BASIC ESSENTIAL UTENSILS FOR OPEN FIRE COOKING
Over a century and a half ago almost all cooking in America was done over an open fire, a method of preparing food that dates back to prehistoric times when freshly killed game was roasted over campfires. As man became more civilized, the campfire was abandoned in favor of large indoor fireplaces, most of them spacious enough to roast a whole pig.
Fireplace equipment evolved gradually. Spits, for example, which were originally long poles or iron bars were turned by hand. Roasting on a spit is unique to open-fire cooking and cannot be duplicated on modern stoves. Properly done spit-roasted meat develops a flavorful outside crust but remains tender and juicy inside.
The open fire is an amazingly versatile cooking device.Today open fire cooking is still one of the most reliable methods, fire extinguishers may not be in the pioneer spirit, but safety of course is paramount.
Open fires can be used to boil water, simmer a stew, bake pies, bake flat loaves or bread, and roast several pieces of meat. At the same time, sausages can be hung nearby to be smoked slowly by the fire day after day.
With the coming of the Industrial Revolution low-cost cooking ranges made of cast iron became available. Although they were being sold in America sometime early in 1830, housewives were slow to abandon the fireplace in favor of the “iron monsters” This resistance to change stemmed partly from the fact that all the traditional recipes were devised for the fireplace. By the turn of the century, however, almost every household had a cast -iron range and the age of the fireplace cooking was over.
A Few of the Basic Essential Utensils for fireplace or outdoor open fire cooking
Spider Pot GriddleLarge
Kettle Roasting Spit
Skillet Reflector Oven
Lodge New Style Dutch Oven Lodge Camp Dutch Oven
As you can see with the proper utensils and a little practice, cooking over an open fire can still be done for the adventurous or as a necessity.
The Dutch Oven
Even if cash-poor, ranchers of the Old West coveted a rack of shiny pots and pans, preparation standards of the day didn’t allow fixing a meal with anything but the most basic cookware. Space was also a major consideration in any ranch kitchen and especially on board the revered chuck wagon.
One tool rose to the occasion above all others, The Dutch Oven. Developed in the early 1700’s, this heavy cast-iron pot was found in virtually every kitchen in the Old West by the mid-1800’s. With just one kettle, a range cook could fry, steam, or bake foods. With few spices available, ingenious kitchen hands found that cooking food in their own juices produced incredible flavors. A Dutch Oven handled this task perfectly.
Constructed of heavy cast iron, it sat on three legs about one inch high. The lid was recessed and flanged to keep coals from mixing with the contents. Depending on depth, it could hold from one to ten gallons. Baking and cooking was a simple task. Clear hot campfire embers to about an inch or so high, place the Dutch oven in the middle, and cover the oven with the remaining embers. The surrounding heat baked biscuits and other popular dishes to perfection. It was so versatile that the lid could be inverted and used as a griddle.