Making a Fire
Okay, let's discuss making a fire for outdoor cooking.
Have a good objective look around and make sure you aren't about to set fire to anything accidentally. I did it once. It's a good thing to have a bucket of water handy in the unlikely event of an over-active child or inebriated friend knocking over the BBQ (douse the aspirant casualty with water before he reaches the fire!).
To light a charcoal fire the best option is probably a charcoal chimney. I have seen them in use and they work well. They are inexpensive and available at most stores that sell BBQ equipment.
The way I build a charcoal fire is primitive and you get your hands dirty but it works well enough for me not to warrant change. Probably just force of habit.
To start the fire I use an ethyl alcohol based burning gel which is bio-degradable (sounds hi-tec but it is cheap) that has absolutely no adverse odour. I have a small tin can (about 2"/50mm across and 1"/25mm high) and a loose ball of chicken wire that,
when inserted into the tin can, resembles a scoop of ice-cream on a cone. A small tomato paste can works fine.
I half-fill the tin can with burning gel, place it on the ground and pack the charcoal around it forming as high a pyramid with as small a base as possible. Leave a small opening through which to light it, you can close it up afterwards. To light
the the tin insert the end of a twig into the gel, light the twig and use it as a long match. The chicken wire prevents the charcoal from falling into the tin can and smothering the flame. It also improves the flow of air through the charcoal.
For a wood fire I prefer the criss-cross method. I pack the fire in layers consisting of either two or three pieces of wood per layer depending on the length and thickness of the wood. For longer, thinner pieces use three and for shorter, thicker pieces of wood use two per layer. The first (bottom) layer always has two pieces.
To light the fire I use the tin can and gel and position it so that the flame makes contact with the wood. When the fire collapses use tongs to arrange the burning wood into a rough tepee. Extra wood can be added as desired.
Making a fire that burns easily and delivers the goods is probably the single most important element of outdoor cooking.
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