We humans owe a lot to fire. It kills bacteria closes wounds, and provides head in the cold. It’s been used in agriculture via slash and burn, in war ala explosives, and in death to cremate the dearly departed. It symbolizes war, hate, anger, and destruction while representing love, passion, rebirth, and life. But one thing we humans really owe to fire is cooking.
Many of us still use fire to cook despite many alternative forms of heating; barbeque is a favorite among Americans and often eaten in celebration. If I had to give a reason many don’t barbeque often, it would have to pull out the grill all the time. Campfire cooking is similar though far fewer have tried it. This all leads to the obvious question…
Can one cook in their fireplace?
Why cook in the fireplace?
Simple, it’s there, easy to access, and it has an exhaust pipe already for the smoke to leave the house. Unlike a grill, you don’t have to pull it out. You just get the wood and put it in. Further than that, some meals are preferred are charred; the fireplace is the closest you will get to proper camp eating without building a camp if that’s your thing.
Is it safe to cook in the fireplace?
This depends. In most cases cooking in the fireplace is perfectly safe, and some would even say it has a charm you can’t get elsewhere. But it’s more of a denylist than an allowlist. So naturally, the question becomes, when shouldn’t you cook in the fireplace?
First, you are out of luck if you have a gas fireplace. Cooking in one of these is much less than ideal. The food will taste weird, all the chemicals used in the fire getting into the meat and flavoring it. The idea of possibly ingesting dangerous chemicals getting into your food should sound unappetizing enough on its own, but there is a more significant reason.
It may create a fire hazard. Gas logs need to be clean to operate appropriately, and cooking is not a clean activity. When not, the stuff on them may light and pop off or cause various issues in the proper burning cycle of the logs.
Also, never cook in a fireplace that lacks a screen; even with a screen, make sure no flammable materials are too close to the fireplace. Know that flame and hot material pops are likely to be more frequent than usual and will possibly fly further than expected. It is advised to put something over the carpet near the fireplace.
Lastly, make sure that the fireplace has been thoroughly inspected and is taken care of. Even if you don’t use it, there are many things that chimney and fireplace do for the home even when not used for their apparent purpose.
How do I cook in the fireplace?
The first thing is obvious, open the flue. I know, I know, what fool wouldn’t open the flue for the smoke to go up? But here is the things, people make mistakes, and cooking in the fireplace may not produce much smoke. So it’s possible for anybody to not remember, and there may not be an obvious reminder.
Now that that’s covered let’s actually get cooking.
This is obvious; I venture many of you have made smores in the fireplace. Skewers are the standard for open-flame cooking; put what you want on it, ensure it’s secure, and then hold it above the flames. The key is rotating it steadily to keep the heat even.
Bam, you did it. Now let the meal cool and then dig in.
On a string or À la Ficelle is excellent for oversized items too big for the skewer. You’d need to install a hook or something to tie the string to the top of the fireplace. Which should be fine; another method will ask the same thing later anyway.
This method has you hand meat upright above the flame and depending on size, multiple hooks may be needed. Again, rotating the meat occasionally is needed for a good cook, but another step is involved. You will need to baste the meat a few times depending on size, which means this method can get particularly messy.
It beats taking out the grill from the garage and dealing with the bugs outside. Not that you won’t have any invaders to deal with, some may come down the flue or just already be in the house when you start.
Many sit-down grill grates exist for open-flame cooking, and the same can be used in a fireplace provided it has enough room.
Similarly, one can use a dutch oven to cook stews or soups. It’s a simple as can be really, get a good fire going and then sit the dutch oven over the embers. You may have to install a hook to hold the oven for this, though. The only work you will have to do is occasionally turn it around to keep the heat even. Perhaps a grill grate under it will work for the best of both these worlds.
Other aspects of cooking
There are some key things to do with the flame and things to consider when cooking in the fireplace that won’t stop you entirely from using it but may limit your choices in selection.
Perhaps the most obvious is size. What gear one can fit in and what foods, and even how much they can prepare is utterly determined by the fireplace’s size. Small hearth openings will not be hospitable to much more than skewers. At the same time, large fireplaces may be able to fit multiple stacks of grill grates.
The taste of the food will change depending on the fuel, as any fan of barbecue or open fire cooking will know. Smoke quantity also has an effect on taste. This is all up to personal preference, but some woods elements are not.
These factors are popping and heat, which, when adding the fact that some materials will be in the logs with a few of the methods, becomes a natural fire hazard. I’d recommend looking for woods that are sparkless. As for heat, hotter is better but too hot will mean the surface is likely to charge before the insides get to cook. It’s a balance between research and striking the right balance.
For my guide to firewoods, click here. If you just want a good starting point, hardwoods are likely better to avoid standard woods with waxes or other chemicals. If chemical soaked wood, it’s a no.
One may not be expecting the fire’s propensity to flare up as various crumbs and foodstuffs fall into it, or the wood exposes more fuel. This needs to be controlled when cooking, and a spray bottle of water is needed to keep the fire’s heat distribution and power in control.
It is best to avoid super greasy or oily foods to avoid too much power, though, especially when in the fireplace. But if you want, simply having a pan or something to catch drips would be great; it reduces the smoke and the clean-up while helping to keep the fire under control.