Where it all started...
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
I've always been fascinated by fire...yeah real original and many a poet have waxed much more prophetically about it than I could ever do. Years ago we moved from Atlanta to Greensboro, NC and immediately set about completely redesigning our backyard.
We had a great lot but we needed to fence it in to keep our dogs from terrorizing the local small furry animal population (Weimaraner problems...). We needed some beautiful landscaping that would be ripe with herbs, plantings and seasonal fruits and vegetables. No backyard project is complete without a killer deck for lazy Sunday morning coffee, weekday cocktail(s) after a long day at work, or a Saturday night get together with friends over local beers and hopefully local foodstuffs, a.k.a. copious amounts of grilled meats and fish. We had the grill but that wasn't enough. Enter the fire pit.
After a botched project including some giant slabs of marble (man, how cool would that have been?) we set forth putting our design skills to the test. What materials would be best? Where do we go with the design? How and what details do we incorporate? How can this fire pit channel my inner Francis Mallmann and caveman? We knew we wanted a modern design that was unique but simple enough to incorporate multiple ways of cooking so we decided on this 3-sided, wedge shaped firepit. We used 1/4" steel for its robust "it'll be here for-eh-ver" quality while being strong enough to park a truck on and its ability to reflect heat back into the cook.
We worked with a local steel supplier and had them cut the angles needed to get our wedge based on a CAD file I had created to get the look just right. Back at the house and welder in hand we quickly had the fire pit all tacked up and in place. Looking good we strengthened the welds and moved the beast to it's final spot. A fire was quickly stoked.
The first implement to turning this into something beyond a fire pit was to add a chapa, a table that is placed over the fire and cooked directly on. Think of a giant rectangular cast iron skillet. With a hot fire underneath and this thick steel's ability to radiate a ton of heat, it made for a perfect searing surface. To date, countless steaks, chops, fish and vegetables have been caramelized to perfection.
To expand on the chapa, and really push this fire pit build into another level I wanted to have the ability to use it as an oven. I know this seems illogical, outdoor oven with no doors, and yes I'll agree, it's not the most efficient use of wood but we came up using a second chapa to be placed over top of the cooking chapa to be used a tray for a second fire.
I haven't put a temperature gauge on it but I can tell you that it works. It's definitely impressive to see dual fires roaring. Enough heat will radiate down towards your cook surprisingly. As of this writing, I've only done 2 cooks with our outdoor dual fired oven; a whole chicken and a whole salmon. Both were done in the Salt Crust method, completely encasing meat, fish or vegetables in a mound of salt.
We tackled the chicken first, placed on a small cooking sheet with aluminum foil to aid in removal. The chicken was covered in 3 lbs of kosher salt, basically an entire box of Morton's. The result was a bird steamed into the most tender fall apart chicken I've ever had. In fact, I've never seen a bird fall apart like this.
A couple of interesting facts about cooking with a salt crust, a chicken will look anemic. There is no chance for any direct heat to crisp up the skin and make it look like the beautiful oven-baked, barbecued we are used to.
The salt crust also turns rock hard, like break it off with a hammer hard. You'll want to do this carefully to avoid the last point. Skin.
To successfully accomplish this cook, what you're cooking needs a "skin". Whole chicken, whole fish, potatoes, eggplant, pumpkins, they're all perfect for this method. The skin keeps the salt from over salting the delicious interior. You can still eat the skin, but warning it will be salty and expect a call from your doctor. A cut like a steak will not work here.
So that was the start, over the next posts we'll cover the details, builds and future plans for the pit. If you'd like help putting together a design and building your own, hit us up. We're happy to help!