Ultimate Guide to Fireplace Cooking for Beginners
Fireplace cooking is a superb skill you can master that brings people together like no other form of cooking. There is no better way to finish your evening than spending time around your fireplace while preparing some mouth-watering dishes for dinner, whether you are out camping or having an outdoor evening setup.
Today, you can enjoy the modern convenience of outside grills and stoves, all coming with advancements to improve the functionality of conventional fireplaces.
In this guide, you will find everything you need to know about fireplace cooking for beginners to help you get started. Continue reading to learn more.
What is Fireplace Cooking?
Since the advent of modern and convenient cooking stoves, people have lost the touch of active cooking. Therefore, simply put, fireplace cooking is a relatively active form of cooking compared to cooking with a stovetop. However, how active you can get while cooking depends on the type of meal you want to prepare.
When you want to take part in fireplace cooking, you have to keep in mind that there will be lots of raking coals and turning your meat on a spit and raking ashes around your Dutch oven, or even swiveling your cooking pan in and out of your preferred flame.
Since it is a more active form of cooking, it will take most of your attention while ensuring that your cooking wood supply is just enough.
If you love the outdoors, then fireplace cooking will be the perfect addition to your daily routine. It will also introduce a whole new cooking method, adding a new dimension to any dishes you serve up.
Fireplace Cooking vs. Firepit Cooking
Cooking over a firepit might feel primal, but that’s the point. It can turn out to be enjoyable and exciting. Cooking over a firepit gives you total control while letting you feel like you can completely hold your own.
Firepit cooking can take as much effort to install as gathering up a ring of stones to create a fire to cook your meal on. Or you could up the steaks and create an aesthetically beautiful backyard firepit to cook up some delicious meals for the family. You may even have the luxury of an outdoor kitchen, giving you the flexibility to have both fireplace cooking and firepit cooking.
Since you can cook anything on a fireplace, you can cook anything essentially on a firepit too. However, a firepit is an ideal option if you love camping. However, regardless of whether you intend to cook on a fireplace or firepit, there are a few things that you have to keep in mind. Some of these things include:
1. Carefully Select Your Firewood
Both fireplaces and firepits need firewood to work. Using firewood to cook is an ideal way of customizing the kind of flavor you wish to achieve for whatever you are preparing for dinner.
If you want to cook right in your backyard, it is recommended that you go for store-bought firewood options like mesquite, cherry wood, almond wood, or hickory. On the other hand, if you are out in the woods camping, it would be best to go for non-pine wood, dry enough for ease of breakage when snapping the branches.
Just ensure you check the wood you are using to cook with. Some could be poisonous or carcinogenic, e.g., building timber, palette wood, MDF, plywood, plus pine contains resin which could ruin the taste of your carefully cooked dishes.
You need to keep in mind that damp wood will be quite challenging to light. But if you have charcoals, you could still opt for those instead.
2. It Is Possible To Cook almost Anything On Your Fireplace/Firepit
The premise, in this case, is that fire is just fire. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether your fire is on your grill, firepit, or fireplace.
The effect from all these fires is pretty much the same. You can choose to skewer your hot dog, then cook it over your open flame or just decide to grate/grill and cook up your vegetables, chicken breasts, or salmon.
By cooking your food in this method, you add a new dimension to dishes not found in traditional cuisine.
3. Find Yourself Some Accessories
You don’t have to go for those fancy cooking accessories you see in movies. You can easily opt for game-changing accessories like a grill rack, tongs, a heat-resistant pot, an instant-read thermometer, skewers, and aluminum foil, especially when you are cooking over an open fire.
You can rest or hold your vegetables on your skewers as you get them ready for serving. The grill rack will be great for turning your fireplace or firepit into an incredible grill, enabling you to take advantage of direct or indirect heat as you prepare your meals.
Just as a simple cooking hack for beginners-your aluminum foil could be the easiest trick in cooking over an open fire. You can use it for cooking your fish or steak by cutting them into pieces and putting them in your foil packet. You then add some chopped vegetables and spray some olive oil. Wrap your foil packet carefully, put it directly over your fire, and watch it turn your ingredients into a tasty serving.
