Grilling over a wood fire is the most traditional and rustic way to cook your food. Therefore it’s only natural that you can grill over your fire pit. You don’t have to stock up on gas, have a power outlet nearby, or invest in an expensive grill–all you have to do is grab some wood, throw your meat on the fire and let the flame do the work.
Although it’s so simple, there are levels of complexity and things you should be looking out for to get the best out of the cook and also for safety. Here’s what you need to know about grilling on a fire pit.
I bet the first thing humans did when they discovered fire was to put meat over it and gather the neighbourhood for a feast. Given that a fire pit is merely a vessel to hold and control your fire, you absolutely can grill on a fire pit. However, you do need to set it up properly, use the right wood, and control the temperature correctly to really get amazing results.
Some of the most flavoursome meats come from straight off a flame and it’s no different when grilling on a fire pit, but you do need to take some precautions when it comes to food safety as well as your own!
Grilling Over Wood In Fire Pit
Use The Right Wood
The type of wood that you choose has a huge impact on the flavor of your meat. Emphasis on the huge. Unlike if you’re just lighting up a campfire using any old wood, when it comes to fire pit cooking with wood or wood smoke, it’s essential to use properly dried hardwoods.
If you’re using softwoods, like traditional pine woods, you’ll find it gives off a much darker, thick smoke which completely taints the flavor of your meat. Similarly, if you’re using damp woods you are going to have a hard time with lighting it, and keeping the temperature consistent.
If you love a strong smoky flavor try getting a hold of some hickory or mesquite. Sweeter or fruiter woods work great too if you’re cooking chicken, turkey, or pork. The choice really is up to you in the end, but if you want to see all the best pairings check out the full guide for smoking woods.
Clean The Grill Grate Before Use
Fire pits tend to produce a lot of smoke and a lot of ash. Even if you clean them regularly, the grates can quickly become very sooty or ashy. If you are going to grill over your fire pit it’s essential to clean your grates before every use, and clean them well — that doesn’t just mean a quick wipe down!
The effort pays off in the purer fire flavor.
Using A Long Metal Skewer Over A Fire Pit
If you have an open pit, or no grill grates, and its just between you and the flame, you’ll need the help of some extremely helpful tools.
A long metal skewer like the Wiotar Kabob 17-inch Barbecue Skewer makes it easier to hold your food over the flames. These skewers have enough room to hold large amounts of food, including chunks of meat, shrimp, tofu, chopped vegetables, and fruit. You can make grilled kabobs or cook any of your meats from a safe distance.
These skewers have a convenient round handle and a flat, sturdy design that keeps the food from sliding off the skewer. When you’re done, you can wash your skewers in water and save them for your next fire pit. Unlike other types of skewers, these skewers are reusable and made from heat-resistant material that won’t burn up in the flames.
No excuses to not cook on the fire pit now!
Using A Grill Basket Over A Fire Pit
Using a grill basket is a perfect alternative to using grill grates. You can place meat and vegetables on the basket, close the lid and hold it over the flames. This exposes the meat directly to the flames and makes it easier to cook large amounts of food at once, just like you would on the grill.
This Stainless Steel Folding Grill Basket is made from flame-resistant steel that won’t burn, rust or warp in the fire. If you leave your basket outside in the rain, the corrosion-resistant steel can stand up to all the elements. After you cook your meat, you can throw this basket in the dishwasher or wash it by hand in the sink.
Set Up The Fire Pit For Grilling
To start, choose the wood or charcoal that you want to use. If you don’t have a fire pit in your backyard or campsite, you can dig one in the ground and surround it with rocks. Make sure that the area doesn’t have any overhanging trees or plants or tall grasses that might catch on fire. Pile the wood or charcoal into the fire pit, then light the charcoal or the wood. Avoid using lighter fluid, as there are much better safer, healthier, and easier ways to light it.
Most fire pits come with grill grates, but if yours doesn’t, or if you’ve made your own fire pit, you can also use skewers, a grill basket or a combination of these. If your meat isn’t cooking evenly, you might want to adjust the wood or move the meat to a different location on the grate. You could also adjust the grate to make the food closer or farther away from the flames.
Can You Use Charcoal In A Fire Pit
Yes you can, particularly if the fire pit you own has been designed to hold charcoal in the first place. Although charcoal does burn a bit hotter than wood, this realistically isn’t significant and shouldn’t cause any issues in a standard fire pit, whether you’re using lump charcoal or briquettes.
In saying that, you can opt for fire pits that have a separate space to hold the charcoal, so that it doesn’t actually touch the sides of the pit. These are most often sold as a 2 in 1 fire pit grill that come specially made as a half charcoal cooker and half fire pit.
Cleaning Your Fire Pit After Cooking
All the most delicious foods, when cooking, make a mess, unless that’s just me. To maintain the durability and performance of your fire pit, always clean it after use. Old charcoal, burnt wood, ash, dust, juices, all just build up and can stain or damage your pit over time.
Once the pit is completely cool, either carefully shovel out the old ash and dust, or if you have an ash vacuum, then vacuum the wood dust and ash.
Things To Watch Out For When Grilling On A Fire Pit
Keep a Bucket of Water Nearby for Emergencies
You never know when flames might creep out of the fire pit. If you don’t act quickly, the grasses and vegetation in the area might catch fire. Make sure you have a bucket of water nearby so you can extinguish any flames before they cause an issue. You can also use this water to extinguish the fire pit itself if the flames get out of hand, carefully mind you, you don’t want to throw the wood out.
Clean Your Grill Gates And Fire Pit
If you don’t clean the soot and ash buildup, your food will start to taste like ash, and well, charcoal-ie. Make sure you clean the grates, tools and fire pit on a regular basis. You can clean your tools with soap and warm water, and you can use an ash vacuum to make an easy job of the ash and wood, just like you would do a charcoal grill.
Temperature Control & Internal Tempeartures
With the flames being so open, the temperature becomes much harder to control. This can make for some nice charred but succulent meat, but looks can be deceiving. If you’re grilling over a fit pit it’s always recommended to use an instant read thermometer, or probe, before consuming the meat, just to be sure it’s the right doneness.
Accessories Are Your Friend
Unlike grilling on a charcoal, gas, or electric grill where the temperature is more easily controlled, and you have everything at your disposal, cooking on an open flame is an entirely different playing field. If you’re going for the rustic and traditional experience of cooking over nothing but the flame then by all means fire away.
If you want to enhance the cook and take back some of the control of the temperature, then utilize your tools. These can be large metal skewers, grill baskets, or the cooking grate itself. Or just an instant read thermometer, quality set of tongs and a 6 pack of brews. Both approaches are equally as enjoyable when grilling on your fire pit.