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Jan 12, 2011 10:17 AM

Hearth and Open Fire Cooking

I am going to try and get a thread going about cooking over flame.

I cooked over an open fire while camping, for years, constantly exploring what I could make, and how difficult it would be. Eventually cooked and baked ALMOST anything I would make at home.

We bought a house three years ago with an enormous fireplace, that was designed in the 20's, to cook in. I finally measured it and it is 6'x6'.

Now I am attempting to cook and bake EVERYTHING that I would make on or in the stove.

Let's see, what have we had this week?
I made a delicious Rabbit Mouttard over home made pasta the other night. Baked apples for dessert. Just finished a simple breakfast, pan fried sausage with scrambled eggs and toast. I have a pot of water boiling for oatmeal, and a kettle going for tea.

I use cast iron pans and dutch ovens, with a collection of antique trivets in various sizes.

What I am fascinated with is the difference in flavor between cooking over a campfire and cooking in a fireplace. I'm sure it has something to do with the "oven" created by the walls of the fireplace. I love any kind of cooking done over an open flame, but I am insane about what is going on in the fireplace!!!
I mean, ordinary toast, is crazy good.

So, fireplace, or outdoor fire, hopefully this can be a thread to discuss all of it. Methods, tools, recipes and resources.

I will leave it up to the mods as to this best place for this thread.

Now, I have to learn about posting pictures!

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  1. Your enthusiasm is contagious, as are your wonderful ideas. Your rabbit sounds divine. Our fireplace is too small to do any of that but at our Europe house we have a huge outdoor kitchen with an enormous fireplace for two-tier cooking as well as a gigantic indoor fireplace (only heat source for that house). Thank goodness - that kitchen is so very tiny!! So, each time we go there we are thrilled with the possibilities. To cook at such high heat is a thril! We enjoy grilling fish, game, seafood, baking wood-fired pizza and breads, etc. There are many things we have yet to do (we only get there twice a year so are limited) but we plan on using that in place of an oven, actually. It will definitely be our main cooking source. We need to find a large cast iron dutch oven for soups, stews and so on.

    Although we have not yet tried it we plan to use a variety of fresh leaves and branches such as grape, almond, etc. to impart flavour while grilling. It will be smoky but as it is outside it'll be fine. We just love it cooking outdoors! It feels primal and traditional. That house is also very rural so we forage for mushrooms, edible berries and plants, nuts, wild herbs, etc. then proceed to cook over an open fire. Pure joy.

    6 Replies
    1. re: chefathome

      Your post is exactly why I didn't want to limit it to fireplace cooking. I fell in love with cooking over an open fire while camping, and have now just moved it inside.
      But I am planning on building an outside second kitchen, with an earth oven and wood fired grill.

      Do you roast any meats?

      1. re: mendogurl

        Oh, that would be so awesome! It is SO worth having an outdoor kitchen.

        Yes - we roast wild boar, chicken, lamb, pork and beef. There is a dish called "peka" (Croatia is where our house is) where the protein is roasted low and slow in a special pot with domed lid. It is often done with lamb, beef or pork or sometimes octopus. Potatoes, carrots, leeks, celeriac and wild Mediterranean herbs are added so it almost becomes a very thick stew. The pot is placed on the bottom, coals raked over it and it cooks slowly for 12-24 hours. (At restaurants it must be ordered 24-48 hours in advance.) The results are meltingly tender meat and caramelized vegetables. We have yet to do that on our own as we do not yet have a peka pot.

        1. re: chefathome

          Oh that sounds amazing!

          When I first started I did more complicated recipes. Then the flavors sent me backward. The simplest things tasted so much better, that I decided to try and cook and bake the way one would have before the gas or electric stove.
          There isn't really time for fuss, and really it is completely unnecessary. Most of your time is spent tending the fire and adjusting the heat, right? The rest just happens.
          If you combine really good ingredients over a real fire, it all just works.
          Sooooo simple.
          Very curious what this oatmeal is going to taste like.

          Could you make the peka in a dutch oven?

          1. re: mendogurl

            That oatmeal is so cool! I agree that simple is best in many situations; it definitely applies with grilling/cooking over an open fire! With awesome ingredients you're already halfway there.