4. Make Sure You Have A Bucket Of Fresh Water Around
This is just a rule of thumb. You can’t have a fireplace or firepit without having a bucket of fresh water around you all the time. The water could come in handy if you find the surface is overly dry or use the water to contain the fire from blazing too much. Also, water is great is putting out the fire once you are done with the fire for the night.
5. Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself, The First Time May Not Turn Out Perfect
Even though it is earlier mentioned that a fireplace or a firepit is like a grill, sometimes it can be a bit challenging to control the blaze than it would be on a grill because there are no vents or lids to close to contain the fire.
Therefore, you will realize that some sections of your meal may turn out burned on your first try. It could also seem like it is taking too long to get ready. Hence don’t expect that everything will turn out perfect the first time. Just continue chalking it up and watch yourself get out of that rustic experience with time.
Can you Cook on your fireplace?
The simple answer is yes.
People are always looking for new and innovative ways to flavor their meals, and that is why many opt to try fireplace cooking. This can work out great for you if you are a fan of outdoor living and you have some idea about open-fire cooking.
You can achieve some unique flavor combinations from cooking on your fireplace than from cooking using your modern cooking appliances.
However, one caveat while cooking on your fireplace is never opt to cook on a gas fireplace. Cooking on a well-maintained wood fireplace is the way to go since it is safer. One of the main reasons you should avoid using gas fireplaces is that the gas logs have to remain clean and free of obstructions for them to work efficiently.
The presence of food particles or grease could find their way into the logs, which might lead to improper functioning of your fireplace or even end up creating a fire hazard. You definitely don’t want that.
What is a Fireplace Hearth?
As a fireplace cooking beginner, you may have heard the term ‘fireplace hearth’ being thrown around without really knowing what it means. It is the floor area that you see inside your fireplace. This surface is constructed using non-combustible materials like stone or brick.
Also, there is a hearth extension, which is essentially the small hearth extension protruding from your fireplace and extending towards the sides of the opening of your fireplace. The design of the hearth and its extensions are effective for preventing any sparks from getting out of your fireplace and start unnecessary fires nearby.
However, before you build your hearth and hearth extensions, you should ensure that you comply with the International Phase I Standards of Practice for Inspecting Fireplaces and Chimneys. Furthermore, you should also adhere to the instructions from the manufacturer. Some of the regulations to keep in mind are:
- The hearth extensions should be less than 2 inches thick.
- The extensions should have less than 16 inches to the front and less than 8 beyond both sides of the opening.
- The extensions should have 20 inches or less to the front or 12 beyond both sides of the opening.
- There should be no deterioration, damage, or joint separation.
The takeaway point here is that hearths and their extensions are designed to prevent sparks from spreading beyond your fireplace. Furthermore, if your hearth and extensions aren’t as thick or large, they might not be sufficiently capable of avoiding the spread of fire.
What Type of Fireplace is Best?
The best fireplace for cooking is a wood-burning fireplace. A wood-burning fireplace is the epitome of old-school cooking, and it can allow you to spice up your meals like no way other fireplaces can.
It is not easy to compare the kind of savory flavors you can achieve from cooking with a wood-burning fireplace with any other type of fireplace like electric or gas. Right from the perfume of the burning wood, the snap, and the crackle. Essentially, it is the most authentic and traditional form of cooking tasty meals, especially meats.
For efficiency in cooking with a wood-burning fireplace, you can add a few upgrades like the use of andirons or fire dogs, which are great for providing a raised platform to improve airflow to ensure complete wood combustion for effective cooking.
Outdoor vs. Indoor Fireplace Cooking
Both indoor and outdoor cooking fireplaces are very popular, almost equally because you can enjoy vast recreational and practical benefits. When cooking food on a fireplace, you will get a unique flavor from a classic marinade; the sound of the crackling fire and a touch of herbal seasoning – are all fantastic.
However, the best way to enjoy grilling your savory dishes is by using an outdoor fireplace cooking option, especially if you are expecting guests.
