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How to Cook On a Wood Burning Fire Pit

Cooking on a wood burning fire pit can be as wonderful and relaxing as sitting by the fire itself, but a little knowledge and skill are required, so here's some tips.

Whether you’re trying to spruce up your backyard cookouts or are planning an exciting camping adventure, one great way to gobble up some great eats is using a wood-burning fire pit. But there is certainly a right and a wrong way to do it. This article shares how you can create delicious meats, vegetables, and other crowd favorites on a wood-burning fire pit.

If you’re planning to cook your next meal on a wood-burning fire pit, it’s important to know the facts. From the wood choice to the accessories, there are several key factors to cooking over a wood-burning fire pit. Keep reading to learn all of the steps to success. 

Start With the Right Wood

Choosing the right wood for your cookout is imperative. The wrong type of wood can lead to an undesirable flavor on your foods.

The best options are seasoned hardwoods such as hickory, maple, oak, or mesquite. The type of hardwood you choose will ultimately impact the flavor, so choose carefully. For example, the mesquite will create a smoky and rich flavor, while maple will be much sweeter and lightweight.

A smoking hickory wood.
The best options are seasoned hardwoods such as hickory, maple, oak, or mesquite.

The worst options are softwoods, such as pine and fir. These are not designed for cooking foods over a wood-burning fire pit. They will leave an undesirable residue on your food that does not taste good. In fact, most agree that it ruins the flavor of food entirely. 

Get the Right Supplies

It is possible to cook food on a wood-burning fire pit without anything. As long as you have some foil to wrap your meat and veggies, you can simply place it directly next to the fire pit and let it cook slowly.

There is an easier way to do it, though. A grill grate sits directly above the embers and works similar to how a regular grill wood. Place your food on top of the grate and cook until it’s done. You can also use skewers if you’re planning to make kabobs or classic S’mores.

Cooking a marshmallows in a firepit.
You can also use skewers if you’re planning to make kabobs or classic S’mores.

A few other utensils you should have on hand include a set of tongs, a spatula, and a lid that can cover your food. While you don’t necessarily need a lid, it is useful for larger and thicker cuts of meat that need more time to cook with centralized heat. Think of a roast, for example.

Make the Fire

If you are using a fire pit in your backyard, you won’t have to worry about making your own campfire. If you need to build one, simply create a teepee using small branches and some kindling. 

Regardless of the method, you have one goal: create a fire. Once the fire starts catching, it’s time to add the larger pieces of wood. Keep in mind that you should not cook over leaping flames. You need to wait until the fire has matured and burned down to embers. Otherwise, you risk burning your food without cooking it all the way through. 

Start Cooking

Using a Grill Grate

If you are using a grill grate, you will create a two-zone system that allows for direct and indirect cooking. Simply place the grill grate over your wood-burning fire pit. Then, move the bulk of the embers to one side of the fire, only leaving a few on the other side. 

Place your items on top. If you’re cooking a thick piece of meat, place the lid on top so it can cook evenly without getting burned. If you’re cooking something leaner, like salmon and veggies, you can simply place it on top of the grate and cook as normal. 

A grill gate with a pot on top.
Simply place the grill grate over your wood-burning fire pit.

When you notice that the embers underneath your food are dying off, simply push some hotter embers underneath. By doing so, you won’t succumb your food to too much heat or smoke, creating the most desirable flavors and the right amount of charr. 

Using a Skewer

If you’re using a skewer, there are fewer details involved. All you need to do is add your food to the skewers and place it over the fire, turning it regularly until it is cooked through. A great option is to use meat that cooks quickly, such as chicken, and line it up with favorite veggies like zucchini, bell peppers, or onions.

A meat on skewer on a firepit.
All you need to do is add your food to the skewers and place it over the fire,

Cooking Without Tools

If you decide to nix the grill grates and skewers, you can still successfully cook on a wood-burning fire pit. You will need some aluminum foil to wrap your food and keep it from getting dirty, though.

Simply wrap your items in aluminum foil. A crowd favorite is salmon and vegetables drizzled with olive oil and salt. The aluminum foil wrap shouldn’t be too tight to allow some of the smokiness to waft inside. 

Cooking vegetables and meat on a firepit.
The aluminum foil wrap shouldn’t be too tight to allow some of the smokiness to waft inside.

Set the aluminum foil packet near the fire without being directly on it. This method may take a little bit longer, but it works like a charm.

Don’t Forget Safety

Cooking with a wood-burning fire pit means you’re dealing in close proximity to fire. Always be careful when placing and picking up your food items. Also, make sure you have a bucket of water nearby at all times, especially if you have a campfire. If the embers should break off from the pit, it could result in a fire emerging. Douse it with water before it becomes a problem.


Can I use charcoal in a fire pit?

If you’re not a fan of using wood in your fire pit, then you can always opt for charcoal. Charcoal is essentially wood that has already been burned down but has some more life left in it. The flavors of charcoal are immense and delightful, which is why it’s such a popular choice for grilling. Use it in your fire pit and follow the same steps listed above.

How do you season a fire pit?

Not a lot of seasoning is necessary for wood-burning fire pits. The firewood will create the flavors you crave. However, you can season the grill grate with a bit of vegetable oil so that the food does not stick to it.

Final Words

Cooking over a wood-burning fire pit is recommended because it produces a depth of flavor, unlike any other cooking method. It just takes a bit longer to build a fire and wait for it to mature before cooking. Once the embers are ready, use a grill grate, skewer, or foil packs to cook your delicious food.

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