Freestanding Fire Pits: Now for Entertainment and Grilling

Yes – you’ve got to see them: fire pits with grilling grates! Oh, just imagine the flavors and the fun you’ll have grilling over a real open flame.

Fire pits – the beautiful freestanding pits available today – are a natural place to grill outdoors. We’ve all held roasting sticks over open flames with marshmallows or hot dogs skewered on the ends. But now we’re talking fire pits with grilling racks for the best of both worlds: use the sticks for the kids’ hot dogs while the steaks for the adults sizzle away on the rack.

Whether you choose an open basin style fire pit or a modern version of a chiminea (Mexican-style outdoor oven), you can grill with enthusiasm and gusto. Cooking over an open flame is at once similar to and very different from cooking over coals. They’re both very hot and require close attention. But unlike glowing coals, flames can “lick” the flavors right out of your food and quickly leave a gray, ashen heap. Don’t despair – now’s the time to become the neighborhood guru in fire pit cooking, and here are some beginning tips to get you started.

First tip: use dry wood. Wet wood smokes a lot. Another wood tip: use hardwoods, like oak or maple. Hardwoods burn longer and more consistently than soft woods like pine. (And you don’t want pine pitch seasoning your steaks.)

This next tip may sound like a no-brainer, but if you forget it you’ll have a tough start to dinner: build your fire with chunks of wood small enough to allow the grate to set properly in place above it. In other words, don’t use big chunks or ones with irregular shapes that will get in the way of the grilling rack.

For convenience you may want to keep the smaller grilling wood separate from the larger “bonfire” wood. That way you won’t have to pick through the stack every time you want to grill. And it will save your back from constantly restacking the pile.

If you’re going to grill food that cooks quickly like hot dogs you can set it right on the rack and turn it often to keep from burning. It’ll cook fast so watch carefully. And don’t walk away – wood fires aren’t as consistent as charcoal. You will probably move the food around a lot to keep it in an ideal cooking environment.

If you’re going to cook food that takes longer like steaks there’s another way to set up your fire that’s just like cooking a large item on your charcoal or gas grill. This can be a bit trickier because wood burns faster and less consistently than charcoal.

Have a good pile of short sticks ready. Use these short chunks of wood for this fire because once the fire is burning well you’ll want to push it to the sides of the fire pits, leaving an open space in the middle for a drip pan. Set your pan in place, lower the grilling rack and start cooking.

Now for the tricky part: keep the wood burning hot around the edges. Just like cooking indirectly on a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add fuel – or wood – to the fire to keep it constant. Wood burns faster than charcoal so watch it closely.

And you’re off to a great start! Soon you’ll be savoring the real flavor of wood smoked foods, and you’ll be the envy of your neighborhood. Enjoy!


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