Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wood Fire Cooking

Have you ever heard a song and it instantly takes you back to a moment in time?  Or how about the same experience with a certain smell?  This kind of sensory recall happens to me quite often.  I also believe there are sensory responses ingrained into us as a human.  For instance, why do fingernails scratching on a chalkboard have a universal negative response for people?  There is no life experience or memory tied to it.  Some theorize that this resembles a screeching distress call of ancestors millions of years back.  

I recently read a book that explores ingrained sensory responses in regard to cooking.  The book is called Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham.  He builds a very strong case for cooking being the factor that most effected human evolution.  Heating plants and meats make them more easily digestible and allow our body to extract more from the food we ingest.  If you can eat 30-40% less food and extract the same amount of energy you can spend less time gathering and eating.  Also, the gut doesn't have to be as big to contain all that raw, slowly digested food.  Smaller gut and more food absorbed equals more nutrients for other parts of the body such as the brain. 

Here is a quote from the book that I find especially interesting "Tens of thousands of generations of eating cooked food have strengthened our love for it."  Humans have an innate sense to prefer cooked food.  Now remember that even our very recent ancestors didn't cook with gas, electric, or microwaves.  They cooked with wood.  So did humans nearly a million years ago.  They spent their leisure time around fires cooking, socializing, and eating.  For months at a time in some climates fire was their only source of warmth.  Campfires were central to life in their village.

Some beef cooking over hot wood coals
I live in suburbia.  In between city life and and rural country.  I am lucky enough to have a fire pit on wheels and a driveway big enough for friends and family to gather round our campfire.  There is something relaxing about nestling near a fire on a cool night while staring at the flickering light of the flames.  And the smell of burning wood is so much more pleasant than anything else when it burns.  People who have grown up without ever being by a campfire will always enjoy plopping down next to one and sharing some good conversation.  Every sense stimulated around a campfire is something that is ingrained through evolution into our DNA.  

For years now, I have grilled meat over campfires.  I have built wood fires in the dead of winter to break cabin fever and to also do some real cooking.  Nothing compares to the flavor of food cooked over a hardwood fire.  If you don't believe me, ask the BBQ pit masters who cook with wood when competing for money in rib cook offs.  Or just try it yourself.  Get 3 steaks, grill one over propane, grill one over wood, and throw one in the microwave and cook them properly to the same doneness.  The wood grilled steak will win 100 times out of 100.  The preference for the flavor of food cooked by a wood fire is something I believe that is ingrained in our DNA over hundreds of thousands of years.  It just tastes better to us because it is who we are.



MAS said...

Here is a link to a 1 hour lecture on Catching Fire by the author. Good stuff.

Chuck said...

cool, thx for that. will watch soon.