We are so lucky to have so many options for cooking our foods, not to mention the option to not cook at all! This got me thinking about the fact that we do rely on our outdoor equipment and cookware when it comes to outdoor cooking. Even if you’re a person who has experience campfire cooking, you likely do this style of cooking with one type of fire setup .
Let’s look at some of the options for setting up an outdoor fire that don’t include purchased equipment, just the natural elements found outdoors – rock, tinder, kindling, and logs/wood. As I always like to remind you, though you may not use this information immediately, you should read it and keep a reference handy for when a situation may arise that you need it, such as a natural disaster, power grid emergency or other such catastrophic event.
Setup #1: Trench Fire
One of the best reasons for learning this type of fire set up is it works particularly well in windy conditions. The key is to dig a trench that is large enough to acquire oxygen to keep it going. Best sizing is 12 inches wide by 36 inches long by 12 inches deep. Find rocks to add to the bottom of the trench that are hard and porous-free. Be sure the 12-inch depth is AFTER the rocks are added. Now build your fire on top of the rocks. You can secure tree branches to act as postings for supporting a spit or layer green branches (not dried branches) over the top of the pit for placing your foods. Of course, if you have a grill grate, place over the hole for direct grilling.
Setup #2: Dakota Fire Hole
The Dakota Fire Hole measure 12-inches deep by 12-inches wide with a channel that is 6-inches wide off to one side of the main fire area. There should be a 12-inch space between the chimney opening and the channel. The channel is dug at an angle meeting at the base of the fire pit area 12-inches down. Build a fire at the base of the chimney area which draws air in from the side channel producing a draft for outtake at the top of the fire pit. This is another cooking method that burns wood efficiently and produces very little smoke. Plus, if you should need to keep yourself concealed, no one can see the glow of the burning fire because it is concealed underground.
Setup #3: Bushcraft Fire
This is an ideal fire setup when you know you can remain in a specified area for a longer time period. It is perfect for sustaining a fire for days as it includes flat rocks for cooking on, a rock surround for maintaining a safe fire area, and a keyhole channel made of rock that allows you to place larger logs for continuous burn. This produces a great bed of coals for cooking and if made against a rock barrier or tree stump, it can also provide the heat output necessary to keep you warm. Plus, you can simply push the long log pieces into the fire circle when additional wood is need for heat and/or coals. No need to keep splitting wood.
Setup #4: Log Cabin Style
This is a familiar fire set up in the camping world. It is easy to do as you simply alternate pieces of wood from vertical positioning to horizontal, like building a Lincoln Log set, with tinder and kindling placed inside the base. This is a setup that produces a great bed of coals so it is perfect for cooking but depending on the amount of time you need for cooking, may require replenishment of wood.
The Upside Down Fire
This setup is essentially a log cabin style setup in reverse. Instead of tinder placed under the base of the logs, it is placed on top. This is also known as a top-down fire. Although you can use this for cooking, I’ve found it doesn’t produce the best coal bed. It does, however, burn a long time.
Other Fire Setups
There are some additional fire setups that you may be familiar with but are not considered ideal for cooking. These include:
Tepee Fire: burns
very hot and fast producing more ash than usable coals
Lean To: although
ideal for windy conditions, this setup does not produce any uniform coal bed
and very limited heat
The Star Fire: Although this can produce a very long burn,
because of the extension of longer pieces of log in a star-shape to the center
of the fire, a true cooking coal bed is not formed, just a lot of ash.
As a final reminder when it comes to cooking by outdoor fire, you are not cooking with flame or for that matter, direct heat. Use the hot coals that are produced from the fire to cook with. That includes placing heat tolerant cookware on or in the hot coals, or even burying within the coals. The rocks are an energy absorber, producing a lot of heat. Clean, large rocks can be used like a griddle surface and have foods cooked directly on their surface. Remember, they get very hot so any unclean quality to them will be burned off with the heat.
