The Art of Open-Hearth Cooking

How to roast meat the old-fashioned way using open-hearth cooking, includes information on roasting instead of baking, cooking in a fireplace and open-hearth recipes.

| November/December 1977

  • Learn about roasting meats using these open-hearth cooking methods.
    Learn about roasting meats using these open-hearth cooking methods.
    Photo and Illustration by the MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff

  • Learn about roasting meats using these open-hearth cooking methods.

Learn about roasting meats in front of a blazing fire by using these open-hearth cooking methods.

"Roast meats aren't what they used to be," says author Karen Hess. "Until just a century ago, turkeys and squabs and hams and other meats were roasted to golden-brown perfection in front of — not over — a blazing fire. Today, however, the art of open-hearth cooking and roasting meat in this fashion has been almost totally forgotten."

Let's face it: Open-fire cookery is what most of us associate with hamburgers, hot dogs, and marshmallows . . . it's not something we take very seriously. Real cookery (or so we've come to believe) is done on the kitchen stove.

Let us not forget, however, that the kitchen range — as such — only came into general use in America a little more than 100 years ago . . . and while it took the crick out of many a hardworking woman's back, the modern range did nothing for the art of cookery. In fact, it has — if anything — changed cooking for the worse. Thanks to this one invention, the great craft of roasting (the cooking of meats before an open fire) has all but disappeared during the past century.

Roasts vs. Baked Meats

Roast meat — in case you've forgotten or never known — has a lightly caramelized crust, a juicy interior, and an intensely meaty flavor ... a combination that can only come about through the artful application of direct (open fire) heat. What we call roasts today (a chunk of beef, pork, or whatever cooked-either covered or uncovered-in an oven), our great-great-grandmothers correctly called baked meats.

That we still long for the roastmeat flavors and aromas of a century ago is shown by the current popularity of hibachis and barbecue pits. The problem nowadays is that a great deal of the necessary knowledge of how to cook meats by an open Cure has been forgotten. Today — for example — you'll frequently see meat being broiled over a fire (which causes flare-ups in the fire itself, thus giving the meat a taste of burnt fat). Correctly done, meat is roasted in front of the fire and basted with the meat's own drippings (which are caught in a pan placed below the spit). When the drippings are used in this way, they help form the roast's delicious crust. (Later, they serve as the perfect "go-together" sauce for the roasted meat.)


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