Fireplace Safety and How to Manage a Fireplace
Cooking on your fireplace can be fun, cozy, and exciting, especially during the winter. However, if you don’t take caution, these fireplaces can turn out pretty dangerous. Therefore, you always have to make sure that you adhere to all the fireplace safety measures.
Sometimes you may adhere to some of these things, but some incidences might still occur. Here are some invaluable safety measures to keep in mind to significantly reduce the chances of these incidences occurring.
1. Ensure You Are Operating A Fireplace In Its Best Condition
The best to know that your cooking fireplace is in its pristine condition is by having it inspected by a professional periodically. It could be weekly, monthly, or yearly, depending on how often you use your fireplace for cooking.
Some of the things to look out for are:
- Ensuring that there are no loose bricks or cracks.
- Confirming your chimney is not leaning towards either side.
- Examining your chimney liners for any form of deterioration.
2. Get Rid Of Any Potential Risks
To reduce any chance of a dangerous fire, always make sure you use dry season wood. Any wood that is not seasoned correctly or dried will sizzle, which then creates excess smoke that ends up causing the accumulation of soot and creosote. These substances are highly flammable.
As earlier mentioned, the best woods to use for your fireplace cooking include broad-leafed deciduous trees, birch, oak, hickory, beech, and ash, among others. On the other, if you prefer using store-bought wood, keep in mind that they burn hotter than ordinary seasoned wood. This means that they can end up warping any metallic material if you don’t watch out. Therefore, always read the instructions.
Other Safety Tips To Keep In Mind
These are some of the other essential fireplace safety tips to keep in mind:
- Always store your firewood about 30 feet from your house.
- Always ensure there is a fire extinguisher in the vicinity.
- Install smoke detectors in your home and have them tested periodically.
- Include a chimney cap that has a mesh screen spark arrester. This will help in preventing any sparks or embers from escaping.
- During cold months, ensure that you clean your fireplace, especially during the colder months.
- Always attend to your fireplace while cooking. Don’t leave it unattended.
- You should never allow pets or children to come too close to your fireplace.
The Best Fire to Cook With
There are essentially three types of fires that cook best on your fireplace. They are as follows.
1. High Flame
This is a fire with high flames, and it is ideal for cooking something that you want to eat quickly. However, you should keep in mind that it may not be the best option to cook dishes like meat or hotdogs but could work for marshmallows.
Embers are dying fires in a fireplace and could be great for keeping your food warm as you wait to serve your guests. It may not be the best option for cooking because it would take a significantly longer time than any other kind of flame on a fireplace.
3. Indirect heat
This is where you place your food to the side or slightly above the fire instead of heating it directly with the flames. You can use a drip tray to place below your food. This is the best kind of fire to cook larger or tougher foods to achieve delicious tastes. The heat produces moderate temperatures that allow you to add more flavor.
Fireplace Cooking | The Best Fuel to Cook With
The best thing about fireplace cooking is the smoke, and that’s what sets it apart from other types of cuisine. To master the art of fireplace cooking, you need to understand the different types of fuels for cooking and deciphering the best one from them.
Since some fuels are more convenient than others, you need to keep in mind that they may not produce many savory flavors. On the other hand, some could have higher running costs while others could shorten the cooking time. But one thing is for sure; you will achieve different tastes with different flavors. Here are some of the best fuels for fireplace cooking.
1. Wood Chunks and Logs
As a natural fuel source, it has been used for cooking for ages. Using wood to cook cooks your meat over and, at the same time, add a unique smoky flavor to it. They are mostly cheaper, flavorful, and abundant, and you can use different types of wood to change the flavor. For instance, you can use oak wood for a mild flavor or a more robust flavor with hickory.
2. Wood Pellets
They are natural, but you will get them in the size of baked beans with touches of compressed sawdust or wood shavings. You can get them in different varieties of wood, depending on the flavor you want to achieve. The best thing about them is you don’t have to keep an eye on them every passing minute.
3. Charcoal Briquettes
Charcoal is definitely among the widely used sources of fuel, both for indoor and outdoor fireplace cooking. Experts make these briquettes by partially combusting hardwoods until they carbonize, then engineered to become a convenient and consistent fuel source.
