There is something about Outdoor Cooking that makes me feel so alive. Nature, the smell, going back to basics, contentment? I don't really know what it is.
Outdoor Cooking has this relaxing, peaceful, effect on me that seems to bring out my inner self. It creates the perfect environment for reminiscing, sharing dreams,and discussing the wonderful things in life with good friends or just with my best friend, my wife.
Barring for the last few years I have spent all of my life in Africa. Mostly outdoor cooking was solely recreational but there were times when it was a necessity and that was, I think, the main reason for my love, as it is to-day, of an open fire as a cooking method. There is no doubt in my mind that a fire creates a special bond between myself, nature, and friends.
I have cooked almost everything imaginable on a fire and it is absolutely my preferred way of preparing food. There is simply no substitute for the unique smokey taste and the wonderful atmosphere that a fire provides.
Outdoor cooking should be all about enjoyment, your enjoyment, and not about performance. When you enjoy yourself others will too, irrespective of the outcome of the food. There are, in my opinion, two important things for success.
Firstly, prepare everything that you can beforehand and take pleasure in doing it. It should be an enjoyable and relaxing undertaking, not a tedious burden. I invariably have a glass of wine and experience it as my special, private part of the process. This is where tastes are created, not on the coals.
Secondly, do not be too concerned about what you prepare, only how you do it. I have cooked exotic and unique gourmet dishes that I derived less pleasure from than a basic burger or a piece of sausage. Never be ashamed or disappointed with what you have available, it is only a means to an end. It is the atmosphere, not the type of meat or wood you have that matters and it all just comes together naturally when you are enjoying yourself.
When it comes to outdoor cooking nothing compares to a good hardwood fire. The smell and flavor of food cooked on open coals is truly unique. What you use for building the fire will depend largely on your location. I have seen anything from vine roots to corncobs used. The type of wood you use will have anything from a mild to a strong influence on the taste of your food. I suggest you ask some of the 'old timers' in your area, they will usually have the best advice on the wood available. Want to know about computers ask a youngster!
Generally hard wood takes longer to burn, makes less flames, emits a more prominent flavour and lasts longer than softer wood.
Good quality natural charcoal is fairly neutral when it comes to emiting flavours and is a good choice when hardwood is not available. The advantage of charcoal is that it is usually more economical than good wood and readily available. The down side is that you have no or very few flames during the burning process resulting in less 'fire atmosphere'. The glue used in brickets release a strong, unpleasant odour while burning which only dissappears once the brickets are covered with ash.
Brickets that produce white ash are of better quality than those that make brown ash.
You'll want to avoid charcoal brickets that have fuel added for easy lighting unless you are partial to the taste of diesel.
My ideal outdoor cooking setup is a small cleared patch of earth large enough to accommodate a fire and a grid simultaneously.
The cleared area is enclosed by a circle of rocks about the size of coconuts. The fire is built off to one side while the grid is supported on a few rocks on the other side of the clearing. The fire is kept burning throughout the cooking process and coals are scratched from the fire to the grid as needed.
Add low camp stools, good company, a drink in the hand and a beautiful sunset and I guarantee you that no matter what the fare it will taste great. That is outdoor cooking!
This is unfortunately not always possible in cities but I try to keep to the general concept by having a small fire going for atmosphere while cooking on a separate barbecue. Food and conversation just seem better when looking into a fire.
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