A final note, always have fire proof gloves available to grab log pieces in the fire or cookware placement and removal. A coal shovel is ideal as well for moving hot coals around. Don’t forget, when you’re finished with the fire you made, ensure that all hot embers and coals are extinguished.
Do you have a favorite method of
stacking wood for a cooking fire? Leave
us a comment to let us know. We welcome
all types of questions and encourage you to follow and subscribe to our social
channels so you don’t miss anything. We
look forward to providing you with additional tips, techniques, recipes, and
the science for all things wood-fired cooked.
You’ve likely heard this phrase before whether as a child, adult or at intervals of both. “Fire is meant to be respected.” I’m going to go one step further. Fire should not only be respected, it should be honored and appreciated for all it can offer. I’m going to point out to you just what other uses fire can present to you. Perhaps next time you light a fire whether in your charcoal chimney starter, charcoal grill, fireplace, or even outdoor fire pit, you’ll give some pause to the other uses to keep in your knowledge arsenal for times you may need this information. As I age, I am always in tune with my environment and how I can use it to survive if a situation I can’t control should call for it.
Use #1: Heat
you are fortunate as I am to have an outdoor source of fire other than your
traditional grill, then you’ve likely found yourself enjoying this first
benefit of fire. Heat. But you likely don’t know about the radiant
heat quality of fire. With a single
fire, only the surfaces facing it are warmed.
When it comes to surviving outdoors with heat from a fire, this is when
you will want to learn about reflective ability of the fire.
you have a choice in fire building location when you need it for survival,
elect to build one near a large rock or tree stump but add a reflector
component on the other side of the fire.
This will allow the rock or tree stump to absorb the heat from the fire
and then reflect it back. By adding a reflector
on the other side of the fire, you will enjoy heat both on your back and front,
the ideal for surviving if you must rely on fire for body temperature. Plus, the two reflecting points will force
the smoke to go upward allowing you to avoid smoke in the eyes.
Use #2: Signaling
all know that fire makes smoke and that smoke acts as a signal. When you want to be found, this is the
perfect means for attracting attention.
What you need to know is that the terrain plays a part in being
seen. If you want to use smoke to signal
for help, then seek high points for making one.
Use #3: Water Sterilization
If you are in a dire situation where you’ve been unable to bring many supplies with you, know that fire can aid your ability to stay alive. You can only survive 3 days without water so finding water is a priority. You can sterilize water found from any source for consumption by boiling it which is a temperature of 212°F. Essentially, 1 liter of water per person will get you through survival of 3-4 days.
Use #4: Preserving Foods
We tend to rely on someone else in the food production chain to preserve food but you may find a time where you either want to do this for your own family or you have to. Drying, smoking, pickling, and salting are methods of preserving foods from micro-organisms that spoil food. When you smoke meat you dehydrate it and produce a protective coating on the outside that prevents bacteria and condensation from penetrating. This is a means of ensuring you have a food supply that can keep you alive for quite a long time.
Use #5: Protection
If you’ve ever been camping or glamping in a forest area, then you know that you are never alone. Wildlife dominates in these areas. Fire can be a protector when it comes to keeping these visitors at bay. Always be sure to have a portable fire set up such as a rag tied to the end of stick or similar tool to use as a portable weapon should a forest resident elect to come close to you.
Do you have another survival use for fire? Leave us a comment to share your views. Bringing you informative recipes, techniques, and the science beyond the fire, smoke, and flavor. That’s SmokinLicious®!
Let me start this article by first reminding you that wood contains hundreds of compounds that honestly, we don’t know everything about. For this reason, I am only speaking today regarding those known compounds and what they contribute to foods cooked by wood fire. Specifically, I’ll be looking at lignin which is the only large-scale biomass source that has aromatic functionality. In English, this is what gives wood-fired foods the distinct flavor and aroma.
you read about specific flavors and aromas as they apply to meats but today, I
want to delve into the compounds that are most prevalent by wood species and
what they offer to food.
