Cooking fires

Anyone have any tips for cooking fires? Tips on heat regulation, appropriate woods… etc?

A little tiny fire with little tiny twigs make great pancakes in the morning. There’s a huge difference between knowing how to build a fire for a picnic of hamburgers cooked over coals on an open grill and learning how to build a hot, fast fire to cook something in a pan.

My daughter and I spent an entire summer learning that if we couldn’t make the fire work, we wouldn’t eat. We learned how to make damned sure the firewood stayed dry. It was a very wet summer and we were hungry a few times until we learned. We learned that very small twigs broken off of trees gave us breakfast faster than building the standard “log cabin” and then letting it go to coals.

Stainless steel skillets heat faster than cast iron skillets. Cast iron skillets should be used for those meals that need time to cook down and can benefit from coals, whereas stainless steel is better for fast cooking over a very tiny fire. It’s amazing how little wood you actually need to cook a fast meal.

Aspen burns hotter and faster than pine. Cedar makes the whole tipi smell glorious.

i perfer to use alder for fire wood and I make a small fire only 6-8 inches high of fuel. On the side I won’t be sitting on I make reflector wall that will reflect heat back towards me and the pit. I make the wall about one-two feet away from the edges of the fire and out of wet logs, metal, and dry rocks. I prefer to cook slabs of meat, large mushrooms, bread, and large vegis straight in the white alder ashes or any edible wood ash. Small foods and liquids such as insects, rice, soups, grains i try to cook in a pan or pot. I don’t try to regulate the fires size since I try to keep it small unless I want to use it for drying clothes or for warmth then I make it a little big I guess…it depends on the situation. Basically, if want you want to cook doesn’t need a large fire make a small flame.

I like what’s called a “hunter’s fire”, which is a fire with 2 logs, one on either side of the tinder. The fire burns in the middle. The space between the logs funnels air in, making a chimney, and the logs reflect the heat back in, making a very hot fire. The logs also support your pan or grill over the fire. A proper cooking fire has a lot of heat and little flame. The logs used wil lburn and provide coal but won’t burn through. You can use them again later.

Speaking in generalities, the more dense the wood, the hotter the fire, and the longer it lasts. Something hard like seasoned hickory, white oak, ash or maple will burn pretty hot and pretty slowly, where something like pine, fir, poplar, etc. will give a quick flame, and generally die out in a lesser length of time.

Properties like pitch and resin will, of course change some of this - like birch. Birch has a whole lot of resin, so it burns really quick, but seasoned, un-decayed logs will leave some nice, hot, lingering coals.

Lastly, trees in various regions grow differently than they would in other regions - e.g. river birch in Pennsylvania grows a little differently than it would in Oregon. The differences are slight, and usually have to to with site conditions, but it might have a larger impact in broadly general terms. (Heh - I’m reminded of the phrase: “that’s a definite maybe!”)

It seems that a logical step might be to take the above generalities and put them to the test with various types of wood, and then write down the results. Mixes of different wood probably would yield interesting results as well. I hope to do some similar experimenting in the near future, so perhaps we can compare notes within this thread.

Best of luck, Urban Scout.

~ SW

A basic rule of thumb (which I have also seen broken many times) is to use deciduous trees for cooking directly on the fire, like bar-b-queing. Avoid conifers for this because the resins in the wood don’t taste as good and are not really good for you.

Conifers are fine if you are cooking in pots and pans.

Conifers are not the best for tipi fires because they throw sparks all over the place and make little burn holes all over your stuff.

Cottonwood, willow, alder, birch and mountain maple are the woods where I live that burn without sparking all over the place.

In the northern Arabian desert, it’s usually easy enough to find three stones or a depression in the sandstone and you put your pot on that and light some twigs from the surrounding scrub with the dry yellow leaves of the salt trees/white saxaul (Haloxylon persicum) as a firestarter to boil your tea. If you need to cook meat, you gather larger branches from the salt trees which often grow several meters in height and cook with those. All of this wood can be broken off without the use of tools although the larger pieces can be tough to break off as they are so heavy and dense.

Roasting meat is best done by digging a hole in the sand and using a barrel or otherwise covering the fire when it is at the point where it is starting to turn to coals and then covering it with a cover and piling sand on top of that and letting the meat roast slowly in that underground bbq oven for several hours. A 4-5 inch thick piece of that wood is quite heavy and burns for a long time (often I had many all-night fires with some red coals under the ashes to start the tea in the morning from such wood) Otherwise in Mexico I used dry date palm branches or mesquite, dried cactus ribs worked alright but tended to burn up quicker than the other wood.

yeah with cooking fires efficiency is the key, and subterranean fire enclosers are a good use.

firewood is one of those shifting baselines where you always think you have plenty, until you’re out. I think things like solar ovens are a great idea to not use fire in the summer, except for your occasional cookout.

this time of year kindling is replenishing itself, where branches are rapidly drying of and dying, not to mention all the deciduous detritus like walnut leaf stems, and leaves and such.

I think firewood needs to be seen in relation to the progression of seasons. WE should see when mother nature lights her fires, in the late autumn, the metabolic fires of the soil maintain the roots through harsh winters. Cooking itself will have to be re-evaluated as not something done everyday, but with in harmony of the ways of the earth.

This, I believe, is especially useful if you are making your landbase out of a 50 acre track that’s between you and your friends, the most likely rewilding scenario.

we’ve only just started cooking w/ solar ovens, but, so far, we really, really like how well they work (esp w/ meat)

bit off topic, but…