            Yes, you could make peka in a dutch oven and that is what we will do if we cannot find a peka thing. I forgot to mention there are onions and garlic in the dish.

            We really need to buy a pizza peel to make things much easier for us!

            1. re: chefathome

              Could I move in with one of you? I'm willing to chop. . .

        2. So this is the fireplace.

          Let's see if I did the photo thing right...

          7 Replies
          1. re: mendogurl

            What a stunning fireplace - wow! It looks like you have a lovely home. Great photo!

            1. re: chefathome

              Thank you! I am going to try to post some more, now that I know how!

              This was a leg of lamb roasted using the string method. Underneath is a copper pan that catches the drippings and cooks the potatoes.

              1. re: mendogurl

                That really is a nice hearth. It almost makes me wish I lived up north, where I could keep it lit year round.

                Have y'all got a rotisserie set up for it yet?

                1. re: mendogurl

                  I think you live in my dream house! Beautiful fireplace.

                2. I love cooking in the fireplace and over our outdoor pit.

                  I have pie irons that I use for all sorts of creations, foodie versions of the classic mountain pies from camp. I don't have any set recipes, often I will try to use up whatever cheeses and other bits and pieces are in the fridge. I am planning on figs and blue cheese with something else for Friday night.

                  Over the open pit outside we do chicken halves (or pieces) over wood, which is quite common where I live. Everyone does chicken during the summer. ribs and corn also. I adore corn on the cob roasted over the fire.

                  ETA - we do a fair amount of beef and pork too, many ribs. Sweet corn roasted in the husk is one of my favorite summer foods.

                  I have pictures of racks of chickens from last summer but I don't know how to link a picture from photobucket. Anyone know how?

                  13 Replies
                  1. re: cleobeach

                    more details please!

                    mountain pies from camp???
                    Figs and blue cheese???

                    1. re: mendogurl

                      This is a mountain pie maker -

                      Growing up, we used to use them at girl scout camp - two slices of white bread filled with canned pie filling or Ragu and cheese for pizza pies. the memory makes me want to say Yuck!

                      Now I use "real" bread slices and fill them with various things. For example - this weekend I will use sliced figs, blue cheese (both are leftovers that need to be used) and some sort of savory, maybe prosciutto. I will brush the bread (a going stale crusty french) with olive oil and put the filling inside and put the irons above the coals until everything is nice and toasty.

                      My husband likes very thinly sliced onion with swiss and ham in his pies. Sundried tomato, mozz, and basil is good too.

                      We call them fireplace sandwiches. I think the smoke definately adds to the flavor. I love scaping off the bits of baked on cheese that seeps out onto the iron.

                      I have my eye on larger one sold by Plow and Hearth. I am thinking I could fit larger cuts of meats and sausages into them.

                      1. re: cleobeach

                        Oh, man - I forgot about mountain pies! When you think about it, there are so many possibilities. The fig and blue cheese is a classic food combination so it really makes sense in a pie. Looks like we should add pie maker to our list of things!

                        1. re: cleobeach

                          I just read your post to my husband, who said, "will you do that??"

                          That sounds utterly delicious and very simple. Great Friday night supper, with a nice salad.

                          1. re: mendogurl

                            Okay, so tonight will be lasagna and baked apples.
                            I am going to make the lasagna in my dutch oven and then surround it on all sides with embers.

                            1. re: mendogurl

                              Awesome! BTW, when I mentioned peka above, I meant cover it with burning embers, not coal!! Must have been rather sluggish when I was typing earlier...

                              1. re: chefathome

                                I didn't even notice. We don't realy get coal out west, so it went right past me.

                                1. re: mendogurl

                                  keeping it alive so that some of the posters who have asked me to start this thread can find it.

                                  The marinara.

                                      1. re: mendogurl

                                        Jaffle Irons are nice and are on my to get list.
                                        There's so many possibilities.


                                        1. re: Johnny West

                                          I'm bad, I see this is a repost on the pie maker and apologize.


                                    1. re: mendogurl

                                      Thank you very much, I woulda missed this otherwise. I'll cross-link this to the Cookware board. People will lose their minds! Thanks again.

