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OT: How do you cook over a wood fire?

I just got a Santa Maria grill and would love some tips on how to cook over a wood fire. I'm using red oak, lighting a fire on a raised grate and burning it down to coals before I throw the food on. The biggest question I have is how to cook without making your food too smoky/ashy. Each time I try poking/blowing the embers to keep the fire alive, I get a hurricane of ash, which smothers the food (the last time I cooked I made vegetables that were so smoky they were inedible). Similarly, each time I add a new log to maintain the fire, the thing spits acrid smoke all over the food, the same stuff I took pains to burn off when I first built the fire. Should I be creating two cooking zones? Raking the coals across the bottom of the pit rather than placing them on a raised grate? Pulling the food off the grill when I blow/poke the fire? I'd appreciate any advice you can offer. 
Southern California
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Comments

  • fishlessmanfishlessman Posts: 26,418
    wood fires dont work well with the egg. have done many large cooks with camp fires, usually have the fire next to the food not under it
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    wood fires dont work well with the egg. have done many large cooks with camp fires, usually have the fire next to the food not under it
    Yeah, I would never build a wood fire in the egg. I'm doing it solely on the Santa Maria grill. Interesting that you don't place the food over the fire, but next to it. Does that minimize smoke or temp or both?
    Southern California
  • fishlessmanfishlessman Posts: 26,418
    bicktrav said:
    wood fires dont work well with the egg. have done many large cooks with camp fires, usually have the fire next to the food not under it
    Yeah, I would never build a wood fire in the egg. I'm doing it solely on the Santa Maria grill. Interesting that you don't place the food over the fire, but next to it. Does that minimize smoke or temp or both?

    when i do it open fire, i build the fire on a big flat rock and when the fire is burning red, push the fire to the side and cook on the rock. with a santa maria grill im thinking you need to get the fire really burning well or cheat and use lump with a fair amount of oak, never had one of these grills
  • Mattman3969Mattman3969 Posts: 9,987
    I don’t have a SM grill so take what I thinking with a grain of salt...    I’m guessing with the grid being able to be raised and lowered you would build a large hot fire then let it go to coals and use the adjustment of the cooking grate to adjust for temp.  So hotter fire equals a longer distance from the the heat that would shorten as the heat cools.  Depending on the length of the cook there should be no need to add wood.   This train thought may be totally off.  Idk 

    -----------------------------------------


    2008 -Large BGE. 2013- Small BGE and 2015 - Mini. Henderson, Ky.
  • GATravellerGATraveller Posts: 7,976

    "Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community [...] but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It's the invasion of the idiots."

                                                                                  -Umberto Eco

    2 Large
    Peachtree Corners, GA
  • calikingcaliking Posts: 14,409
    pinging @SciAggie

    #1 LBGE December 2012 • #2 SBGE February  2013 • #3 Mini May 2013
    A happy BGE family in Houston, TX.
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    lkapigian said:
    I cook with Santa Maria quite a bit , I keep a coal bed under the protein and my " burn pile " away from it.....if on a smaller Santa Maria Pit I will take the coal from my fire pit .....below is my initial start up to get a good bed of coals ,the feed it along the way


    WOW! That's quite a setup! Mine is 30x20 inches, with one cooking grate, so considerably smaller. Are you building your fire on a raised grate or do you place it directly on the bottom of the pit? Also, do you blow/poke the fire to keep it hot, or do you just feed more logs onto it as needed? Any raking or ash scooping going on during the cook? You seem like a pro here, so would love your advice!
    Southern California
  • lkapigianlkapigian Posts: 6,942
    edited December 2019
    bicktrav said:
    lkapigian said:
    I cook with Santa Maria quite a bit , I keep a coal bed under the protein and my " burn pile " away from it.....if on a smaller Santa Maria Pit I will take the coal from my fire pit .....below is my initial start up to get a good bed of coals ,the feed it along the way


    WOW! That's quite a setup! Mine is 30x20 inches, with one cooking grate, so considerably smaller. Are you building your fire on a raised grate or do you place it directly on the bottom of the pit? Also, do you blow/poke the fire to keep it hot, or do you just feed more logs onto it as needed? Any raking or ash scooping going on during the cook? You seem like a pro here, so would love your advice!
    No pro here but ....There is a grate in that pit there , no need to blow for heat,I just toss on as needed or if I am only using one side , I keep a fire burning on the other and just transfer the coals,I do get the occasional ash rising ,but minimal when it does happen

