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Meals al fresco

By Staff | Jun 10, 2011

Joan Johnson stands on her patio area where her chicken is cooking in the fire pit.


Farm News staff writer

ASHTON – Joan and Bill Johnson have found a new use for parts of an old corn dryer – the pieces are incorporated into a fire pit used for outdoor cooking.

The Johnsons collaborated on their backyard project.?She designed the patio and he salvaged metal from the corn dryer to incorporate into the base of their fire pit.

Using grates from old grills, rebar and springs, Bill Johnson created a user-friendly al fresco kitchen, ready for outdoor meals over open flames.

Johnson’s husband, Bill Johnson, welded a special unit to raise and lower the cast iron Dutch oven over the fire.

The couple’s favorite fuel is apple wood, but they often use whatever wood they cut from their large grove of trees that line the north side of their acreage.

“We got serious about our outdoor cooking about seven years ago,”?Joan Johnson said, “though we had done some camp site cooking in year’s past.”

One of their favorite meals is breakfast hash which they make for themselves and overnight guests who visit during summer months.

“We also like to make coffee on the fire. It’s truly the best coffee I’ve ever had,” Johnson said.

Thinking back to the old western movies, she advises using the type of coffee pot John Wayne might’ve used while out on the range.

Johnson tests the temperature of the chicken she is roasting in her cast iron dutch oven

“Fill the pot with cold water within 2 inches of the top of the pot. Pour your desired amount of coffee grounds right into the water and bring to a boil. While the pot is boiling, remove from heat and dump off any grounds floating on top of the coffee.

“Add 1/2 cup of cold water and remaining grounds will sink to the bottom. Your coffee is ready to pour and it will be wonderful,” she said.

She added that Bill Johnson makes “an awesome chili” during the colder days of fall.She explained that he starts with round steak and chili peppers which he roasts on an open flame.

He shreds the meat, and peels and chops the chilis. Using a cast iron Dutch oven, he adds those ingredients to his favorite chili recipe – which he will not disclose.

For those thinking about trying a little outdoor cooking for themselves this summer, the couple suggests starting with creating the fire pit. Plans for similar pits can be obtained through the Internet or in many do-it yourself books and magazines. Premade pits can also be purchased as can the tri-pod used for lowering and raising the cooking pot.

Another grate made by Bill Johnson allows the cook to easily raise and lower meat when it’s roasted directly over the fire.

The trick to having the perfect fire is to have some space between the bottom of the pit and the firewood. The fire needs a bit of circulation to oxygenate the flames.

Once one starts cooking outdoors the Johnsons offer a couple of tips to make the experience a good one.

  • To keep meat or fish from sticking to the grill, cut a raw potato in half and rub cut side on the grill.
  • To gauge the heat of the fire, hold your hand about 4 inches above the grill grate and start counting “one Mississippi, two Mississippi.” Over a hot fire, a person will get to a count of two or three before removing hand – over a medium-high fire, a count of four to five and over a medium-low fire, a count of eight to 10.

Dishes like baked beans can be cooked in the can, making clean-up easy.

Easy grilled chicken

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts

1 cup Italian-style dressing

1 green bell pepper

1 red bell pepper

1 zucchini

Marinate meat in large sealable bag with the 1 cup of dressing. Let set for 10 minutes. Cut peppers into large chunks and zucchini into large slices. Put in another sealable bag and coat with some dressing.

Grill chicken and veggies over medium heat until meat juices run clear.

Breakfast hash

(This is a Johnson family favorite made in one pan.)

1 pound breakfast sausage

1 onion, chopped

4 to 6 cups hashbrowns

8 or more beaten eggs

2 cups cheddar cheese or cook’s choice

In large deep skillet add the sausage and onion. Cook until sausage is done.

The pan should have some grease from the sausage.

If not add up to three tablespoons of shortening, lard or oil. Add the hashbrowns.

After hashbrowns are cooked and tender add the eggs and stir.

It will take just a minute or so for the eggs to cook. Remove from heat.

Add the cheese, place a lid on the pot until cheese melts.

This recipe is easily changed to just a few eggs or very little hashbrowns. Bell peppers make a good addition to this dish.

Contact Robyn Kruger at rangerob@hickorytech.net.

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