Before gas ranges came along, home kitchens were commonly equipped with fireplaces.
Cooking everything from stew to bread over hot coals or in wood-burning ovens was the norm. Even today, cooking over an open fire is still the most common way of cooking worldwide.
Enlisting your firepit to cook dinner can be daunting, but it’s not much different than cooking over a gas- or charcoal-fired grill.
Start with a well-established fire. It’s the ash-covered glowing red coals you want to use as your cooking medium.
Pick up some flavoured in apple, cherry wood, hickory or mesquite for different tastes.
You can then utilize this heat several ways.
Pick up a grill rack to set overtop and use as you would use your gas or charcoal grill, cooking food directly on the grates or using it to stabilize a heavy pot or pan.
Or you could nestle a heavy cast iron pot or pan directly on the coals or the rocks in and around the fire. Some people put a couple bricks off to one side to use as a platform to set a pot or pan on, buffering it slightly from the direct heat.
Others employ a metal stand to suspend a pot over their fire. Cast iron will stand up to all of it.
You’ll want to stay by the fire to watch how your food cooks. You can control the heat by moving the food around to hotter or cooler areas of the fire.
Another option is to cook directly in, rather than over, hot coals and ash. Simply tuck whole veggies into the coals and let them roast.
Here are two recipes to try out on the open fire and a few tips for grilling like a pro.
Fire-roasted vegetables with garlicky yogurt
Fragile veggies, such as asparagus, zucchini, thin carrots, wedges of cabbage and corn on the cob, can be cooked more quickly in a skillet or directly on top of a grate. Hardier veggies can be tucked directly into the hot coals, then peeled once they’re cool enough to handle.
You can even roast them ahead of time, while you’re sitting around the firepit. Set them aside to peel and serve the next night for dinner.
Whole sweet potatoes. The long, thin ones work best.
Beets, onions and winter squash.
Whole carrots, radishes, mini daikon and wedges of cabbage.
Canola or olive oil, for cooking.
1 cup of thick plain yogurt.
1 garlic clove, finely crushed.
1-2 tbsp. lemon juice.
Chopped fresh mint or parsley. Optional to make it look nice.
I also added some leftover guacamole. A spoonful of tahini would work well, too.
When your fire has a well-established bed of coals, tuck whole sweet potatoes, beets, onions or winter squash in the coals and ash, covering them slightly.
Turn them often, until they feel soft. Transfer to a baking sheet or metal pan and set aside to cool.
When they’re cool enough to handle, peel off the blackened skins and cut the soft cooked innards into chunks.
Meanwhile, cook the carrots, radishes and cabbage wedges with a drizzle of oil in a cast iron skillet set on the grill rack or directly on the hot coals.
Cook until they are caramelized and tender, turning as needed and sprinkling with salt. This can also be done directly on the grill.
Mix the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Add some mashed avocado, guacamole or tahini, if you like.
Spread the mixture onto a platter or shallow bowl. Top with the fire-roasted veggies. Sprinkle with salt and chopped mint or parsley, if you like.
Serving: As many as you like.
Fire-roasted jalapeno poppers
This recipe has been adapted from How to Grill Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Flame-Cooked Food, by Mark Bittman.
10-12 whole jalapeno peppers.
½ package of cream cheese or ½ cup soft goat cheese.
½ cup grated aged cheddar or Gouda.
Salt and freshly ground pepper.
Cut the peppers in half lengthwise, keeping the stem end intact.
Using gloved fingers or the tip of a small spoon, open them up and remove the seeds and membranes. Keep the stem end connected.
In a small bowl, mash together the cheeses, salt and pepper. It works well to knead them together with your hands.
Pick up a small ball of the soft cheese mixture and roll it into an elongated shape.
Tuck the mixture inside each pepper, closing it over the cheese filling.
This can be done up to a day in advance. Store them in the fridge until you’re ready for them.
When you’re ready, cook them over a hot grill, on a grate over hot coals, in a skillet set on top of a grate over hot coals or directly on the coals, rocks or bricks in your firepit.
Cook, turning until they char and blister and the cheese filling gets all gooey.
Serving: Makes 10-12 poppers.
Other tips for fire roasting
Wrap your vegetables in foil, if you like.
Cover partially or entirely and turn them occasionally until they feel tender. I like to use long tongs and wear a gardening or work glove to keep my hand from getting too hot.
If they’re the sort that will need peeling later, like a thick-skinned winter squash, sweet potatoes, beets, eggplant and even onions, tuck them in whole.
Some people push the fire off to one side and then cook in the coals on the other side of your firepit or chimenea. If it seems too hot, you can control the heat by moving your food further away from the fire or into a cooler area of ash.
Transfer your fire-roasted veggies to a baking sheet and when they’re cool enough to handle, peel away the charred layer to reveal the tender, smoky flesh underneath.
This is particularly delicious if you want to make smoky baba ganoush with fire-roasted eggplant and smoky roasted peppers. These will cook quickly. Once blistered, pull them out and put them into a bowl. Cover them to let them steam a bit with the residual heat as they cool.
Try roasting whole onions in their skins. Pull them out and keep them in a bowl in the fridge until you need them. Then you can peel off the charred outer layers and chop or slice to add smoky sweetness to burgers and chili. Try chopping and serving them alongside your other fire-roasted veggies.
Because backyard fires often happen later at night, after dinner, I often roast a few veggies once it starts to die down. Then I cool them overnight for brunch, lunch or dinner the next day.
- Hear more of Julie Van Rosendaal’s tips for grilled meals:
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.