    In a Santa Maria you should be controlling the heat by raising and lowering the grate and maintaining a bed of coals...........you can also help bay tossing a pan over your protein to keep the heat in, a weber kettle lid works great as well 
    Visalia, Ca
  • lousubcaplousubcap Posts: 22,112
    I will be closely following this thread as I am strongly considering a Santa Maria rig as well. Same size as @bicktrav has. 
    Louisville; "indeterminate Jim" here.  Rolling smoke in the neighbourhood. # 38 for the win.  Life is too short for light/lite beer!
  •   If I were going to cook on that sucker I would build a big enough fire to have the corresponding amount of coals to cook with.  I would not attempt to "cook over a wood fire" however cook over a nice bed of coals from the reduced fire. Also If I had to stir or mess with coal bed I think I would raise the protein all the way up and out of the way to avoid covering it in ash.

      Imagine cooking a hot dog on a stick, if you just stick it in the flame you will end up with a "alaskan hot dog" frozen in the middle and burnt on the outside.
    South of Columbus, Ohio.
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    lousubcap said:
    I will be closely following this thread as I am strongly considering a Santa Maria rig as well. Same size as @bicktrav has. 
    FWIW I've thoroughly enjoyed my first few cooks on the SM grill. There's obviously a steep learning curve to wood-fire cooking, but I'm very pleased with the purchase. Even at this early stage, I've churned out a couple of tritips that were spectacular. 
    Southern California
  • SciAggieSciAggie Posts: 5,583
    Checking in - I’ll respond at length later when I have an opportunity. 
    Coleman, Texas
    Large BGE & Mini Max for the wok. A few old camp Dutch ovens and a wood fired oven. LSG 24” cabinet offset smoker. There are a few paella pans and a Patagonia cross in the barn. 
    "Bourbon slushies. Sure you can cook on the BGE without them, but why would you?"
                                                                                                                          YukonRon
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    SciAggie said:
    Checking in - I’ll respond at length later when I have an opportunity. 
    Awesome, thank you for chiming in! Look forward to your input!
    Southern California
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    SciAggie said:
    Sounds like several folks here have already given good advice. I don’t have a SM grill but I do cook a lot of food over wood. As several folks have said you want to work over a bed of coals. There are several ways to build your bed of coals and maintain your temperatures. Sometime before you want to cook you can build a fire under the grill and let it burn down into a nice bed of coals. This may take 30 minutes to an hour. It sounds like you have a rack designed to hold wood while it burns and let hot coals drop out of the bottom. You then can move those hot coals wherever you need them to replace dying embers. You can raise or lower your grill to control heat as well. 

    In general cooking over direct flames is a bad idea. I’ll do that with paella when frying meat in the beginning or if I’m burning wood beneath a steel plate. I would say I never put proteins or veggies over direct flame. 

    You have also discovered that “blowing” on the fire is disastrous, lol. I think we all learn that lesson the hard way. Move your coals ir move your grate to control heat. If you’re behind with your fire you have to just learn from experience. That’s half the fun, eh?

    Here’s a bunch of pics of various things I’ve done playing with fire. 

    Amazing insights and pics! Thank you! My SM grill has a charcoal grate that I've been building the fire on. It was an accessory (didn't come with the grill), and now I'm wondering whether it might be a better idea to build the fire directly on the bottom of the pit; reason being, as you said, the coals are dropping through the grate onto the bottom of the pit. Once they land there, they aren't accessible because the pit doesn't have a drop-down door to access the coals. They just remain trapped under the grate. With that in mind, do you think it would be better to build the fire directly on the bottom of the pit?
    Southern California
  • SciAggieSciAggie Posts: 5,583
    @bicktrav Can you post a picture of your grill? That would be a great help in offering advice. 
    Coleman, Texas
    Large BGE & Mini Max for the wok. A few old camp Dutch ovens and a wood fired oven. LSG 24” cabinet offset smoker. There are a few paella pans and a Patagonia cross in the barn. 
    "Bourbon slushies. Sure you can cook on the BGE without them, but why would you?"
                                                                                                                          YukonRon
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    SciAggie said:
    @bicktrav Can you post a picture of your grill? That would be a great help in offering advice. 
    Here you go. It's from Santa Maria Barbecue Outfitters (30x20 model). 




