Let's Talk Wood.......
I’ve had my Original Bro for almost two months now and I’m loving it. My first few meals I was very much a newbie to cooking with fire and there were some successes and some failures too - I guess it comes with the territory. My approach in the beginning was getting a fire going, getting it hotter than hell, and throwing dinner into the oven. While this approach isn’t necessarily wrong (it works great for pizza), it’s not a one size fits all kinda deal, or in this case, on fire suits all. With a bit of practice and research I figured out the best kinds of wood, where to store it, temperature control and as a result my meals got way better.
One of the most important things to take into consideration is the reason why we do this in the first place. Yes, it’s way more fun to cook dinner in a wood fired oven - that’s a given. But what are the practical pros to cooking on a fire as opposed to whipping up dinner in a conventional oven? The bottom line is simple; it tastes better. Choosing the right wood for our ovens isn’t just important because we need it to provide a source of heat, it is in and of itself an essential ingredient to our meal. Thinking of it this way really changed my perspective when I was cooking in my Original Bro.
You need to use hardwood that is seasoned and most importantly, dry. Seasoning wood is simply the process of cutting down the tree, splitting the wood into logs and allowing for the contained moisture to evaporate - a process that takes anywhere from 6 months to a year. Oak, Ash, Birch, Red Maple - these are all great examples of hardwood that, if seasoned correctly will burn for a long time and make a delicious dinner. If you’re unsure, a quick google search can help point you in the right direction!
It’s March in Ontario right now which means that, by and large, the weather sucks. It’s either snowing or raining or snowing again or freezing rain or hail. I have a large pile of wood in my backyard (covered with a tarp) but it’s ultimately at the mercy of the elements. To ensure that I am cooking with dry wood, I’ve been bringing in big bundles a couple times a week into my house to make sure they can dry out before I toss them on the fire. Don’t worry if your wood pile gets wet, it doesn’t need to be re-seasoned! The difference here being that seasoning is evaporating the moisture that the tree has been absorbing naturally it’s entire life. Some snow and rain won’t take 6 months to dry out! That being said, keep it as dry as you possibly can!
Definitely worth noting: the fire in your oven is not the same as a camp fire. Camp fires, you can throw whatever on it - it’s all a good time. 2x4s, sticks, Christmas Trees, grandma’s wooden leg. Hell yeah! A lot of wood that can be found lying around your house or backyard very often has been chemically treated. I know, it seems like common sense but avoid using any wood that has been treated chemically to cook your food. Be careful too when using cardboards and flyers for kindling. Very often
these days most cardboards have a polymer plastic coating which you absolutely do not want in your grub!
Where you get your hardwood is entirely up to you. If you’re unsure try kijiji or craiglist! Many local farmers rely quite heavily on selling firewood and will happily deliver you some! If you don’t have a farmer handy, Canadian Tire, Lowes and Home Depot often have seasoned fire wood for sale as well as kindling!
So your buddy with a truck delivers you a load of seasoned wood to your door, you’re crushing the fire game, cooking great dinners and having a grand time. But you want to step it up a notch. You’re crazy for the wood and you want to start pairing!
“But Jonas how am I supposed to find different kinds of wood?” I hear you cry. You don’t have to order cords upon cords of different kinds of wood to your home. My personal recommendation is to go with what you have available to you. Use a well seasoned local hardwood and get cooking. Once you’re feeling comfortable with the fire and want to start creating interesting flavours thats when you can grab wood chips or pellets and mix it in with your fire.
Apple - No brainer for pork. Whether it’s ribs or pulled pork. It pairs excellently with chicken too! You can’t go wrong with apple.
Oak - Oak has a heavy smoke flavour which is great with red meat, fish and heavy game.
Cedar - Mild and aromatic and the goto for fish (particularly salmon) Mesquite - strong and earthy! Great for meat and vegetables. Perfect for a stew!
You can use Oven Brothers oven with charcoal fuel. There are pros and cons to this method. The biggest pros is that charcoal is cheap, readily available and much easier to control. Charcoal is great for cooking meat over a long period of time where you want steady heat and a juicy finish rather than a char. For example, charcoal is a slightly more hands off approach than using hardwood. Both have their pros and cons and it’s entirely up to you what you use.
The most important part of all of this is that you enjoy yourself and make great food!
Written by Jonas Lewis-Anthony