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Cooking with fire

By Staff | May 29, 2015

-Contributed photos THESE RANCH BEANS are of the kind created to keep cowboys hale and hearty on the trail.


From Grit magazine

When you live on a farm, all four seasons bring their unique delights, but summer is the one that invites us to spend as much time outside as humanly possible.

Hot, sunny days, coupled with warm, moonlit nights, and the sound of frogs singing, crickets chirping and coyotes howling, call us outdoors to enjoy the cacophony while it lasts.

Think “outside the box” (as in “oven”) this season by preparing meals over a good old-fashioned flame – whether that’s a campfire, charcoal grill or smoker – to escape the confines of the kitchen and get in touch with your inner cowboy.

SWEET PEACH cobbler will make your trail-made meal complete.

Gather friends and family ’round and enjoy the seasonal amphi-theater in your backyard with some simple and delicious chow, eaten under the stars.


Campfire cooking is rooted in the American West and the chuck wagons that used to feed cowboys while they moved cattle from the ranch to distant markets.

Sparse, simple menus of chili, beans and biscuits graced the tin plates of the cowhands who were all-too-happy to have a hot meal on the open plains where sandwiches in saddlebags could never satisfy.

But before cowboys, colonists cooked on hearth fires using cast-iron kettles and skillets brought with them from Europe, where the art of casting iron dates back to the seventh century.

Cooking over a campfire, when done right, can be an all-day affair and why shouldn’t it be? Build a roaring fire, keep it fed with cured hardwoods all day, and let the good times roll as you use that fire to prepare a variety of dishes from beans to biscuits to fruit cobbler.

Set up a camp table near the fire and let your family and friends help with the preparations.

You’ll be amazed at the fireside revelations as you dine under the stars and gaze into the flames, and no doubt everyone will ask when the next campfire will be as they leave for home.

Ranch beans

1 pound side pork or bacon, coarsely chopped

2 pounds pinto beans, soaked overnight and rinsed

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

In cast-iron Dutch oven, saute pork. Add beans, onion, garlic, paprika, mustard, brown sugar and salt.

Cover with water by about 3 inches, and bring to vigorous boil over fire.

Dig a hole wider and deeper than your Dutch oven. Line the hole with stones so the oven will fit, but with some room on the sides and above it.

Build a hot fire in the hole and keep it roaring for an hour. Rake out most of the embers.

Place your covered and filled Dutch oven in the hole. Lay ashes on top of the lid, then fill the hole and top with embers.

Let beans cook for 5 to 8 hours, checking every hour or so for water level (add more if drying out) and tenderness. When beans are soft, remove from fire and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Dutch oven biscuits

4 tablespoons plus 11/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cups buttermilk

5 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

In medium bowl, combine yeast and warm water; let stand for 10 minutes.

Stir in honey, oil and buttermilk.

In large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add wet ingredients and stir together to form ball. Turn out onto floured surface and knead lightly for 2 minutes.

Roll dough to 1/2-inch thickness and cut into 2-inch round biscuits.

Place 2- or 3-inch-deep cast-iron skillet with lid, or Dutch oven with lid, in the fire separately until skillet or oven is hot and lid is very hot but not red. Grease bottom of skillet or oven with lard, butter or cooking spray, and sprinkle with a little flour. Place biscuits inside and brush tops with lard, butter or oil. Cover.

Rake out a thin bed of coals and set skillet or oven on coals. Cover lid with a thick layer of coals.

Bake, covered, in fire for 10 to 15 minutes, checking for doneness after 7 minutes. Yields 3 dozen biscuits.

NOTE: Refrigerate unused dough; biscuits can alternatively be baked, uncovered, in a conventional oven at 450 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.


When it comes to grilling, most folks are either solid gas-grillers or charcoal-grillers. We in Grit-land are of the opinion that charcoal is the way to go for several reasons.

First, you get to play with fire, and second, it imparts a delicious smoky flavor to the food. Only with charcoal do you have a dry, white-hot temperature that sears and caramelizes the meat quickly, producing a unique (and delicious), crusty exterior. Charcoal grills also have the benefit of being portable: Drag it and a bag of Kingsford anywhere you wish to go the park, the beach, or the back 40.

Avoid the gasoline flavor and forgo the lighter fluid; use a charcoal chimney to light your coals. Just fill the top with charcoal, the bottom with crumpled newspaper, and put a match to it. After 15 minutes, dump the coals into the barbecue and let them burn until they’re coated with white ash.

