Cooking with fire: don’t get burned

20th May 2021 | Eativity editors

Last week’s MasterChef immunity challenge proved to be incredibly tense and a fiery one, as contestants were given the ultimate challenge of cooking with fire. As Pete’s burnt hazelnuts can attest, this isn’t always an easy thing to do. To help you avoid the same mistakes, Cleavers Organic Head Chef Ryan McBurney has put together a simple step-by-step guide to mastering the challenge of cooking with coals, as well as advice on which wood and coal to use to get the best flavour.

Don’t be tempted to use lighter fluid when starting your barbie – it will make your meat taste of chemicals.

What are the benefits of cooking with coal?

There are a number of health benefits to cooking with coals due to the fat drip (fat loss). It’s also easier to roast meat, and if you concentrate the heat on one side while resting the meat on the other, then alternate between the two, it develops a seal and a nice crust.

How to get the best flavour out of home-cooked meat

Investing in a coal cooker is the way to go. To get the smokiest flavour from your meal it’s recommended that you invest in hardwood coal. While they are more expensive than traditional briquettes, they burn faster and are better for the environment.

Burning charcoal has been used to cook food for centuries.

The process

Buy a firelighter and, before lighting, ensure you’ve opened the vents in the grill. Without oxygen, the flames will go out. Don’t use lighter fluid – it will fill your meat with a rough and chemical taste. Next, fill the chimney starter with coal and the flames will go upwards. You’ll know the coals are ready when they turn a white, ashy colour. If you want a high heat (recommended for things like steak, burgers and dense vegetables), allow the coal to burn for around 10 minutes and then put the grills grate back on. To get your perfect temperature, use the lid and the bowl dampers and add whatever protein, fruit or vegetables you want. It generally takes about 30 minutes to cook meat.

You can barbecue pretty much any food on your trusty barbie.

Helpful cooking tips

Proteins that need to be thoroughly cooked – pork, chicken, fish, uncooked hot dogs and sausages – along with denser fruits and vegies like pineapple and eggplant should be cooked on medium heat. Add dried fruit wood, oak or ironbark on top of the coals at the beginning of the cooking process to add flavour. Fats from meat that drip into the coal also adds more flavour. Practise a reverse sear: hot to start, then down to coals to create a crust.

Great vegetable options

Think miso eggplant on the grill, jacket potatoes wrapped in foil, any root vegetable, onion in skins, corn with just husk left on. To increase the temperature, open the vents to let in more oxygen. To decrease the temperature, close the vents – but not completely, or the fire will go out. Play with your marinades – try honey and maple and a mirin-distilled rice wine, and use a brush or small mop to baste the meat and then return it to the fire.

Try Cleaver’s Sweet BBQ Beef Kebabs with miso eggplant and a crispy fresh green salad.

Common mistakes to look out for

As it’s a natural product, coal is less predictable, so you need to keep an eye on it. While lighter fluid is tempting, whatever you light the coal with will mix in with the taste of the food. Lighter cubes are your best option – they even work in the rain! Lastly, wait until the coal is completely grey before pouring it out of the chimney base and into the grill – otherwise you’ll really struggle with the temperature.

For recipe inspiration, try Cleaver’s new Sweet BBQ Beef Kebabs. They’re a hassle-free option for those who are beginners when it comes to cooking with fire. The kebabs are made with 100 percent grass-fed certified organic beef rumps and a tomato and native pepperberry sauce, a flavour profile that works well cooked directly over coals.