                      2. I built a wood fired pizza oven (but it does so much more!) as the centerpiece for my outdoor kitchen. I used the free plans and forums at, and heartily recommend you take a look at that website if you like cooking with fire. They have several free ebooks on cooking with a WFO--a pizza book, of course, but also a bread book and a general other-stuff book.

                        I've found WFO cooking exceptionally forgiving, the end product much better than I ever would have guessed, and it's just *fun*! I've made my last two thanksgiving dinners in the WFO. Turkey, dressing, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted green beans, bread, mashed potatoes (just warmed them up at the end). This year's turkey was outrageously delicious. I have never had a more juicy, flavorful bird.

                        We regularly make pizzas one night, and also pita bread, hot dips, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp dishes, bacon wrapped dates, etc.. Bagels and breads the next morning (while the oven is still 500ish degrees), calzones with the leftovers for lunch, lasagna with leftover toppings that night (the oven is around 350ish by the second evening). I've been meaning to do long and low cooking on the third day, when the heat sits in the 200s, but I haven't yet. Three days of cooking from one fire, though. It's really cool.

                        I got a tuscan grill to go in the WFO for Christmas, and can't wait to try out the new range of possible dishes with this tool! Paella is high on the list. It just doesn't work on my indoor electric range.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: modthyrth

                          That's pretty much what we are building in March. I have been to forno bravo, and need to go back there! I know they have message boards, yes?
                          There are three families who are going to build our oven and use it. I keep telling them that it is so much more than a pizza oven. Frankly I am looking forward to roasting meat and baking bread even more than pizzas. But your pizza sliding into that oven looks incredible.
                          How much expertise did you have when you built it? How long, and how many people built it?

                          I had no idea the heat from the fire lasted so long !!!! I love that you don't have to build a fire every time. So you can really plan out your week. If you make a 500 degree meal every Sunday, then Monday becomes your weekly bread making day, and so on. LOVE THAT. How perfectly economical.
                          There is something about cooking with fire that just makes so much sense!

                          I have a tuscan grill in my fireplace and I just love it. I tend to cook more on the trivets because they are more mobile, but my grill is always right there, just off to the side. I use it to keep things warm, toss a few coals under it when it is time to make toast, and of course for steaks and such.

                          Thank you for the pics, beautiful !!!!

                          Can you talk a bit about your breadmaking. That is something I am really looking forward to.

                          1. re: mendogurl

                            I had ZERO experience with masonry when I started my project. I stumbled into the plans online somehow--no clue how--and became completely obsessed. I'm a woman, I was pregnant during the build, and I did every last brick of it myself (Ok, I let my husband and neighbors help on the day we poured the floor of the oven). But this was my baby. It wouldn't have been possible without the help on the forums at Forno Bravo. They're a fabulous community of people ready to answer any question or brainstorm through any problem you encounter.

                            We poured the foundation at the end of July 2008, and I had the dome finished in early December. You need to let the dome cure for a couple weeks, then go through a series of progressively larger fires to make sure everything is dried and cured, and we had our first pizzas on Christmas Eve that year.

                            That was...three years ago now. And it's still not *quite* done, I'm afraid. I did all the stone veneer work myself, and have just a little bit more to do on the front. But once I had my baby, all work stopped. I'm determined to get back out there and finish it up in the next couple months, though! It's harder to get motivated to do the pretty stuff when it's already functional and you're excited about moving on to learning to use your oven!

                            My FB thread chronicling my build, if you're interested:

                            I'm a complete noob at bread-baking, I must admit. The chocolate cherry sourdough bread pictured in my post above was absolutely divine, though! I'm haunting The Fresh Loaf's boards and slowly learning more. There are some real experts over at the Forno Bravo forums, though, so if you have any questions, they'll have an answer for you. Some are professional bakers who use a WFO, some are just incredibly accomplished amateurs.

                            1. re: modthyrth

                              off to check your FB thread !!!!

                              So inspired.

                        2. See if your local PBS station is running these shows


                          All about colonial cooking at an open hearth. There is a cookbook and DVD's for sale also.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Dave_in_PA

                            Those look great! I have to go set my DVR!

                            1. re: Dave_in_PA

                              Just ordered my DVD set, thank you for that!!!