoker – equip it with an ice cube pan – you’re on your way to all things cold smoked. The best chips to use for this method of smoking are SmokinLicious® Minuto® Wood Chips.I’m electing to use Wild Cherry for the balance of flavors between my cheese choices. These chips will combust evenly and slowly, releasing a steady smoke vapor that will work well with the cheese.
First, the stove top smoking pan needs to be set up. The Technique pan comes with everything needed, including a drip pan. We won’t be using the drip pan for its intended purpose but rather, to become an ice pan. An ice pan will help to keep the temperature of the smoking pan below 85° F; and that means you can smoke all types of foods that normally couldn’t be exposed to heat! (chocolate, cheese, fragile fruits, candies, etc)
Be sure you have a handful of wood chips in the base pan before adding the drip pan full of ice cubes. Place the wood chips in the center of the pan then fill the drip pan completely with ice. Then add the grill pan and get the cheese out of the refrigerator. Remember, you will be smoking the cheese for a few hours so you’ll need to refill the drip pan with ice cubes every hour. There is no need to replenish the wood chips as a single handful will be plenty.
The Ice Tray
With the heat set to the lowest setting possible on your stove top, the drip pan filled with ice cubes to reduce the temperature even more, the cheese selections which include Swiss, horseradish cheddar, muenster, and fresh mozzarella, are added to the grill pan. Place the cover on and this should be left untouched for at least an hour. Once the hour passes, it will be time to replace the ice cubes in the drip pan. Be sure to leave the cover on the grill pan when changing out the ice tray. This should be done every hour up to the final hour you want to smoke. I am doing a four-hour process on my cheese today so I will replace the ice pan three times. That’s it!
Once infused, remove the cheese, wrap in wax or parchment paper and refrigerator for at least 2 days to allow the smoke vapor to release throughout the cold smoked cheese process. Then get ready to enjoy your smoked cheese as is, or include in recipes. We have 2 recipes coming up: A smoked cheese and bacon quiche and smoked grilled cheese with tomato and pepper jelly.
I hope I’ve inspired you to try cold smoked cheese on the stove top. We need your comment and rating, so subscribe and follow us so you don’t miss a thing. As always we welcome your suggestions as well on recipes and techniques you want to learn about. We are your source for all things wood-fired, providing tips, techniques, recipes, and the science behind the fire.
Is it fresh, is always a question that comes from new customers only! Our old customers know that at Smokinlicious® we are cutting products daily and measuring moisture to produce the best smoking wood in the world!
Is It Fresh? Here’s Why You Need to Know
I always find it interesting when we receive a new inquiry about providing specialty products for commercial-grade smokehouses. I’m speaking specifically to the large commercial-grade smokehouse. The type that utilize walk-in, wall smokehouse units that can turn out hundreds of pounds of product each cycle.
First, there’s always the question if we can duplicate the current wood chip product. That’s where the education begins.
The Truth Is in The Sample
Sending the current wood supply sample is key to determining what should be used in product. Once we provide the video review of what is in the sample in terms of sizing, we’re on the way to getting an understanding of why the current product may not be ideal. Our concern is not just the overall flavor and color to the finished product, but also to reducing equipment failures that may occur from clogging of the wood material due to dust particulants.
Is It Fresh- Is Best
Following our discussion on product sizing, it’s time to explain why ordering fresh product is key. We don’t operate on the concept that you need tons of extra product inventory sitting in your location, making the potential for color changes to the wood, moisture depletion, and susceptibility to mold spores a reality. Instead, fresh product is produced when you need it, allowing for consistency in your smokehouse products’ flavor and color. I know this is a stretch when there are many suppliers out there who encourage you to order pallet after pallet of product with the incentive of saving 10% if full truck loads go out. Good luck getting the premium flavor and color your looking for with that old, dehydrated product!
We’ve Got Your Back
We know every customer we have the privilege of doing business with needs assurance that we can cover their needs. That’s why our entire Team is involved to ensure that we can ship earlier if needed. We take the time to monitor your Company’s usage and predict your next order. Or, we can set up a shipping schedule you’re comfortable with that is easy for everyone involved and won’t require extra, valuable storage space be used.
Yes, you could say we are not the norm and we’d be just fine with that. In fact, we encourage it. To us, there’s nothing like cooking with fresh product that has been designed with your Company’s needs in mind. That’s why our superior product will give you a superior outcome. Fresh hardwood product for unmatched smoke infused food products. That’s the SmokinLicious® way!
Build an open pit cooking fire for grilling and ember cooking! Is easier than you may think follow our steps below!
BUILDING THE PERFECT OPEN PIT COOKING FIRE
SmokinLicious® receives a lot of questions about wood-fired cooking and one of the most repetitive concerns the building of the fire for cooking. We’ve developed this series to address how to build the fire by equipment and technique. For Part I, we cover the open pit cooking fire.
The first step is to know where you will build the fire. Are you planning on using an outdoor fireplace, a fire pit, or will you construct a temporary fire location?
When using an existing fireplace located outdoors, you must ensure that the firebox is clean of previous ash and wood. The same is true for a open pit cooking fire pit. If you will set up a temporary location for the fire, consider what you will use for materials to secure the area. It is never recommended to use your patio, paved driveway or lawn because a hot fire is sure to damage them or, at the very least, mar their appearance (thin charcoal black coating the surface). Using large stones, interlocking bricks, or a metal fire ring work great at securing the area to contain your fire.
Once you’ve decided on the location, you’ll need to collect some supplies to make the cooking safe and fun.
