Cooking with fire

My motivation for writing this week was all around me. Despite having a year here that was not as hot or as dry as usual, we are surrounded by the smoke of forest fires.

I send out positive vibes to all the people working to fight those fires and to the people working outdoors that must endure these uncomfortable, and in some places, even hazardous conditions. 

The pervasive smoke made me think of how fire has been crucial to our evolution, not only for cooking but also for heating. By the time people started to settle in homes, the hearth was the focal point of their abode.

Did you know that the word “focus” is derived from the Latin for fireplace – “the point at which all things come together?" 

Before matches were invented, keeping the home fires burning was essential. In Medieval times they had a curfew, or “couvre-feu” (fire cover), which ensured the fire’s embers would not burn out overnight.

The recreational version of a home cooking fire – the barbecue grill – was popularized in the 1950s with suburban homes and backyards, and the newly invented Weber grill.

But before that happened, there was a certain American businessman who would do quite a bit to get us all thinking about slapping a few burgers on the grill…

Henry Ford and a few buddies liked to get away to the country for a break from work. Having resources, they travelled in style of course.

From 1915 to 1924, Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone (yes, as in tires) and a naturalist named John Burroughs would head out with a chef, a refrigerated truck, dining and sleeping tents and a table that sat 20 people and had a lazy Susan.

In 1919, Mr. Ford invited a real estate agent along, as he was looking to buy timberland to supply his cars with hardwood. The agent, Mr. Kingsford, found a great site and soon Mr. Ford had a parts plant and sawmill built. 

Mr. Ford was a thrifty fellow, and he wanted to make use of the tremendous amount of wood waste. Mr. Edison designed a factory near the sawmill to make a newly devised product called charcoal briquettes. Mr. Kingsford ran it. They could make 610 pounds of briquettes with every ton of sawdust and scraps.

The briquettes didn’t start out as popular, but when Ford Motors started selling “Picnic Kits” with a box of briquettes and a portable grill that could be used on a road trip with one’s Model T, the idea started to catch on.

The Weber grill was the other key to backyard barbecues. It was not invented by Mr. Weber, but rather by a Mr. Stephens.

He worked at the Weber Brother Metal Works in Chicago, making sheet-metal spheres to be used as buoys by the U.S. Coast Guard. His design of cutting a sphere in half and adding legs was better than the competition.

It kept the ashes away from the cooking food, and it offered a better shape for controlling the heat as well.

Mr. Kingsford kept making briquettes, and when the Weber grill hit the market with a big splash, he knew the next phase had been reached. He raised their briquette production immediately by 35%.

The rest, as they say, is history.

If you would like to learn more of the traditions of cooking over fire, check out the new series on Netflix called Chef’s Table: BBQ or find a copy of Cooking with Fire, by Paula Marcoux. 

If you are a fan of not just grilling, but cooking with indirect heat over fire, Steve Raichlen has written a few books and is considered a guru for many fans of the BBQ sport.

His latest book, published this year, is called Project Smoke.

Happy cooking. 

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About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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