Outdoor Winter Brunch

Gather your friends and enjoy a winter morning together around a hot fire filled with delicious food, funny stories and lots of memories. No reservations required.

There is something magical and grounding about cooking over an open fire. It stirs feelings deep inside of us, connecting us back to our ancestors, while also making us utterly grateful for microwaves and modern stoves. It can be a humbling experience to even the most experienced cook, while also sparking immense interest in cooking for those that typically shy away. Humans have been gathering around fires to cook, share stories, and spend time together for thousands of years, and it’s still the perfect way to bring together people today, especially in the winter.

My friends and I gather together on Christmas Eve to cook brunch over a bonfire of trees that have fallen in the past year, trees that made messes in backyards and knotted up lawn mowers. We start the fire about an hour before we plan to cook, piling on the logs and branches until the flames are licking up several feet and we can feel the warmth on our faces. It’s important to let the flames die down a bit, the goal is to develop a nice bed of hot coals that will be used to cook the food. 

The bonfire will change from long, bright orange flames to hotter, whiter flames that appear shorter. This might take anywhere from 20-60 minutes. When the fire turns to this whiter, hotter fire, you’ll notice spots heavy with coals. Use a long metal garden shovel to scoop up the hot coals, and distribute them evenly to create a cooking space. I like to create a flat bed of coals adjacently upwind of the fire, making it easy to grab more coals if needed, while also not worrying about smoke blowing in my face.

We cook most of our food in big heavy cast iron dutch ovens that have little feet on the bottom. Feet are only one or two inches tall, and allow the dutch ovens to sit atop the coals, which helps get airflow under the pot to assist with even heating. The dutch ovens that we use also have a flat lid with a one inch rim running around it. The lids are designed to have coals spread on top of them, again, as a way to help increase even cooking.

There are a few things to keep in mind when cooking over a fire with a dutch oven. First, make sure your dutch oven is well seasoned. The insides should have a greased, sleek look to them. If it’s dull or patchy, season the pot by rubbing vegetable oil on the inside and cooking it for several hours in a low oven (250F). This will help season the pot. The second thing to keep in mind is to use plenty of oil in the pot when cooking in over a fire. I use avocado oil, since it has a high smoke point and doesn’t impart any flavors. I like to heat the dutch over up gently over a few coals first, then add the oil, and finally I add whatever food I am cooking. Just like how you would heat up a pan on the stove. The last thing to keep in mind when handling dutch ovens in a fire is to have proper tools for moving it. The dutch oven should come with a sturdy metal handle attached, but once it goes near the fire and starts to heat up, you’ll need some good BBQ mitts to grab it. The lids on dutch ovens are heavy and can be hard to grip with mitts on, it’s best to use a pair of pillars that are easy to grip and hold.

You can cook eggs on a fire in a well seasoned dutch oven

For the evenest cooking, never place a dutch oven over flames, instead use coals under and over the pot. A little coals goes a long way, start with just a small scattering, and wait 5-10 minutes before adding more. Use a small straw whisk or hand broom to brush off any coals on the top of the lid before cracking it open to peek at your food. No one wants to eat food coated in ash and soot. Check it often while cooking, every 10 minutes at least, or you risk burning your food to a charred crisp.

Line your dutch oven with heavy aluminum foil if you are baking cinnamon buns, or anything that has a high sugar content.

This past year we made foil potatoes (both red and sweet potatoes), pork breakfast patties with sage and onion, an egg frittata with kale and sundried tomatoes, and a batch of sourdough sticky buns. Word of caution: if you make sticky buns in a dutch oven, double line the pot with heavy duty aluminum foil just to make clean up a whole lot easier. We all enjoyed spending time around the fire catching up, and filling our bellies with hot food and drink (everyone brings a thermos to share). It’s a new tradition for us, but it’s already one of my favorites!

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