Is there a way to make a wood fire that is good for cooking? Why is it better than others? Assume little to no wind. Would it make a difference if I cooking hot dogs on a stick or a steak?
It depends on what you are cooking
- Make sure you know your wood. Some woods produce toxic fumes. Others will produce a very unpleasant taste. What woods to use is a topic of its own.
If you are just roasting on a stick, that's all you need to know. Just get a flame and roast. However if you have other things:
- If you have space and a camp shovel, build a fire, and move coals to a cooking spot. This way you can very precisely control heat.
- If you have a pan, you'll need a shelf. Two thick parallel pieces of wood work, as do flat rocks. With wood, I use 3" diameter pieces that I have soaked in water. If you use a flat rock, it needs to be dry, not river rock, and not the kind that will explode. See "How to avoid exploding rocks".
- If you are baking in foil, it's best to dig a hole just by the fire and rake coals over it.
- If you are baking in a pan, you have to have the shovel and coals method. Baking in a pan over an open flame is just far too finicky due to the temperature variance.
I learned how to build a cooking fire in Boy Scouts. Build the fire, and then let it burn down. The bright dancing flames are more fun for recreation, but are not helpful for cooking. When you have a bed of hot embers, that is a good cooking fire. Little or no flame, just a good source of heat. Embers are hotter than flame, too.
A really simple, but effective fire is the 'Hunters Fire'.
Basically you make a 'V' shape with two logs with the point in the same direction as the prevailing wind.
The V shape allows you to support pots of varying diameter down the length of the fire.
Light the fire in the middle. Sit a pot at the point of the V (wind blows flames under and around pot). Scrape coals from fire to the open end of the V to cook over.
If you have a single smallish fireplace and you can't move coals from a bigger, main fire to a special cooking spot, you can run into the problem of the fire/embers/coals burning down and getting cold.
You can solve this by adding small pieces of wood - about 1" to 1.5" around - which will add heat without adding too much flame.
You need to keep a close watch on the heat as you add them, and only feed 1 or 2 at a time and let it stabilize.
The small size lets you control the added heat better - you don't want sudden flare-ups, and you don't want to block the heat while bigger chunks catch on. I try to use round, non-split pieces since they seem to burn slower and longer.