Just like creating the perfect dish, making the ideal fire for cooking is all about the ingredients. The best wood is a nice hardwood that is dry and seasoned – which is when the wood is aged after it has been cut, allowing all the oils to be dried out. Using dry seasoned wood will ensure your timber turns to red hot burning coals, unlike wet wood which blackens and emits very little heat.
It’s important to remember that the wood will affect the flavor of the food you are cooking; wood that is too wet will smoke and the food will be steamed rather than grilled, losing that nice crust or crisp skin you are looking to achieve.
Watch your grill and get to know where the hottest part is. Wind will move the flames and affect where the heat travels, and you need to know where the hottest parts are. You are working with fire and it can get seriously hot – it is not uncommon for some parts of the grill to reach higher then 550 Celsius, and cooking with this heat is dramatically different to working with a normal grill.
This level of heat is great for sealing and searing but you cannot cook through at these temperatures, which is why you need to move around on the grill to allow the food to cook through evenly.
Meat cooked on fire looks different, so it takes time to learn when the meat is cooked. It can crust and darken so fast it looks well done on the outside but is still rare on the inside. For your first few tries use a thermometer, but in time you will come to know when it’s done to perfection.
There are a few things fire loves, and fats and oils are on the top of the list. Be conservative when oiling anything you cook over fire as when it drops it ignites and you can have very black meat that doesn’t taste that great. When cooking naturally oily cuts like Wagyu or Salmon, keep your eyes on it the entire time as once those fats drip, the flames will follow.
Salt crusts are key to slowing down the charring, or burning process – especially when working with Salmon. For Salmon, crust the skin in a good quality flaked sea salt; this turns the skin into a crackling and the excess salt can be brushed off before serving. For steak, a salt crust will slow down the development of char lines so they take minutes rather than seconds – this is great for Bleus.
When it comes to fire, size does matter. For cooking over a long period, whether for several courses or slow cooking, you will need to feed the flames with more wood. The wood will flame before turning to coal so make sure your grill plate has nice coals underneath and room to the side for new wood. Once the flaming process is done you can slide it across and start the process again; like a little circle of life.