Open-fire cooking tips: what to cook and how to get the best flavours

Cooking on an open fire is a great way to impart sensational natural flavours to your food – both meat and vegetables. Discover how to make the most of your campfire this summer with our tips from Pit Kitchen chefs James and Adam Thomas.

Published: July 2nd, 2022 at 6:26 am

Cooking on an open fire is one of life's greatest joys - and it's simple, too, according to fire pit chefs James and Adam Thomas of the Pit Kitchen.

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The Thomas brothers believe that cooking over embers brings ultimate flavour to your food, whether you're a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan. And simple is always better; use the best-quality ingredients you can find in your local area and you can't go wrong.

James and Adam have been open-fire cooking for years, learning a few useful tricks along the way for getting the most out of your campfire. Here are some tips to get you started.

For more ideas on cooking delicious seasonal food – including hearty soups, great bakes and tasty salads – head over to our Countryfile recipes section.

What is the best wood for open-fire cooking?

Ideally kiln-dried, but a well-seasoned hardwood such as oak, ash or beech works best and adds to the flavour.

There needs to be less than 20% moisture content in the wood or you’ll lose too much heat because of the moisture. Pine logs will burn too fast and create a bitter-tasting smoke.

Mixing your wood with charcoal will also give you a great constant heat source. You're after sustainable lumpwood and not briquettes from your local garage. The chunkier and more log-shaped your charcoal is the better.

Should you cook over embers or flames?

Embers. You’re aiming for slow, steady cooking, so be patient and wait for the wood to burn down to achieve a strong, constant heat to cook with. Once you have hot embers, it reduces the chance of flare ups and gives you more control of the grill.

Grilling food on an open fire
Baste food as you go to avoid it drying out/Credit: James Thomas and Adam Thomas, Pit Kitchen

How to cook meat on an open fire

There are lots of variables when it comes to bbq cooking, making it difficult to rely on set cooking times. Instead, invest in a meat probe to keep an eye on the internal temperature of your food whilst it cooks.

Cook your meat until it's a couple of degrees below your final cooking temperature, then set aside to rest; the internal temperature will continue to rise. Resting is just as important as the cooking, so be patient and you'll be rewarded with beautiful melt-in-the-mouth meat.

Recipe: lamb ribs with sweet zhoug

Food on a plate
Invest in a meat probe to keep an eye on the internal temperature of your food whilst it cooks/Credit: James Thomas and Adam Thomas, Pit Kitchen

How to cook vegetables on an open fire

Try grilling vegetables over embers as the star of the show. Spring greens, halved peppers, courgettes, thickly sliced aubergines, halved little Gem lettuce, cauliflower steaks, radishes, broad beans, asparagus, and peas in the pod all work well.

You can also try throwing onions, potatoes and leeks straight onto the hot coals, cooking them in their skins for 45 mins. Vegetable skins create natural protection for the soft flesh within so don't be put off by the charred outer layer. Once blackened, slice in half and remove the sweet, tender flesh from the outer layers, then toss it with parsley and butter.

Peppers roasting on an open fire
Try grilling vegetables over embers as the star of the show/Credit: James Thomas and Adam Thomas, Pit Kitchen

Basting food on an open fire

To avoid your food drying out, remember to baste, glaze or mop with a tasty sauce or any leftover meat marinade, if used. You want your meat to be soft and moist inside with the beautiful charring and caramelisation from the bbq on the outside.

Men standing in crop field
James Thomas and Adam Thomas/Credit: James Thomas and Adam Thomas, Pit Kitchen

Find out more about open-fire cooking at www.pitkitchen.co.uk

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Main image credit: Getty

Authors

Daniel Graham of COuntryfile magazine on a hike with wet hair and blue coat and hills in background
Daniel GrahamSection editor, BBC Countryfile Magazine

Danny is the Section Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, responsible for commissioning, editing and writing articles that offer ideas and inspiration for exploring the UK countryside.

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