I’m a huge fan of cast iron cookware. My wife and I inherited her Grandmother’s cast iron skillet when we were married, which belonged to her mother before that. I love the even heat, the durability, the non-stick functionality of a properly seasoned pan and even the weight. A common complaint about cast iron, I find that the sheer weight of the pots and pans gives me a psychological satisfaction in cooking. I feel like I can do no wrong when I’m cooking in cast iron!
I’ve also grilled for many years, beginning in earnest while I was in graduate school at Radford University. We were all dirt poor and a close friend of mine who is a true grill master discovered that we could get all the free drinks we could ever want if we threw a party and grilled. Cheap and easy, we learned to break down whole chickens bought on the cheap and catch turkey on sale after the holidays and stock the freezer. I learned a lot about grilling those few years and I developed an utter disdain of anything but charcoal.
Charcoal and cast iron are passionate subjects for me, but what I really wanted to talk about is open fire cooking. Aside from the occasional can of beans or a roasted frank on a stick while camping, I’ve never really cooked directly on a fire. I found myself out of charcoal last week with a craving to grill. It was brisk and cold and I wanted to stand outside and cook something. We heat our home with a wood stove and live in the forest so firewood is plentiful. I uncovered my kettle grill and built a fire with red oak and hickory. In no time I had a full campfire on my porch, much to Stubbs (my big black Manx cat) delight.
I broke out my brand spanking new (which seems wrong, somehow – all my other cast iron cookware has a history) three-legged dutch oven Momma Sue gave me for Christmas and started with bacon, chopped onions, garlic and olive oil. I put the oven directly on the coals and covered. Leaving that to do its thing, I scored the fat on a wonderful duck breast and added that to the pot.
There is no happy end to that story. In my mind’s eye, I was going to get this wonderful stew of aromatic ingredients – I had absolutely no idea how HOT a wood fire gets. Thirty minutes later, I had a dutch oven full of what seemed to be charcoal. I still haven’t gotten that oven clean.
Not one to back down, I tried again last night. This time, I measured the temperature of the fire. My grill thermometer pegs at 600 degrees. It pegged. Wow. That was cool. Or, I guess more accurately, hot. I got my favorite cast iron out, made sourdough rolls and carefully(!) caramelized onions and made a mushroom medley for Laura’s favorite burger, a mushroom bacon burger. It turned out splendidly!
So, quick notes: Cooking over an open fire is easy, provided you use cast iron. I don’t think my kitchen favorites could stand the extreme temperatures. Stand close guard, enjoy being warm and outside and enjoy the way you smell like wood smoke afterwards! I’ll keep doing this forever. Any thoughts from anyone?