by Elizabeth Heath for USA TODAY 10Best

How to cook over a wood fire

It’s time we rediscover that grilling with wood makes food taste better. Seriously, it’s a revelation what a difference a wood fire makes in the flavor of grilled meats, vegetables and even bread.

It’s not that much more difficult or time-consuming than using briquettes or gas, though it does take longer than gas-grilling and requires some time management (unless you want to eat at midnight).

Before you start looking for two sticks to rub together, here’s a primer for how to cook over a wood fire, with a 21st-century assist, in the form of a lighter and a couple of fire-starter cubes (the eco-friendly variety).

Use seasoned (dried) oak or another hardwood, like walnut, ash or hickory. Pine or any resin-laden wood is a no-no – it burns too fast and creates an acrid smoke and an unpleasant taste in food.

Stack the wood in a teepee shape. If you don’t have or don’t wish to use a starter cube, form the teepee around a small pile of kindling wood. Light the kindling or cube(s).

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Heath

Wait for the wood to burn and start to break down into embers. (This will probably take 30-45 minutes.) With a shovel, a metal rake or other gardening tool, help things along by breaking up the red-glowing wood into chunks.

With the burning wood at the back of the fire pit or BBQ grill, use the shovel or other implement to spread the embers out in an even layer at the front.

Lay the grill grate on top of the embers. You can use a cast-iron grate or a lighter-weight stainless steel one. Place meat or vegetables on the grill with minimal seasoning. The smoke will do the flavoring.

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Heath

Remember that you should cook over embers, not over flames. The occasional flare-up is okay, but the method is slow, steady heat, not searing. As needed, spread more embers from the fire onto the cooking area.

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Heath

There's an old-school, slow-food charm about grilling over wood. It’s just a tad bit ritualistic and it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "firing up the grill."

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