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May 1998 Issue
Cooking in the Great Outdoors
by Philip R. Gantt
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Cooking Methods

Grilling is usually done in a hibachi, kettle, or some similar type of device. The most primitive form of grilling is done over an open wood fire with a grill placed over the fire. Grilling is used on foods which can be cooked quickly, usually tender pieces of meat, fish or fowl.

Commercial charcoal (briquettes) are the typical fuel used in grilling, however wood may also be used, sometimes to benefit the flavor of the food. I prefer not to use the commercial lighter fluids used to start charcoal as they may impart an unpleasant taste to the food being cooked. Igniting a few pieces of cardboard works quite well in starting charcoal. When using charcoal, it is best to allow the coals to burn until they are fully covered with ash before proceeding to cook. The charcoals are processed with hydrocarbons which may affect the flavor of the food if the coals are not properly burned. This is especially important with delicate foods like fish. It is also important if coals are used for smoking meat, fish or fowl.

When cooking over a grill, wood seasonings may be used to benefit the flavor of the food in a manner similar to smoking food. Hickory chips, apple chips or mesquite chunks on the coals will add a special flavor to steaks or fish being grilled. Don't hesitate to use your imagination, but avoid soft or resinous woods when cooking.

The Smoking Method

Smoking is not only a way of flavoring food, it’s also a method of preserving foods. Smoking is often used to dry meats and fish to produce products known as jerky or pemmican. Smoking meat, fowl or fish can be a simple or an elaborate process, depending upon what is being cooked and what you expect the end result to be like. The critical factor in smoking foods is the type of fire used in the process.

The Pit Method

The pit method involves digging a hole, or having a barbecue pit built, in which a fire can be made. The meat or fish to be cooked is wrapped in some type of cloth or leaves and put into the pit to be buried until done.

My grandfather used the pit method for the large parties he had which served hundreds of people. A fire was made in a pit the night previous to the party. The pit was about 3 feet in diameter and about 8 feet deep.

Large chunks of beef (about 10 lb. Each) were wrapped in muslin. When the fire had died down to coals, banana leaves were placed on top of the coals and the meat sacks were placed on top of the leaves. Then another layer of leaves was placed on top of the meat sacks and the entire result was covered with wet muslin cloth.

The meat was left to cook all night. The next day, the meat sacks were pulled out with a hook, and the meat was unwrapped, sliced and served. As I recall, the meat was always tender and delicious.

The same method can be employed to cook seafood on the beach, or beef in the back yard. The method is simple. Merely dig a hole about 3 to 5 feet deep. Build a fire in the bottom of the hole with charcoal, oak, or a similar hardwood. When the fuel has reduced to coals, cover the coals with green leaves (or seaweed if you are at the beach). Wrap the food to be cooked in cloth, and put it on top of the leaves. Put a layer of wet cloth over the whole pit and cover it with a large piece of sheet metal or plywood. Allow the food to cook for several hours and dig up the feast.

If you choose to cook seafood in this manner, allow at least 3 hours for the cooking process. If beef is used, allow 6 to 8 hours. Some good suggestions for a seafood treat using this method are lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, rockfish, salmon, cod, periwinkles, oysters, and crab.

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