▪ material to contain the fire like stones, bricks or a cast iron/wrought iron ring. You can use an outdoor fireplace or open pit cooking fire pit whether permanent or portable
▪ water, shovel, dirt, and/or fire extinguisher to deal with potential fire spread or wayward embers
▪Smokinlicious® smoking wood chips for quick lighting
▪ small twigs or small pieces of hardwood to create a tepee around the wood chips (we like our Smokinlicious® smoking double or single filet chunks)
▪ larger hardwood pieces to create a 2nd tepee around the first (Smokinlicious®1/4 cut logs work great for that)
▪ rolled newspaper or fire starters
▪ have additional hardwood for producing more coals for cooking as needed
▪ a coal rake, fireplace tongs for moving and relocating wood pieces, spray bottle of water to tame flames near food, instant read thermometer (you can also use a traditional wrought-iron log holder to make the fire – the hot coals will fall through and then you rake them to the cooking side)
The Perfect Fire
Always take note of the day’s temperature, wind conditions/direction, and conditions of your wood (dry or wet, fresh cut or aged) before you start. You want to be sure you set up and start the fire where the wind direction won’t cause smoke to enter house windows or the dining area. Keep those locations upwind.
In your fire safe area, pile up a few handfuls of hardwood chips (you can use newspaper but I like to try to stay with wood in its natural state). Make a small tepee around the wood chips using small wood pieces (our single filet wood chunks work great) or twigs. Make a second tepee of larger wood pieces around the first one. You’ll see that you’re graduating from small wood pieces to larger as you build but you’re also ensuring good oxygen pockets to help feed the fire to the next level. This is what ensures even combustion and even coals. Now, light the wood chips at the center and allow everything to ignite. Don’t add any additional wood until you see the outside wood ablaze.
Fire for Fuel, Coals for Cooking
The purpose of your shovel other than as protector of wayward fire, is to take those hot coals and move them to the cooking area. Remember, the fire area is not where you are going to cook. That location is nearby but not with the flames. You should never cook over direct flame as it will overcarbonize the foods and result in bitter tastes.
Ideally, you want to cook over coals that have a white colored ash over them. Now, here’s how to determine temperature of those coals: hold your hand over the coals the distance your foods will be. If you can only hold your hand for a count of 2 seconds before you need to pull it away, that is high heat. 3-4 seconds is medium-high, 5-6 seconds is medium and 7-8 seconds is low heat.
Bring on the Food!
Once your coals are at the perfect temperature for the foods you want to cook, it’s all about cooking! Remember, you can set up different heat areas to cook different foods. That’s what makes the experience with wood cooking, specifically with coals, so exhilarating.
We hope this article was full information you didn’t know. Leave us a comment and subscribe so you don’t miss anything concerning wood fired cooking, flavors, and the science behind the fire.
We explore the question “is wood-tar creosote” bad for your BBQ food?
IS CREOSOTE THE ‘MONSTER’ TO WOOD-FIRED COOKING
There are lots of stories out there in the BBQ world about creosote! Most have the same tone: creosote is not something you want when you cook with wood.
Unfortunately, that can never happen as creosote is always present in wood.
So, why has creosote become the monster of BBQ cooking?
Likely because there is confusion with another type of creosote: coal-tar creosote, commonly used to preserve such things as railroad ties, telephone poles, bridges, etc. You know when material has been exposed to coal-tar by the black, charred appearance.
The Advantages of Wood-Tar Creosote
One of the primary advantages to having creosote in hardwood is its ability to act as a preservative. Long before equipment was designed for cooking, people would dig holes in the ground to produce a smokehouse for preserving game meats they hunted. It was the only method of ensuring safe consumption when refrigeration wasn’t readily available.
Wood-tar creosote is colorless to yellowish and presents as a grease or oil consistency. It is a combination of natural phenols which are the natural compounds that produce the flavors of BBQ when the wood is combusted or burned. In addition to the distinct flavor, phenols are also responsible for the aroma and color of BBQ foods.
Guaiacol is a compound derived from methyl ether and is responsible for BBQ’s smoky taste while the dimethyl ether syringol is the chemical responsible for BBQ’s smoky aroma.
Risks of Wood-Tar Creosote
Now that you know not all of creosote’s chemical composition is bad, what are the risks to a wood-tar creosote?
The biggest risk is in burning wood that is not at an ideal combustion rate. I’m sure you’ve had experience with campfires that produce an acrid aroma and literally cause a foul “taste” in the air from poor combustion rate (too slow burning). That is the challenge and risk when using wood products with food for hot smoking. Remember, hot smoking requires temperatures that are lower – generally below 275°F. To achieve a consistent low temperature, you must control air intake and damper or exhaust. If you don’t achieve a good balance, the result will be a sooty, bitter tasting and smelling food outcome.
How do you know if your crossing into risky and poor outcome territory?
By the color of the smoke. A poorly balanced combustion of wood will produce a black smoke. Repeat these conditions and you’ll stimulate creosote deposits within your equipment which can reduce the draft needed to ensure the fire gets enough air to optimally combust. Remember, creosote on its own is highly combustible which is why there are many wood stove house fires occurring due to poor maintenance/clean out of these units.
Not All Hardwoods Are Equal In Compound Percentages
Now that your aware that phenolic compounds, specifically guaiacol and syringol are key to tasty, flavorful BBQ foods, let’s talk about these compounds in specific hardwoods.
Interestingly, Beech wood is highly prized and used in Europe for smoking particularly in meat processing facilities. This is no surprise to me since Beechwood has one of the highest percentages of guaiacol when at a high heat level (distilling). Know that the phenolic compounds present in all wood distill at variant percentage levels and usually require a combustion temperature of nearly 400°F to peak. Yet another reason why you want to keep a balance to your fire so combustion is optimal. Thus the resulting flavors and aromas are pleasant.