Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Welcome back again to our blog, In this post we'll discuss how to prepare the fire bed ready for cooking food to perfection outdoors on a 6 Elements wood & charcoal grill.
We currently make two hybrid fire pit models that offer the option of live direct fire grilling, which is our Betelgeuse Brazier and Fornax Firebox products. The focus of this article will be to guide our customers on the use of our particular products but the principles can also be applied to any other similar wood and charcoal fired product.
As with all outdoor live wood fires that you wish to cook on, we want to get the fire going clean and fast with minimal smoke and start to build a nice solid ember base with which to control the heat output and cook effectively with.
Again, a little advanced preparation will be key to getting the whole process correct.
In a previous article, I detailed what equipment you will need to get a fire started fast and effectively so I won't dwell too long on the equipment list and process regarding the preparation of the wood etc.
Betelgeuse Brazier or Fornax Firebox Hybrid Wood & Charcoal Grill
Heatproof Cooking Glove - for grill tray handling
Wood-burner glove - for fire tending
Barbeque Tool Set - for handling your food on the grill
Serving Board - for serving your food from the grill
Ignition source - Lighter or Matches (long reach lighters or cooks’ matches are generally easier.)
2 Kg's Charcoal - I recommend lump-wood charcoal for improved food flavour, but charcoal briquettes can also be used.
2-3 Dry Logs –
Kiln dried logs (less than 10% moisture content) split into 15-20 or so half inch square kindling pieces and 10 or so inch square kindling pieces
Birch logs are personally recommended due to their availability and beautiful smell when burning and cooking. They are easy to split due to a fairly straight grain and the peeled bark is also excellent fire starting tinder.
Any Braaiwood range of wood is also an excellent choice for slow direct fire cooking with charcoal, it burns fantastically slow with a constant heat output due to it's high density and low moisture content.
Olive wood is also a great wood to cook on, if you require that Mediterranean wood smoked flavour.
Smoking Wood Chips – if required, there are many various smoking wood chip flavours out there for various taste buds, a brief internet search will enlighten your mind and palate immediately.
Firelighters – fast acting - such as wood wool lighters or dried expanded pine cones if the season is right. I always prefer pine cones to be honest, they just win on all points. Please DO NOT use paraffin-based firelighters under any circumstances as they will taint your food.
Let’s get into Wood Fire Cooking...
Step 1. First off, let's get prepared,
Make sure your wood grill is clean, all ash is removed and you have good air flow all round.
Make sure your grill tray is clean.
Make sure your grill tools are clean and all to hand.
Make sure your food for grilling is marinaded, covered and also available to hand once you start your grill fire up.
Make sure your fuel is prepared and ready for use, stored in a suitable safe box and close to hand.
Have a bucket of wet sand and a first aid kit handy, just in case of any fire related emergencies.
Step 2. Using the half inch kindling pieces, lay 2 pieces across the base plate with a 2-inch gap between them, then place 2-4 pieces on top of those at 90 degrees with a similar gap. Continue with this loose kindling wood tower until you are about 6 levels high. This is a slight variation on a "valley and bridge" method of lighting a fire.
Step 3. Drop 2 firelighters into the centre of the wood tower and leave for 5 minutes for the tower to fully catch fire.
Step 4. When the kindling tower is fully alight and burning brightly, start distributing pieces of charcoal (1.5 - 2kg) over the entire grill base (with wood-burner gloves) ensuring you do not smother the growing flames.
Step 5. Leave the kindling and charcoal to establish embers, about 30-45 minutes, when the outer surface of the charcoal starts turning white with ash then we are ready to start cooking.
Step 6. Place the grill tray over the top of the fire pit (depending on which model you have) and start preparing your food ready to place on the grill.
Step 7. Lay your chosen food down onto the grill plate and let the heat start to infuse the food, turning as necessary depending on the type of food that is to be cooked. Ensure meats such as chicken are cooked slower for longer to ensure it is correctly cooked through and always check for correct food temperature and clear running juice before consuming. Always allow meat to rest after cooking in line with standard food hygiene procedures.
Step 8. When food temperature is required to be increased or you require some good old flame grilling to finish, place half inch kindling pieces through the fire slots of the burner wall one at a time until the heat has increased satisfactorily. Do not add multiple pieces of kindling to the fire at one time as there will be a huge burst of intense energy that may burn your food. Remove your food to rest on the serving board once the cooking / flame grilling process is complete.
Step 9. If a flame grill flavour of your choice is required then add wood smoking chips to the charcoal embers during the cooking process through the fire slots in the fire pit wall.
Step 10. If a continuous session of cooking is required then just add alternating pieces of kindling and charcoal during the cooking process allowing both fuels to establish and breathe well for an efficient burn with minimal smoke.
Step 11. If cooking is finished for the evening, remove the cooled grill tray to a safe place (Dishwasher!) and then add seasoned logs to the charcoal ember base to create your fire pit for the evening!
A charcoal base of 2 kg will last for around 60 minutes of moderate cooking heat (around 200-250° Centigrade).
Try to keep wood kindling pieces as small and dry as possible for live fire cooking. You want the wood to combust as quickly as possible, release any moisture or toxic gases immediately and go to ember stage as soon as possible.
Just a small one inch square piece of kindling can deliver a vast amount of heat when you are cooking over live fire. When kindling is added to a charcoal base, the localised temperature increase can go up to around 350-450° Centigrade, so when adding wood to live fire for continuous cooking, less is most definitely more in this scenario.
I hope that has given you a little insight into using the 6 Elements products effectively. I must admit that I have found over the years that cooking over live fire does require a certain amount of skill, especially when compared to a good old charcoal barbecue. A far greater attention must be given to the grill set-up, the varying heat intensity, the types of wood, how dry the wood is and of course what you wish to cook. It definitely keeps an amateur outdoor wood fire chef on his toes, and so it would seem for the professionals, from what I've seen so far.
In spite of the obvious extra challenges involved with wood grilling, I cannot tell you how much I enjoy sitting for an hour in the garden tending and turning a slow birch-wood grilled Peri Peri spatch-cock chicken on a summers evening...
As a side note, I won't go into any great detail on what foods to wood grill in many articles as there are thousands of culinary experts out there already who are far more suited (and qualified) to guide you in that area. Be rest assured, I will share relevant recipe and live wood fire cooking method articles as I get chance to post them.
On second thoughts, why don't you guys send me your favorite grill recipes and then I can post them on our blog and give you the full kudos! And try the recipe out myself of course...
Until next time...
P.S. If you're new to the outdoor wood grilling scene and you're just starting out then why not check out the 6 Elements suggested book list in my previous post for a few starters? Enjoy!