Ranch Cooking I: Woodfire Oven

For the last few Summers I have been lucky enough to spend some time on a gorgeous ranch out in rural Montana. The property is a little slice of heaven. No TV, no cell service, very limited internet, and loads of time to properly create thoughtful and delicious meals. The kitchen is a Chef's dream, fully stocked with all the equipment one could ask for, including an outdoor, wood-fire oven. 

The most anticipated dinner using the wood-fire oven is pizza night.  A very social endeavor, pizza night brings all the guests gathering around the bee-hive shaped oven watching the crust and cheese bubble away in the 800*F inferno. Creativity at its best, the pizzas come out in all shapes and flavors. From the classic, and kid friendly pepperoni, to what has become the ranch staple - pesto, roquefort, peach and prosciutto. Roughly 12-20 pizzas get cranked out in an hour with the help of a dutiful oven and fire manager, Tom. 

I try to feature the oven as much as possible for dinners. Using it not only as a primary cooking surface, but also a finishing / accent tool. I will often slow cook ribs, or a pork loin in the regular oven, and then finish cooking in the wood-fire oven with the door closed, creating a small hot box of smoke. This is very effective infusing the meat with a delicious smoked flavor.  Ribs have also become a staple dish at the ranch. I use a dry jerk rub on baby-back pork ribs, slow roast in the regular oven, and finish with a hard mesquite smoke in the wood-fire oven for about 5-10 minutes. The result is a spectacular smoke flavor, that compliments the spicy-sweet jerk seasoning. No sauce needed! 

Last but certainly not least, the oven gets used like a traditional BBQ, but with so much added flavor. The Ranch is a working cattle ranch, and I get the privileged to utilize all the wonderful tasty cuts of beef they have to offer. From ribeye to porterhouse, they have everything. And the beef is spectacular (follow up post coming). The added flavor of the wood-fire oven just elevates the beef to a new level. Cooking steaks in the wood-fire oven is not an easy task. The oven runs very hot, roughly 500-1000*F, and it can be very easy to overcook, as the steaks cook not only from the bottom (over the coals) but from the top as well. The dome of the oven produces almost as much heat as the fire does. One must be on standby, once the steaks are in, cooking time is about half as it would be on a regular grill. And when they are out, the result is fantastic. 

5 tips for cooking in a Wood-fired Oven:

1) Give yourself plenty of TIME: It takes about 2 hours for good coals to grill/smoke with. It takes at least 3 hours for the proper coals to do pizza. Give yourself plenty of time to get the oven ready. That means, if you want to eat by 7pm, you start the fire closer to 3pm. It also gives you plenty of time to put finishing touches on anything going in! 

2) Use hard wood: Oak, apple, mesquite or any hard, slow burning wood works best. You'll also appreciate the slow burning nature of these woods. They will produce the best coals. 

3) Have everything ready: Prep is essential. You do not want to be prepping while cooking in the oven. Once you have everything set, your cooking will go very quick! Have your guests ready to eat!

4) The right tools are essential: Oversized Burn Guard oven mitts, cast iron griddles, peels, pokers and a heavy duty brush will make your cooking, and clean up go smooth and safe. 

5) Have Fun! Enjoy the process, smells and being outside. Move your party outside to focus on the beauty of cooking with wood and the outdoors. Happy cooks make happy food! 

About the Author

After six years in the kitchen and many extraordinary events, Kellan has become more than a chef, he’s cooking up experiences. From small intimate dinner parties, cooking lessons, and family meals to large corporate bar-b-ques, beer dinners, and holiday soirées, the Kitchen has it covered. Kellan and crew are not just cooks and servers, they’re hosts, cocktail gurus, and burgeoning sommeliers. With a focus always on the food, Kellan’s Kitchen also pays great attention to hosting, vibe, comfort and the vision of the host. Everyone must walk out with a smile, full belly, and sometimes a nice buzz.