The Tuscan Grill is one of the most versatile grills ever invented. It can be used virtually anywhere although it is most commonly used in a home fireplace. When you know how to build a proper fire, it works phenomenally well. After twenty years using a Tuscan grill, I’ve discovered a new way to use it that enhances its cooking performance while throwing out more heat.
The first rule of grilling over a wood fire is to never let the flames hit the food being grilled. This means that you always want to grill over red-to white-hot embers with no or very low flames. In order to build up a good base of embers you will need to build a sizable fire. There should be no air below the logs. In other words, if you have one of those cast iron grates, get rid of it. They were meant for burning coal, which needed air underneath for burning efficiently, not wood. (Read my primer and photos of how to build a proper fire, specifically one for the Tuscan Grill.)
The Mother Fire
In large cooking fireplaces especially those found in Mediterranean, the fire under the grill is maintained with a “mother fire.” This fire is often built in a grate installed on the wall alongside the cooking grate. The cook builds a fire both under the cooking grill and in the wall grate. This “mother fire” supplies the cook with fresh embers to transfer to the cooking grate when needed. It also throws additional heat onto the food being cooked.
Grillworks, Inc., a manufacturer in Michigan makes a snazzy American version. (I have their small stainless steel Grillery that I have been using successfully for over 20 years. It sits right next to my wood burning Italian pizza oven from Los Angeles Ovenworks.)
The first time I saw a “wall of fire” was in 1959 in Barcelona, Spain. While walking through the city, I noticed a fire burning against the exterior wall of a small restaurant. Chickens, their mahogany skin slightly tinged in spots, were slowly turning on spits placed in front of this wall of fire. On the sidewalk no less. We went in and tasted a chicken as succulent and rich in flavor as any I had ever tasted. The wine and the rest of the meal lived up every sensual expectation… as was all of living during those early times in one’s life when wonderment ruled.
Now I have started to build my own “mother fire” in the fireplace whenever I use the Tuscan grill. My “mother fire” acts as a secondary source of intense heat. The really great thing about using a Tuscan Grill this way is not only will you produce great grilled meals, you will also throw more heat into your home. When you are finished cooking, simply remove the grill and drop the logs from the wall of fire on to the ash bed. Add a few more logs and you will remain warm and cozy into the evening.