The day is done for, canoes pulled up on shore and overturned. The chores begin, but with a smile for dinner will soon be at hand. With a spark of the steel, fire comes to life and soon the sweet aroma of the woodsmoke and nutritious food cover the land. This is living in the Boreal!
Many back country trippers look forward to evenings in camp, cooking their dinner over fire and enjoying the sounds of the forest. For many though, there was a steep learning curve when cooking with open fires. When mastered, there’s simply no better way to make a tasty meal. Without observing some time tested practices though, that incredible dinner may take an unfortunate turn.
On our guided adventures, virtually all our meals are cooked over glowing embers and coals. Here are a few tips that should tip the scales in your favour and have you enjoying mouth watering fire cooked meals too!
Fire Area –
The best fire areas are 3 sided, open on one end and with a buildup of rocks or one large “chimney rock” on the back. This allows for oxygen to infuse your fire from the bottom and work up. Remember, to also ensure there is a steady place for you to place your grill. If there isn’t, place rocks on the inside in order to secure a grill laying across.
Getting a fire started up should be straight forward. Look for low lying dead branches on Jack Pine or Black Spruce. These should “snap” once pressure is applied. The tops of Black Spruce also make for excellent tinder and ignite virtually on contact with a flame. Just make sure they are elevated off the ground and dry before selecting.
Wood Selection –
Arguably, one of the most important ingredients to a good cooking fire is the wood we select. Here in the Boreal, we predominantly have Jack Pine and Black Spruce to work with. We look for dry, dead wood that’s elevated off the ground to ensure there is no moisture in the wood. Look for fallen trees that are snagged on other vegetation or for dead trees still standing upright. If you’re not sure if the wood is moist, tap the tree with the back of an axe. If you hear a sharp hollow sound, chances are pretty good it’s nice and dry. If the sound from the axe “deadens”, there’s still moisture in it. Drop it and move along. Ideally, you’re looking for trees no more than 6 inches in diameter.
Split That Wood!
While whole logs burn, cooking fires require consistent heat and that will require splitting your logs. We usually saw our logs into manageable 12” – 14” lengths and then quarter them with the axe. The resulting small splits are easy to lay on the fire as needed allowing you to regulate the heat.
Boil Up That Water –
Boiled water is a staple of all our trips and whenever there’s a fire going, you’ll find a pot of water over it. For cleaning, cooking, washing up….there is just so many uses for boiling hot water. Once you have your initial fire going, put the grill over top, place your pot down over the fire and continue with your food prep. Once it’s time to begin cooking your meal, you’ll already have a pot of useable water.
Heat, Not Flames –
Once you have a good fire going, it’s time to step away and prep your food. You’ll need that fire to burn down to embers and coals before putting your meal on. This will allow you to control the temperature that’s reaching your food. If you need more heat, simply place a small split or two on the fire.
Watch It Like A Hawk –
A successful fire cooked meal means paying attention to what the food, and fire is doing. If you don’t have the time to oversee the cooking, designate someone in camp that can. Too much flame can quickly ruin your meal.
Gloves Are A Must –
When cooking with fire, you’ll quickly realize that your “fire gloves” are your best friend. They allow you to stick your hand over the fire (carefully), grab coals to move around the food and fire area or even pick up and place on top of a pot to add head from above. We use double palm and finger work gloves with split grain leather. The split grain is important as smooth leather will burn!