Despite being one of the oldest tricks in the book, wood-fired cooking is one of the hottest trends to hit restaurant kitchens. Chefs say it’s really more of a return to our roots; the rustic, primal style of cooking is often volatile and unpredictable, requiring constant attention and vigilance. But one thing’s for sure: Cooking with an open flame achieves unparalleled flavor and texture.
Ignite Wood Fire Grill
True to its name, most of the menu at Ignite Wood Fire Grill, which opened this spring in Lenexa, Kansas, is prepared on the restaurant’s wood-fired grill. Corporate chef Bradley Gilmore says there’s a simple reason for that: It just tastes good. Ignite uses oak for heat retention and cherry and pecan wood to imbue proteins like scallops, whitefish and chicken with soft fruit flavors. “With wood-fired cooking, you get higher heat, which gives you more texture on the outside of the protein and picks up the flavors from the burning wood,” Gilmore says. Almost every protein and vegetable hits the grill at some point, whether it’s charring the tops of green onions for potato soup or finishing the slow-roasted rotisserie chicken on the grill. “There’s also an element of atmosphere and entertainment,” Gilmore says. “We have a chef’s counter at the open kitchen where you can sit 10 feet from the fire and watch what the guys do all night.”
Ignite Wood Fire Grill, 8721 Ryckert St., Lenexa, Kansas, 913.955.3473, ignitewoodfiregrill.com
On any given day, around 10 of the 15 rotating menu items at Flyover in Columbia, Missouri, are coming out of the restaurant’s wood-fired oven. Executive chef Adam Wells-Morgan says he and co-owner Dan Dethrow thought wood-fired cooking would be the best way to showcase local ingredients in as elemental a form as possible. The bulk of the menu changes weekly, but you might see wood-fired spice- and amaro-cured duck breast; late-summer squash with baby kale-studded Israeli couscous and a toasted sesame-lime vinaigrette; wood-fired mac 'n' cheese or wood-fired soft pretzels served with warm Boursin fondue. One of Wells-Morgan’s favorite dishes on the winter menu is the cassoulet, which features eight-day duck confit, white bean ragout, two types of sausage, kale, root vegetables and tomatoes baked in earthenware. “One of the best things about wood-fired cooking is not just the flavor and texture that the high temperature and smoke produce, but the fact that cooking times are remarkably short,” he says. “Instead of cooking an inch-and-a-half thick pork chop sous vide ahead of time, we can put it on a cast-iron plate raw and it will cook in four minutes.”
Flyover, 212 E. Green Meadows Road #9, Columbia, Missouri, 573.825.6036, flyovercomo.com
Balkan Treat Box
When Loryn Feliciano-Nalic was developing the menu for Balkan Treat Box, there was one thing she knew she couldn’t go without: a wood-fired oven and grill. The food truck, which she launched in St. Louis this spring with her husband, Edo, specializes in traditional Bosnian cuisine, and the oven is essential to maintaining the authenticity of the recipes. Balkan Treat Box serves just three items, which are served on bread made from scratch daily. “Apart from the dough, the fire on which the bread is baked plays a huge role in quality,” Feliciano-Nalic says. “It was a no-brainer; it’s airy and chewy and just a little bit burnt by the fire. You can’t replicate it.” The truck’s eye-catching pide is a wood-fired Turkish flatbread stuffed with beef and cheese, then topped with ajvar, a spicy roasted red pepper relish, and kajmak, a condiment similar to clotted cream. “It’s so familiar and comforting,” she says. “That feeling, that flavor – it’s home.”
Balkan Treat Box, balkantreatbox.com
5 More Spots Playing with Fire
▶ In addition to a handful of in-house brews, Brewery Emperial in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District serves a full menu of wood-fired fare, including shell-on shrimp, chorizo-black bean meatballs and grilled whole trout.
▶ Last fall, Manzo’s Wood-Fired Pizza hit the streets in Columbia, Missouri, serving sourdough pizzas cooked in under three minutes in a 900°F wood-fired oven – on wheels.
▶ At Michael and Tara Gallina’s much-hyped Vicia in St. Louis, the wood-fired hearth on the large covered patio imbues deep flavor into everything from charred shishito peppers to Berkshire pork.
▶ Thanks to the return of local chef Ken Baker, the food is getting just as much attention as the brews at Lawrence Beer Co. in Lawrence, Kansas. The menu is largely composed of shareable items made on a wood-fired grill in the open kitchen.
▶ No matter where you’re seated at Mike Randolph’s Público in University City, Missouri, you’ll be able to spot the custom oak-fired hearth, which turns out creative Mexican- and Latin American-inspired plates like whole fish, grilled sweetbreads with pineapple, agave and habanero; or grilled octopus with chorizo and paprika.