Let's face it, a barbecue is not really a true barbecue without wood. Don't get me wrong, lump wood charcoal is wood, as are charcoal briquettes (we hope!). Gas barbecues have their place too, but sometimes it just has to be a real fire with real wood. The fire making ritual is ceremonial and therapeutic, and therefore was perfectly suited for my Mum's last day with us before she headed back to Australia. The unprecedented late September heat wave helped add to the outdoor occasion.
A wood cooking fire is not complicated, but it has to be right. The wood needs to be a dense, seasoned hardwood (I used oak) and in pieces no thicker than 3-4 cm. Start by building a small fire with a piece of screwed up newspaper and then placing tinder such as dried twigs and small sticks on it. Once the tinder has fully ignited, build the hardwood over the fire to make a pyramid.
The oak I used was foraged from local woodland. It came from branches that had fallen some years before and although they were slightly damp, they were completely dead. I stored it in my garage for a few weeks and by the time I came to use it it was bone dry.
The fire should burn hot and fast, and only take about twenty minutes to become a pile of searingly hot embers. The embers are then spread out ready for cooking. A few words of warning, hot means hot. About 1,000 degrees C to be precise. I was cooking marinated chicken thighs and wings which need to be cooked slowly, chicken breast (tandoori kebabs), and some little chipolata pork sausages. You obviously can't turn the heat down, so you need to create cooler and hotter cooking areas either by moving the embers around, or by raising the cooking grill higher above the embers.
I started by putting the chicken pieces around the edge in fire proof pans, so I could move them easily and make sure they didn't burn early on. These pieces cooked for forty minutes in total. The tandoori kebabs went on to the grill next (about twenty minutes after the chicken pieces went on), and the little sausages about five minutes after the kebabs. The initial embers were too hot for the more delicate chicken breast and sausages, so the twenty minute wait made all the difference.
Surprisingly, with good hardwood, a fire like this will last for at least 45 minutes, which is long enough to barbecue pretty much anything. Super hot at first, and cooler towards the end, so it's just about timing the different foods accordingly. Once you get the hang of this method, you can pretty much barbecue anywhere you can find wood.