Topic: Outdoor Kitchens

Date Posted: Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Posted by: Tanya Zanfa (Master Admin)

At Home: Outdoor cooking fires up passion

At Home: Outdoor cooking fires up passion

A close friend of mine who is a chef says nothing quite compares to food cooked over a wood fire.

I can only attest to a Southern upbringing, where I was blessed with many opportunities to enjoy campfire meals, made even more delectable when enjoyed in the open breeze under a canopy of trees after a long hike through nature.

Last week I discussed some benefits of expanding your living space to include your porch, yard and natural surroundings as much as possible. This week I’ll go into more detail about cooking in these living spaces.

Expensive, high-tech equipment is not required. In fact, it is discouraged.

Cooking outside over a fire, more primitively and without electricity the way our ancestors did, allows us to connect with nature in a way that is sure to uplift our spirits, says University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor Mark Fly.

Adding family, friends and particularly children to the mix can enrich your experience even more.

“Getting the grill out is great,” says Fly, “but if you can get your kids involved as well, it becomes a more shared experience that everyone really benefits from.”

Using antique equipment, such as his grandmother’s old cook stove, Fly hopes to give his environmental psychology students “an idea of how people used to live on farms with no electricity.”

The students use flint, steel and dryer lint to start their own fires, and Fly says those who haven’t started a campfire before “just love it.”

“They will put their cell phones down and not look at them for at least two hours,” says Fly. “The fire, like a lot of natural elements, really captures people’s unforced attention, and I think that is important.”

Josh Markham, a local dad and facilities director at First United Methodist Church of Murfreesboro, is also a big believer in outdoor living and campfire cooking.

As soon as the Markhams purchased a camper, they began taking frequent “mini-vacations” to parks throughout the mid-state — 14 in a year, to be exact.

“We spend so much time inside strapped down to our jobs and responsibilities,” says Markham. “When we go camping, we have no schedule, no agenda and no boundaries. It’s very relaxing and freeing.”

Markham says even though he could cook on a stove inside the camper, he prefers to use an outdoor fire.

“There’s the crackle, the pop, the light, the warmth and a feeling of security,” says Markham. “It’s a lot different than being at home, and you really have to focus.”

Colder temperatures “magnify” a fire’s significance when the Markhams camp, but “the greatest thing about these trips,” he says, “is watching the kids play outside.”

During a recent trip to Henry Horton State Park, the family found a campsite near a ravine with giant boulders.

“It looked like a miniature Grand Canyon,” says Markham. “Our kids played the entire weekend. Imaginative, outdoor play, which is stuff they can’t do in their everyday lives.”

Like Fly, Markham uses a cast iron skillet that belonged to his grandmother, seasoned from decades of baking cornbread. He says being limited to one large pan, as many rural families in the past once had, forces him to change recipes, inspires creativity and introduces the family to new flavors.

“Instead of a meat and three, we’ll have a skillet meal,” says Markham, who lists breakfast foods and basic, unseasoned fajitas as his favorite meals. “You have to get somewhat creative with what you make.”

A point both Fly and Markham emphasize is that it doesn’t take a large budget to enjoy a meal outside. Firewood, a grill and a vessel to cook in are all you need.

“My perspective is a connection to the past and nature,” says Fly. “To me, you don’t get the same feeling cooking in a fancy outdoor kitchen as you do cooking on an open fire.”

Contact Colleen Johnson-Bryant at

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