What Are the Rules of Cooking Over a Fire Pit?

published Jun 29, 2017
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

There’s no denying that there’s something satisfyingly primal about the idea of cooking over an open fire pit. It makes feels like you could totally hold your own as an extreme camper or on a season of Survivor. Of course, you can cook over an open flame even if you’re not living in the wild or competing for a cash prize.

If you’re heading out on a brief camping trip or adding a fire pit to your yard, here are some best practices to keep in mind.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

1. Choose your firewood carefully.

Unlike with grills (which usually require charcoal or propane as your fuel), fire pits call for firewood. This is great because it allows for you to really customize the flavor you want for whatever you’re cooking. If you’re in your backyard, you can choose from store-bought versions like almond wood, cherry wood, hickory, and mesquite. If you’re camping or foraging for wood, you’ll want to choose non-pine wood that is dry enough to break easily when you try to snap branches — if it’s damp, it will have a really hard time lighting. Alternatively, you can substitute firewood with charcoals.

2. Know that you can cook anything on a fire pit that you would a grill.

Spoiler alert: Fire is fire. So whether you’ve built one in a grill on your patio or in a fire pit at your campsite, the effect is the same. You can lay a grate down and cook up salmon, chicken breasts, and vegetables, or just skewer a hot dog and cook it over the open flame. The only exception to this rule would be if you’ve invested in a more decorative fire pit (perhaps you’ve been bingeing Big Little Lies and getting some serious outdoor-space envy?). If that’s the case, you might not want to get all that grease and grime that comes with cooking all over your fancy fire pit.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

3. Spring for a few accessories.

We’re not talking about anything fancy here: Skewers, tongs, a grill rack, a heat-resistant pot, and even aluminum foil can be game-changers when you’re cooking over an open fire. Skewers can be used to hold or rest vegetables or hot dogs to get them ready to eat; and a grill rack can turn a fire pit into a backyard grill, allowing you to use indirect and direct heat and cook multiple things at a time. The easiest trick, though, is to use aluminum foil to make anything. You can cut up chicken, steak, or fish, place it in a foil packet with chopped vegetables and a drizzle of olive oil. Then seal the packet by rolling up the edges so grease and oil doesn’t spill out, and you can place it directly on the fire to cook.

4. Always (always!) keep a bucket of fresh water nearby.

The fundamental rule of having an outdoor fire pit is that you absolutely must have fresh water nearby at all times, just in case the earth is a little bit drier than you thought it would be. If you’re building your own fire, it’s also always helpful to build a fire circle out of rocks to contain any blazes, as well, but that’s a secondary priority to water! And at the end of the night, you will want to use that water to ensure that the fire is properly extinguished.

5. Don’t expect perfection at first.

A fire pit is like a grill in that it provides the heat to cook, but it’s also harder to control than a grill. You have no lid to close or vents to open, so you have less say of how hot the heat is. You might find that some things get burned or take longer to cook all the way through, so it may be a bit of a hit-or-miss activity at first. Just chalk it up to being part of the rustic experience!

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