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While walking home yesterday, I found a discarded fire pit (I initially thought it was a portable grill, but then then realized that it had only a mesh cover).

Some details:

  • it's essentially an iron bowl with no bottom vents
  • the lip is ~23", including the outer rim. ~22" excluding it
  • the grate inside is ~11"

I would like to use this while spending as little money as possible. I assume the biggest downside versus an actual grill is that without a solid cover, I hit lower temperatures, and I'll lose some smoky flavor.

Some questions:

  1. Should I get a wider grate that rests on the lip instead? Or can I get by with having a few coals that the small grate can rest on?
  2. Should I try to find a solid grill cover instead of the mesh?
  3. What would I miss out on if I don't have a cover?
  4. Any other equipment I should have to avoid surprises?
  5. Is it ok that I don't have any bottom vents? Unfortunately I sold my drill a while ago and don't have access to one right now.

Note that while I cook a lot, I grill very rarely and this will be the first time I grill without someone experienced with me - so I'm not looking to get into anything complicated right away; I'm hoping that this will help me practice some basics.

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  • What a great find. – csk Dec 1 '20 at 22:24
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    That actually looks a bit like a Korean Barbecue, though larger & more domed than any I've seen - you cook on the 'lid', thin strips of meat & veg etc go on the (hopefully less rusty;) mesh top. – Tetsujin Dec 2 '20 at 8:54
  • A great find, but don't use it whilst it is sitting on that flammable table! – IconDaemon Dec 3 '20 at 20:01
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If you can find a mesh cover large enough to go over the top that's certainly an option, you need to work out a way to keep it in place, you don't want it sliding around on you. Meat will stick, lifting the meat off when it's stuck will cause shifting if there's nothing holding it in space.

Perhaps an easier option would be to get long metal kebab skewers instead of a mesh or slatted grill. If these are long enough they could go the long way across, or they could be placed at an angle from the rim on one side to the body inside. This would give you a lot of flexibility to control the amount of heat each piece of food gets.

One solution I've often used for campfire cooking is to place a cast iron frying pan straight on the coals, that would work just fine on your fire pit as well.

  • Thank you! That's a great idea to make things simpler. Going to give this a try this weekend. I'll probably try out some kebabs this weekend and see if I can get a cheap cover later on. – notablytipsy Dec 2 '20 at 23:41
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This can easily work as a grill. A cover is not necessary. You simply need a grate that fits over the surface. I would go for a grate that fits over the rim, you don't want to worry about shifting and balance while cooking. Holes in the bottom for air flow would be nice, but again, not necessary. Start a fire, burn down to coals. You can use the "hand test" to check the temperature. Grill your product. In a grilling situation, the flavor is initiated from drippings hitting the coals, it is not necessarily a smoking situation, though you will pick up some smoke depending on your fuel.

  • Thanks for the assurance! I'll have to see what I can do for the grate - maybe I'll use an oven rack and jury rig it so that it doesn't move. – notablytipsy Dec 2 '20 at 23:44
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Nice find!

Consider smashing down that dome so it is flat. Then you could cook on top of it. It would be nice if you could flatten it gently so those strips stay attached. Then it will not sag down the fire when you pile it high with sausages.

Also: coals, schmoals. You sold your drill and you are going to spend money on coals? Get a nice pile of sticks that have fallen off trees (hardwood sticks now!) and heap them up high and light them. You can get them going with a big wad of paper. When they burn down a bit you have wood coals to cook on and the price is right. And the flavor is right too!

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This is a great find, especially as we enter the colder months in the northern hemisphere. I think your greatest challenge is going to be airflow: without holes in the bottom or a lid on top, the air going into your fire will all be coming from above - which will limit both the heat coming up to food you would want to grill, and also the air going into the bottom of the wood / coals.

If you want to cook food with direct heat from the fire, I think your best bet would be to put the fire on top of the bottom grate in the photo, to give it at least a bit of room to breathe underneath. This means you would definitely want a larger grate to sit above the fire.

A lid would be nice for controlling the heat, and I almost always use one for a few reasons: first, it evens out the heat and speeds things up when I'm making burgers, steaks, veg, or pretty much anything other than really delicate seafood or kebabs that call for a slower, one-side-at-a-time heat. Also, a lid helps retain heat, and ultimately saves fuel. That said, ultimately it's optional - and especially so if you're planning to enjoy the fire's warmth while you cook.

Not having vents will make ash cleanup a challenge, and again limit the control you have over the fire -- but one option you may want to consider is grilling things in foil pouches. When I was a kid, our house was heated exclusively by a wood stove, and my folks would often make something like this but with ground beef (they called it hobo stew) - and once in a while I'll break out a salmon en papillote that I picked up in the restaurant where I worked in college.

Re: other equipment, I would recommend some heavy, heavy gloves and/or long tongs if you're going to be placing things directly on the fuel. Likewise, if you happen to have a cast iron skillet or something else that you don't mind abusing a bit, I say break it out, fire it up, and see how things go with a simple, familiar dish like eggs, burgers, or grilled cheese. Best of luck!

  • Thanks! I have a cast iron, and I've done the tin foil cooking while camping! I'll have to see what I can do about a lid - maybe I can start off with something like kebabs. – notablytipsy Dec 5 '20 at 19:45

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