    Southern California
  • SciAggieSciAggie Posts: 5,583
    That’s a nice grill. I think if it were mine I would remove the lower grate. If you lined the bottom of the grill with fire bricks it would help hold heat and protect the bottom of the grill from the heat. Then you could build your fire right on the fire bricks. 

    You can move the coals around or raise and lower the grill to control temps. I would think for most things you wouldn’t need to replenish the coals. If you did however I would build a completely separate fire away from the grill. You could transfer the coals with a shovel to the grill as needed. (Make a fire in a fire pit)
    Coleman, Texas
    Large BGE & Mini Max for the wok. A few old camp Dutch ovens and a wood fired oven. LSG 24” cabinet offset smoker. There are a few paella pans and a Patagonia cross in the barn. 
    "Bourbon slushies. Sure you can cook on the BGE without them, but why would you?"
                                                                                                                          YukonRon
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    SciAggie said:
    That’s a nice grill. I think if it were mine I would remove the lower grate. If you lined the bottom of the grill with fire bricks it would help hold heat and protect the bottom of the grill from the heat. Then you could build your fire right on the fire bricks. 

    You can move the coals around or raise and lower the grill to control temps. I would think for most things you wouldn’t need to replenish the coals. If you did however I would build a completely separate fire away from the grill. You could transfer the coals with a shovel to the grill as needed. (Make a fire in a fire pit)
    Awesome advice. Thank you! I'll grab some firebricks and give it a try! 
    Southern California
  • BBBQBBBQ Posts: 39
    I was thinking I wanted to replace my fireplace with a gas insert but this has me thinking otherwise for the awesome culinary possibilities. Inspiring thread!
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    edited December 2019
    Here are some pics of my BIL indoor "Braai" area back in South Africa. Cooking this way is very hands on and super social as playing with fire is fun.





    Wow, great setup! I notice you're cooking pretty much entirely over coals and embers. Do you still get a strong wood flavor doing that? I've been concerned that if I burn it down too much I'll end up with something very close to charcoal, and I won't get that signature wood-fired taste. @SciAggie would love your thoughts on this, too.
    Southern California
  • You are finally getting it!!  :open_mouth:
    South of Columbus, Ohio.
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    You are finally getting it!!  :open_mouth:
    So, the coals will give you a wood-fired flavor? I always assumed that you would lose the essence of the wood the more you burned it down. 
    Southern California
  • lkapigianlkapigian Posts: 6,942
    bicktrav said:
    You are finally getting it!!  :open_mouth:
    So, the coals will give you a wood-fired flavor? I always assumed that you would lose the essence of the wood the more you burned it down. 
    Yes it does ............also a misconception that people have with "smokers" they think if it is not chugging smoke out the stack, its not working........

    Visalia, Ca
  • BotchBotch Posts: 10,251
    Most food shows I've watched that visit a famous barbeque shack, the pitmaster's primary tool is a shovel, he's always moving burned-down coals to the cooker, from a separate fire.  
    I've been to several cookouts in Santa Maria/Lompoc, CA, but I wasn't into cooking back then and it was a lot of brain cells ago; can't remember if they burned wood separately, away from the food.
    I still have the short series PBS did on Aaron Franklin on my DVR, will have to watch and see how he burns his wood (may have to wait until I retire, in five more Mondays!!!   B) ).  
    ____________________________________________
    Introvert Engineers - Social Distancing before it was cool.  
    Ogden, Utard.  
  • lkapigianlkapigian Posts: 6,942
    most excellent picture @SciAggie and @johnmitchell
    Visalia, Ca
  • bicktravbicktrav Posts: 626
    Botch said:
    Most food shows I've watched that visit a famous barbeque shack, the pitmaster's primary tool is a shovel, he's always moving burned-down coals to the cooker, from a separate fire.  
    I've been to several cookouts in Santa Maria/Lompoc, CA, but I wasn't into cooking back then and it was a lot of brain cells ago; can't remember if they burned wood separately, away from the food.
    I still have the short series PBS did on Aaron Franklin on my DVR, will have to watch and see how he burns his wood (may have to wait until I retire, in five more Mondays!!!   B) ).  
    Please report back on that Franklin show! And happy retirement! 
    Southern California
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