One of the best parts of being at the cottage is spending long days sipping drinks on the dock with family and friends. But if you’re not ready to head indoors and start preparing dinner when the hunger pangs hit, why not grill your meal over an open fire? It’s the perfect way to spend more time outdoors with family and friends. Whether you’ve got fresh cuts from the local butcher, some nice greens from a nearby farmers’ market, or even some of your own homegrown veggies, these tips are easy to follow and will surely impress your dinner guests.
Building a fire
If you’re using a fire pit, make sure the wood is dry for a clean flame. Throw down some crumpled paper, lots of kindling, and then top it off with wood. For a steady flame, try to find logs of equal size. If you have a grill rack to throw on top, keep a spray bottle of water nearby to tame the flames and keep your wood in check.
Roasting the veggies
You don’t need too many ingredients for a delicious batch of veggies. No matter the variety, a little salt, olive oil, tongs, tin foil, and a high flame are all you’ll need to get the job done. The important trick to veggies is to give them enough space so that every piece gets that darkened, caramelized touch.
For veggies that require a bit more cooking time, like carrots, eggplant, broccoli, and potatoes, chop them into one-inch pieces and spread them across a baking sheet or large pan.
Asparagus and larger mushrooms can go on the grill whole. Throw them into a tent of tin foil with a little butter or olive oil, straight on the grill, or into a small pan set atop the flame. The same goes for Julienne-sliced veggies like onions, carrots, and bell peppers.
Cloves of garlic are a simple yet delicious addition. Cut the tops off, line them up on a baking sheet or in a shallow pan, cover them with tin foil, and let them do their job. Once ready, the individual cloves will come out smooth (and perfectly spreadable on a slice of bread).
Corn-on-the-cob is always a hit—especially in August—and can be grilled with the husks still on. To prevent the silks from catching fire, either pull them off before placing the corn on the grill, or soak the whole cob in cool water before placing it on the grill. They’ll be done in about twenty minutes, and you only have to rotate them once or twice.
Canned beans are a classic outdoor meal, easy to cook over an open flame, and a great addition to any meal. Just make sure to open the top so the can doesn’t burst.
Tackling the main
Everyone has an appointed chef in the family who grills meat to perfection—and they’ll likely never divulge their secret methods—but here are some tips that will help you out. You’ll need a pair of gloves, a pair of tongs, salt and pepper, preferably a grill rack, and charcoals, if possible.
Grilling steak can be a touchy subject, as most people have their own tried and true way. While it’s always recommended to get high quality meats from your favourite butcher, some schools of thought claim it’s best to let the meat sit out of the fridge for a half hour or so, while others argue that the steaks will lose moisture in room temperature, especially when salted, so it’s better to season them cold. Similarly some prefer to place the meat near the flame in the burning coals, but not directly in the fire, while others throw it right on the hot flame to create that golden crust. Whatever your preference might be, for steaks that are about an inch or an inch and a half in width, searing each side for about three or four minutes will produce the perfect medium rare finish.
Poultry cooks quickly and can burn quickly if grilled on an open flame, leaving the inside raw, so it’s best to keep it near the flame, but not directly on top of it. Whether you slice it into pieces and throw it in tin foil with some oil, herbs or your favourite marinade, or place pieces directly on a grill over some charcoal, it’s a good idea to let poultry cook slowly near a low flame, much longer than red meat.
Seafood, especially fish, has a reputation for being extremely difficult to grill well, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Cooking seared salmon and other larger fish on cedar or alder planks is a long-lived tradition in Native American culture, and an easy way to get the most out of flavour-infused fish. Remember to soak the planks for at least two hours before grilling. Wire baskets can keep the fish from flaking on an open flame, and smaller ones, like sardines, can be tossed in a small frying pan.