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At his New York flagship Tertulia, Spanish food guru Seamus Mullen uses a wood-fired grill for almost every dish on the menu, from 40-day-aged prime rib to smoky deviled eggs. It's the foundation of his cooking there and allows him to use another treasured possession: a Catalana iron that's heated in the fire and used for searing. Mullen commissioned a Philadelphia blacksmith to make one modeled after traditional Spanish versions. "He made it with a handle, which promptly fell off so now it looks like a medieval weapon. But who cares, because it works really well!" says Mullen. Click through Treasured: Seamus Mullen's Spanish Iron, then check out his best tips for cooking with fire, below.
1. Avoid oily wood. Things like spruce that have a lot of tacky sap and things like evergreen are not such a good idea in general. But fruitwood is good. Any kind of hardwood is great. Elmwood is great. Hardwood gets expensive, and oak ends up being the easiest thing to work with. Dried maple is great. Dry wood versus wet wood makes a difference too. If you cook with good-quality charcoal and the mix in some green hardwood that hasn’t been dried and still has a bit of moisture, you can get a lot of flavor out of it. It’s not going to burn that hot or that well at all, but you’ll have a smolder that will give a lot of flavor.
2. Stay alert. You have to observe food cooking over a fire and you have to babysit it—be very present.
3. Stop thinking of it as grilling. Think of it more in a memorial sense. How did our ancestors first cook when fire was the first thing to cook with? Think of all the ways you can use indirect heat from the fire.