Spread out the coals to cover the bottom of the barbecue, and you’re ready to grill. If your coals are too hot and burning the food, spray them with a little water to cool them down, or just reduce the damper openings; if they’re not hot enough, gently fan the briquettes.

Grilled Salmon

with Memphis Rub

2 pounds wild-caught Alaskan salmon fillets, cut into 4 pieces

Memphis Rub (recipe follows)

2 clean cedar planks, soaked in water for one hour

Rinse and dry salmon fillets. Sprinkle on rub, coating flesh side of fish. Let stand for 20 minutes.

Light coals, and, when they are gray, push to outer edge of grill surface. Place soaked planks on grill.

Add salmon, skin-side down, and cover grill. Grill for 10 to 15 minutes, or until salmon turns light pink (but is not dried out). Do not turn over.

Transfer to serving platter; remove skin before serving.

Yields four servings.

NOTE: We love eating this with an impromptu sauce made from mayonnaise, sour cream and an assortment of fresh herbs.

Experiment with whatever you have growing in your garden.

Memphis Rub

(Based on Steven Raichlen’s recipe in The Barbecue! Bible)

1/4 cup paprika (sweet or smoked)

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 to 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

In jar, combine all ingredients; stir to mix, then put on lid and shake. Rub can be stored in airtight container for up to 6 months.

Natural beef burgers

1 pound of the best ground beef on hand

1 egg

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon dried minced onion

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup old-fashioned oats

1/4 cup shredded cheese, optional

In large bowl, place beef. In separate bowl, whisk together egg, Worcestershire, dried onion garlic, salt and pepper.

Add to ground beef, along with oats and cheese. (Add cheese to meat before cooking so it will be evenly distributed, and you won’t overcook the burgers waiting for the cheese to melt.)

With your hands, mix together thoroughly. Form four patties about 1/2-inch thick.

Grill burgers over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on how done you like them.

Serve on toasted buns with lettuce, onion, tomatoes, mayonnaise whatever you like.

Yields four burgers.

Grilled lemon potatoes

2 pounds fingerling or Yukon gold potatoes, halved

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 lemons, zest of both, juice of 1

1 teaspoon sugar

Coarse sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Parboil potatoes in salted water for 5 minutes; drain, then transfer to large bowl.

In small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest and juice, sugar, salt, and pepper; pour over potatoes. Toss to coat evenly.

Using two sheets aluminum foil, create cooking tray for potatoes. Lay one sheet on top of the other and fold sides up. Put empty tray on grill and pour in coated potatoes. Cover grill.

Grill over medium-hot coals for 30 to 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Remove from grill and serve immediately. Yields 4 to 6 servings.


Several culinary traditions have a history of smoking meat, but most familiar to Americans is the barbecue style of the American South, where it has been refined to an art form.

Here, smoking is serious business, with as many different recipes and methods as there are people. Many types of smokers are used, but we recommend those that cook the meat at a low temperature using charcoal, pellets or wood as fuel.

If you’re new to smoking meat, pork is an excellent medium to start with because the necessary cuts (shoulder meat, aka Boston butts and picnic roasts) are inexpensive and forgiving.

Smoking involves slow cooking at a low temperature, which coaxes the connective tissue and fat to gently melt away; combined with the smoke from the fire, you’ll end up with a tender, smoky, rich finished product.

Smoked Pork

5 to 8 pounds Boston butt or picnic roast

Memphis rub (see above)

Mop sauce (recipe follows)

Buns, optional

The night before smoking, rinse meat and pat dry. Generously apply rub and work into meat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight.

Remove roast from refrigerator 1 hour before smoking and let rest at room temperature.

Get smoker going about the time you remove roast from fridge. With a wood-fired smoker, be sure to have plenty of fruitwood or other favored fuel wood on hand to last 4 to 8 hours, depending on size of roast.

The same goes for charcoal-fueled smokers, but you will also want to have several pounds of your favorite smoking chips soaking in water – add a handful to the coals periodically depending on how smoky you like your meat.

Place roast in smoker and adjust smoker’s air dampers and chimney opening to keep the temperature approximately 220 degrees. Mop meat with mop sauce lightly after 45 minutes of cooking, and again lightly a few times throughout the cooking.

The meat will be finished when most of the fat has melted away and the meat has separated from the bone.

You can use a meat thermometer to know it is done, but with slow, moist cooking it will tend to become more succulent and tender long after it comes to temperature.

Once meat is finished cooking, remove from smoker and let rest for 30 minutes.

Shred for sandwiches or pull apart in larger chunks.

Yields 8 servings.

Mop sauce

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon ground chipotle or cayenne

Whisk together all ingredients.

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