It’s been a long hot summer, and we’ve been rushing to rescue our barbecues from the depths of the shed. With the heatwave finally on its way out, but a warm autumn predicted we have a few more weeks of pink sausages and overcooked burgers to look forward to. But does the barbeque risk becoming a bit – samey? Is it time for a new way of cooking outdoors? Perhaps one that has been sitting there unnoticed all along – the humble fire pit.
The Pit vs the BBQ
The BBQ is as synonymous with a British summer as ice pops and Wimbledon. So, why would we want to change this staple of our year ?
It all comes down to adaptability- the pit is not only a way of cooking, it’s a social experience. You might just want to bask in its glow with a bottle of wine. On some nights, You might want to invite the family round and cook over the open fire – on the best nights you’ll do both. Cooking over an open fire is an inherently social and primal experience that lends itself perfectly to a party where everyone sits, talks and cooks their own food.
The versatility of food you can cook on a firepit is impressive. Anything that can be cooked over a grill can be cooked on a firepit and if your pit comes with a lid you open up the world of roasting. You can also sear steak, hot dogs, and burgers over the fire as well as throwing a pan over the flames to fry seafood, vegetables and more. Some fancier pits will come with a rotisserie bar which allows you to cook whole poultry and game-birds and if your pit is big enough – suckling pig and lamb.
Cooking on a fire pit is probably alien to a lot of people. It’s not something we are used to doing, and it can be daunting to consider learning a whole new way of cooking and everything that comes with it. If you are willing to give it a go you are in for a culinary treat, but as with all forms of cooking there are a few rules that need to be followed:
Keep Water Nearby – This one may seem obvious, but it always worth reiterating. Open flames can be very dangerous and unpredictable, you may have pets and children to consider and some wood has a habit of spitting. Make sure that you always keep a bucket of water within easy reach of the pit just in case of accidents.
Prepare the Fire Correctly – The instinct may be to begin cooking as soon as you see flames, don’t do this. The ideal fire for cooking over will be mainly made up of hot coals and a few logs of burning wood. Light the fire and wait for 30-40 mins for the fire to burn down and the coals to start glowing – this is when it’s ideal to cook on.
Use the Right Fuel – The best fuel for fire pit cooking is a combination of coal and wood. The coals will be your main heat producer and can be bought from specialist retailers. Your choice of wood will decide flavour: If possible, use shop-bought almond, cherry, hickory or mesquite wood for the best burn time and flavour. If you can’t find these near you charcoal can be used as a substitute. Do not use artificial firestarters or logs.
Use the Right Equipment – Your new outdoor kitchen will need some equipment before you get started. If you are planning on a more traditional selection of food then this toolset is a fun place to start. However, if you want to be a bit more adventurous then this Dutch oven cooking set is ideal.
So, both you and the fire are prepared; the beer is cold and the family are nattering – it’s time to cook. As soon as the coals are red hot you’re ready to go. But how do we actually go about cooking on the pit?
The firepit can still be used to cook our garden party faves, this familiar way of cooking is the best place to start since you already know the basic timings and method. Some fire pits will come with a grill, but you can buy grill racks to fit over the top of your pit. Another option is to lay out the raw ingredients and let your guests cook their own food in a grill basket – it frees you up to host and provides a bit of theatre and socialisation to the evening.
We ’ve all seen it in the films – people toasting marshmallows on a stick over a fire. This quintessential camping practice is a great way to end an evening and get the conversation flowing. But smores are not the only thing you can cook with a skewer. Sausages are a given but small chunks of meat and veg are also great when cooked like this. This method of cooking is simple, you need nothing but the skewer – just make sure it’s metal.
This kind of cooking requires the most equipment, but really expands the repertoire of what can be made. With the right recipe, you can be cooking a variety of foods that would not be possible on a barbecue. This method is best utilised with one-pot dishes like stews or curries and is a homely way of serving pre-made dishes whilst keeping them warm.
Cooking in the pot can be done in a few ways:
For keeping food warm or slow cooking. Hanging your pot from a tripod is the best option – You keep the heat constant and serving is easy (this is a great way of making and serving mulled wine). Or, if your fire is cool enough you can put the pot directly on the coals.
For frying – Put a pan or pot on the grill and cook as normal.
For faster cooking dishes – Rake the coals and wood to one side of the firepit, and put your pot in the empty space. This is a good method for dishes that require boiling.
You can really let your imagination be free with this one. If you have a Firepit Table or a spare pan, why not have fondue for afters, or bake bread on a quiet weekend.
This way of cooking has been around for over 8,000 years and strips cookery back to its core – fire and meat. Yes, it can be time-consuming, but as soon as you take the first bite of tender, slightly smoked chicken you’ll never want to go back to the oven. Spit roasting can be a complex way of cooking but guides can be found online.
Most firepits won’t be big enough to do a full hog roast, but some get close. You will get your best results from poultry and game birds to start off with, but as your confidence and skills grow you can attempt small suckling pigs and larger birds like turkey. Just remember to turn the spit regularly and adhere to standard roasting times and you’ll be fine.
Cooking on the firepit needn’t be something to fear or shy away from, and this is just a very basic guide on how to start. Once you gain confidence you will keep finding new ways to push your skills. Cooking on a pit is great but they are also great ways to just relax in your garden. For whatever reason a firepit may appeal to you Primrose has you covered.
Gary works in the Primrose product loading team, writing product descriptions and other copy. With seven years as a professional chef under his belt, he can usually be found experimenting in the kitchen or sat reading a book.