You can expect optimal amounts of smoke from them to help you achieve a unique smoky flavor. However, to avoid chemical taste in your food, use a chimney starter or charcoal chimney as they are commonly known to burn up your charcoal briquettes without adding chemical additives.
4. Natural Gas
You have to connect your fireplace to a natural gas line to enjoy the benefits of cooking with it. Furthermore, it is an affordable and convenient fuel source. You can also buy a conversion kit to turn your home’s propane grill into a natural gas grill. You can maintain a consistent temperature with natural gas while cooking. However, there will not be a smoky flavor.
10 Best Foods to Cook on a Fireplace
When friends come over, you don’t have to feel limited with the kind of dishes you can prepare using your fireplace. Therefore, here are 10 incredible foods you can try while at home.
- Nuts: You don’t have to buy roasted nuts every time. You can buy them raw and personalize their taste to your liking. You can have them spicy by using cayenne, light canola oil or chili powder. You can still have them sweet by using raw pecans, brown sugar, or canola oil.
- Peppers: Pepper is a great fireplace food that lets you enjoy a different flavor profile. You can enjoy this bitter-sweet food as a healthy dinner outdoors.
- Tomatoes: Cooks much like pepper but a different kind of flavor to it. You can roast tomatoes and take them with some pasta or use it as tomato sauce.
- Steak: Grilling is the best method to cook your steak. You can also pair it with a variety of sides and salads to enjoy a complete meal.
- Canned beans: Yet another excellent fireplace food that won’t disappoint, either as a way of bulking up your soup or as a side.
- Pineapples: You can heat pineapples to caramelize them to make them a fantastic side.
- Chicken: One of the most versatile proteins out there. You can enjoy your fireplace chicken in different forms, including sandwiches and casserole.
- Potatoes: These can make hearty foods that you can serve with a host of other meals, either for dinner or breakfast.
- Corn dogs: You can try using regular hot dogs or pre-made biscuits to make your personalized corn dog and enjoy explosive tastes.
- Eggs: You can prepare yourself some tasty eggs in the morning to kick-start your day.
What Desserts Can be Cooked on a Fireplace or Dutch Oven?
A fireplace or a cast-iron Dutch oven can be an ideal way to cook desserts because they mimic regular ovens. This is because Dutch ovens are made of thick metals, and it cooks by diffusing heat around your dessert evenly for a long slow braise. Some of the desserts you can cook include:
- Baked Apple & Cinnamon Cake
- Homemade Applesauce
- Cinnamon Rolls
- Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Peach Cobbler (or any fruit cobbler)
- Caramel Brownies
- Chocolate Cherry Cake
There are so many delicious desserts you can whip up on a fireplace or a firepit. The simplest recipes can sometimes be the most successful. With the versatility of using a Dutch Oven, you can raise your outdoor culinary skills and delight your family gathering by cooking some incredible desserts with the unique, authentic smokey flavor that only outdoor cooking brings.
Best Fireplace Accessories
Making sure you have fireplace accessories will help you maintain your fireplace. When you have the right set of fireplace accessories, you are set to start your fireplace cooking journey. The most common ones are:
- Fire extinguishers: They will help protect your home and your family in case of a fire breakout.
- Log rack: It helps you organize your logs somewhere effective and convenient.
- Grates: They play a vital role in securing your burning wood logs inside your fireplace to ensure they don’t fall out. You can also use andirons/fire dogs for some flair.
- Cookware: Ensure that you have the right cast-iron cookware for fireplace cooking. Consider how easy they are to clean and how efficiently they cook your food.
Other vital must-have tools and accessories are:
- Dutch ovens
- Cooking racks
Fireplace cooking can be extremely rewarding and an ideal way to get back to an authentic method of cookery.
At the same time, it has some drawbacks, preparation, longer cooking times, and a higher chance of getting sooty and dirty during the entire process. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks as the food you can cook from a roaring fireplace is unique, delicious, and brings people together unlike any other gathering.