Refresher on Lignin
Lignin is one of the primary compounds responsible for cell construction in a tree and makes up 15-30% of wood cells. It has a primary role in conducting water to feed the tree’s cells and when burned, yields a tremendous amount of energy. Plus, lignin produces rigidity in cell walls which prevents rot.
As a polymer or large molecule composed of many repeated subunits that bond together, it is the only one that is not composed of carbohydrate (sugar) monomers. Because lignin is a polymer, there are many possible bonding patterns between the individual units, thus, we don’t have full knowledge of all the possibilities.
we do know is lignin contains phenols or hydroxyl groups which are
alcohols. As these compounds work
together, they produce a preservative action on the food which is antibacterial
in nature. The surface of the smoked
food is modified with resulting flavors and aromas which are associated with
barbecued foods. Let’s take a closer
look at these smoke vapor flavors.
If you recall our publication on wood-tar creosote we tapped into the science of wood-tar creosote and its purpose as a preservative as well as producer of flavor, color, and aroma to barbecued foods. In that article, we just barely mentioned the compounds responsible for the flavors. Let’s provide you with the main compound list and what the odor and flavor descriptors are.
compound provides the sharp, robust aromas and the astringent, sharp aftertaste
to wood fired foods.
compound that has a sharp, robust odor that also has a sweet aromatic
undertone. Flavors are sweet, charred,
Isoeugenol: this is the
compound associated with vanilla aromatics in addition to sweet and
fruity. Flavor descriptors include
sweet, smoked-ham notes, hydrolyzed vegetable protein-like, with clove-like
compound that includes vanilla-like, fruity, cinnamon-ish, and smoky odors,
with flavors of caramel, vanilla, sweet, and pleasant notes.
o-Cresol: odors are
smoked sausage like with robust, sharp undertones. This one on its own can produce more
unpleasant smoky flavors.
sharp, aromatic aromas with flavors that are spicy, sharp, sweet and dry. This is the yellowish aromatic oil that forms
aromatic that is sharp and sweet, with a spicy note. These flavors include whiskey notes with
Lignin Levels in North American Hardwoods
I’m going to report the lignin levels of common North American hardwoods derived from the Klason lignin method, which values the residue remaining after solubilizing the carbohydrate with strong mineral acid. What follows are percentages of oven-dried woods with temperatures ranging from 68°F/20°C to 248°F/120°C.
saccharum Marsh./Sugar Maple
rubra Bong./Red Alder =
alleghanienstis Britton/Yellow Birch
glaubra (Mill.)/Sweet Pignut
Hickory = 24%
ovata (Mill.) K. Koch/Shagbark
Hickory = 21%
Beech = 22%
Americana L./White Ash =
tremoides Michx./ Quaking
Aspen = 19%
serotine Ehrh./Black Cherry
alba L./White Oak =
prinus L./Chestnut Oak
rubra L./Northern Red
Oak = 24%
stellate Wangenh./ Post Oak =
What do all these percentages mean when it comes to your barbecue? You can assume that the higher numbers mean there are larger numbers of compounds at work to flavor your foods. It’s obvious that woods like hickory and oak have great percentages of phenol, guaiacol, and dimethylphenol, since these woods tend to produce the boldest flavors. Those hardwoods like cherry, alder, and maple have the compounds of methylguaiacol and isoeugenol coming forward in the flavors which results in sweeter and more toned coloring to meats. Another factor that must be kept in mind when examining lignin is the heat level the wood is exposed to. Cook at a higher temperature and these compounds can become muddier as combustion occurs more rapidly producing ash accumulation that can change flavors and aromas quickly. All factor in to the resulting flavor, color and aroma of barbecued foods, whether animal protein, vegetable, fruit, or other. This just further supports that wood-fired cooking is an art that requires a balanced hand that understands the importance of controlling as many factors as possible, primary of which is cooking temperature and airflow to bring out the highest percentage of beneficial compounds the wood can offer.
What is your favorite hardwood or mixture of hardwoods to cook with? Leave us a comment to share your views. Bringing you informative recipes, techniques, and the science beyond the fire, smoke, and flavor. That’s SmokinLicious®!