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Today, the majority of people have fireplaces in their homes as aesthetic features that maybe produces a little heat. More likely than not it even sucks heat from the room! Not too long ago, however, it was the only source of heat or method of cooking anyone had. Whether you find yourself camping, without power, or simply want to experience how your ancestors did it, here are some pointers for cooking over a fire:
Starting the Fire
Start with dried kindling to get the fire started, but use green wood to maintain the fire. Dried wood burns too quickly and gives off less heat than green wood. For a cooking fire, keep adding green wood for roughly an hour to create a nice, even bed of coals. My post on different types of wood and their uses details what types of woods burn best.
Before electricity, fireplaces or cooking hearths had long iron bars that would suspend out over the fire. Large pots would hang from these bars and be used to boil water, cook soups, meats, vegetables, anything really. If the fire became too hot, or the food was done cooking, the pot and iron bar would swing out, away from the fire.
Often fruits, vegetables and herbs were hung by the fireplace for days at a time to dry or dehydrate them.
For foods that need to be pan-fried or seared, separate a small amount of coals away from the fire and lay your cast iron pan directly on top.
Some foods can be “baked” (like potatoes) by wrapping them in tin foil, and burying them directly in the coals.
Other foods that need to be baked, can be placed in a dutch oven laid directly on a bed of coals. Preheat the lid by placing it over hot coals before covering the food. This is a tricky skill to learn to keep the temperature steady throughout the entire cooking process. If the bottom is too hot when you add the food, it will scorch. If your lid has a rim, you can add coals on top of the lid to maintain the temperature.
Check out this post by Reserve America for the 10 Best Foods to Cook Over a Fire.