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Cooking with Fire: Top Tips from Big Grill Co-Founder Andy Noonan

Test your cooking skills this summer by prepping a meal over a fire.


Now that you’ve been inspired by The Big Grill Festival in Herbert Park, you’re probably gasping to try cooking over a fire yourself. But where to begin? Big Grill co-founder and co-owner of Fowl Play barbecue restaurant, Andy Noonan lays out his do’s and don’t’s to cooking over a flame.

First, it’s all about that base…

Sand and gravel make the best base layer for an al fresco fire. To prepare the ground, scoop out a shallow hole (about 7-10cm deep and 30cm in diameter), mark the perimeter of the hole with wet stones (dry ones will crack) in a horseshoe shape, leaving a channel for airflow and a place where you can pull hot embers down into.

Building your fire…

To build the fire, place two logs on the ground perpendicular to each other, just inside the stones, place your tinder (wood shavings, dry grass) then add very small twigs on top gently, ensuring good airflow. Set alight. As the flame builds, add larger sticks gradually.

Begin building your fire in the arch of your horseshoe shape. Place two large logs perpendicular to each other with a gap of approx 10-12 inches, and put tinder (e.g. wood shavings, dry grass) in the centre, covered with very small twigs and sticks. Spark the tinder and small twigs and ensure good airflow around it. As the flame builds, keep adding larger sticks gradually.

Once you have a good fire going, add large logs into a criss-cross fashion on top of the perpendicular logs. This will protect your tinder from burning out too quickly, while still allowing air to pass through. The aim is to create a nice bed of embers to cook on.

Now you’ve established your fire, you can start creating your cooking zone. Place two large logs at the edge of your horseshoe shape and drag the burning embers into the centre. Be careful not to disrupt your original fire, you need that to continue burning for a constant supply of hot embers.Rest an oiled grill on the two logs and you’re ready to start cooking. You can use the safe zone in front of the grill to keep food warm.

What not to do…

Do NOT use accelerants! They’re dangerous and will make your food taste like petrol. A paper towel with some cooking oil on it acts as a safer alternative. Remember you want to cook over hot embers, not flames. You want to burn the wood until you create a nice bed of embers, ie charcoal, to cook over.

Check with your local council to see if fires are permitted in your chosen spot. If you get a green light, ensure you allow a 4-6 metre perimeter around the fire, away from any overhanging trees, shrubs or combustible material. If you’re unsure of the area you’re lighting a fire in, don’t do it.

And his expert tips…

Ideally you want to build a fire that has three zones – with a strong fire at the back to burn logs, an area in front of the fire into which you can pull your red hot embers and finally an area in front of that with little or no embers, to act as a safe (flare-up free) zone to keep things warm.

You can also try cooking “dirty” – placing the food directly on the embers. This is great for steaks, other red meat and things like sweet potatoes.

Happy cooking!

Photography: Nathalie Marquez Courtney

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