A useful skill to know when the power goes out from a winter storm, cooking on the woodstove or in the fireplace is also just plain fun. Wood fire dishes range from roasted hot dogs to whole meals—including bread.
Long Handles: A Must
Although the Dutch Oven, which we will discuss later, is the most versatile of fireplace cooking utensils, there are several specialty items for fun fireplace cooking. Each serves a different purpose, but they all have long handles to keep your food just the right distance from the fire.
The most basic implement is the Roasting Fork. Just skewer a hot dog or marshmallows on the fork and you'll be ready for a cookout indoors. They are available in a variety of styles from simple to ornate wrought iron.
Corn Poppers and Chestnut Roasters have wire or sheet metal baskets at the business end of the handles. Just fill the basket, hold it over a bed of coals, and you'll have a delicious warm snack in minutes. Long-handled baskets are also great for cooking kebobs or s’mores over the hearth coals.
Pie Irons are used for grilling sandwiches. Each of their two handles has a steel or aluminum plate at the end. The plates hinge together, allowing you press a sandwich and hold it over the fire until it is toasted. In addition, the irons can be used for light baking or the plates can be used separately like small skillets. A bit of butter or cooking spray will help keep your food from sticking to the iron.
Use a Portable Grill to cook anything from steaks to vegetables over the coals in the fireplace, just like you would on a charcoal grill. Vary the height of the grill and rake coals around under the grill to control the heat. Remember to let the fire die down to a bed of hot coals to achieve an even temperature for grilling or baking.
The Dutch Oven
For meal preparation, the cast iron Dutch Oven has held the place of honor on the hearth for centuries. Cast iron has the ability to absorb and distribute heat evenly across its surface. This feature makes it less likely to develop hot spots that can burn your meal.
Dutch Ovens are divided into "kitchen" and "camp" styles. Both are available in many different sizes and include a cast iron lid and a heavy wire bail for lifting or hanging the oven above a fire. The camp style has three legs that make it more stable when set on coals and a flatter lid with a rim to hold coals. Using coals on top and underneath lets you bake breads and pies in your oven.
If you become serious about Dutch Oven cooking, consider installing a fireplace crane. This hinged hook bolts to your fireplace wall, and the arm lets you swing the Dutch Oven easily into and out of the fire.
Basic Fire Tips
Learning to judge the readiness of a fire takes a bit of practice. Wait 30-45 minutes after starting it for the fire to reach the point suitable for cooking. The early stage of a fire, with its leaping flames, has widely varying temperatures that can burn your food or leave it uncooked. You have to wait for the flames to die down and a bed of coals to develop to get the even heat needed to cook.
Once you have a good bed of coals, you can use a fireplace shovel or rake to distribute the coals. Not surprisingly, the more coals you put under (and on top of the camp Dutch Oven's lid) the hotter the interior will be. With experience you'll be able to judge how many coals are needed for anything from a simmer to a full boil. Don't forget you need to add more coals occasionally to keep the temperature constant.
Ready to try your hand at wood fire cooking? Here are a few recipes to get you started.
Pie Iron Instructions And Recipes
Place a buttered slice of bread, butter side down, on lower half of cooker. Spoon fruit, meat, or other filling on center of bread (see recipes). Place a second slice of bread, butter side up, on top of fillings. Latch handles and trim off excess bread, if necessary. Toast over campfire, stove, fireplace or charcoal until golden brown on both sides. You'll have a delicious hot meal in just 3 to 6 minutes.
Reuben Sandwich - Between pumpernickel bread slices, place cooked corn beef, canned sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. Grill over low heat until bread is toasted.
Sloppy Joes - Use canned, pre-cooked sloppy joe mix or make your own mix with hamburger, barbecue sauce and onion. (Meat must be precooked.) Place mix between buttered bread and cook over low heat until hot and toasty. Try with ground turkey for a healthier taste treat.
Bacon and Tomato Special - Fill whole wheat bread with sliced tomatoes, crisp bacon, lettuce and mayonnaise. Toast sandwich for 3 to 4 minutes in pie iron.
Eggs - Open cooker and use as two skillets, placing one egg in each side of cooker. Or use cooker in closed position for scrambled eggs; just add onion, cheese, pepper, and mushrooms for omelettes.
Cornbread - Prepare cornbread mix according to direction on package. Into a well-greased cooker, fill cavity about one third with mix. Close, latch handles and bake over very low heat until done.
Fruit Pie - Use any canned pie filling; apple, cherry, and peach are delicious. Place filling between your choice of bread as per our basic directions. Grill until golden brown. Sprinkle with sugar and serve.
Dutch Oven Recipes
Lemon Fried Chicken
Using a 12" Dutch oven on top of 14 charcoal briquets or the equivalent amount of wood coals, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in oven. Mince 2 cloves of garlic, add and brown.
Rinse and drain on paper towels 6 chicken breasts and 6 thighs. When garlic is lightly browned, add chicken. Fry until golden. Add 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon peel, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover and cook 25 minutes or until tender. Remove chicken from oven and set aside.
Stir 2 10-oz. cans of chicken broth into Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Mix 1/4 cup of cornstarch with 1 cup of water and add to broth and lemon mixture. Stir and cook until thickened. Serve chicken over hot rice and spoon lemon sauce over both.
Tasty Tangy Vegetables & Rice
Use a 12" Dutch oven, greased. Provide bottom heat with 9 or 10 briquets. In a large bowl mix 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper and 1 teaspoon of hot sauce. Add and mix gently until coated: 1 peeled and diced eggplant, 1 peeled and diced potato, 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced red pepper, 1 diced zucchini squash, 2 peeled and sliced carrots, 1/2 lb. sliced mushrooms, 1 chopped onion and 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley.
Chop 4 large tomatoes. Layer the tomatoes in the oven and cover with half of the vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with 2/3 cup of uncooked white rice. Add the remaining vegetables.
Mix 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and 1/2 cup of water. Pour over the top of the vegetables and place oven over heat. Steam on low heat, without stirring, for 1/2 hour or until vegetables and rice are tender.
Fireplace Fruit Cobbler
For this recipe, use a 12" foil-lined camp Dutch oven and both top and bottom heat (coals or briquets both below and piled on lid). Mix and place into foil-lined oven: 2 29-oz. cans of sliced peaches with juice, 1 cup of crushed pineapple with juice and 1/2 cup of instant tapioca. Sprinkle over the top of fruit mixture 1 yellow or white cake mix. Top cake mix with 1cup brown sugar and 8 tablespoons of butter, thinly sliced. Do not stir.
Bake for 20 minutes with top and bottom heat. Then remove from bottom heat and continue cooking with top heat for 5-10 minutes until fruit is bubbling and crust is golden. Serve hot straight from Dutch oven or garnish with ice cream or whipped cream.
The preceding recipes were provided courtesy of Rome Industries and Lodge Manufacturing companies.