5 Smoky Wood-Fired Snacks (Not One of Them Chestnuts!)


Photo credit: Getty

Chestnuts are roasting on open fires the land over during this time of year, and we love everything about it. Is there anything quite like inhaling the heady scent of smoke before popping a hot snack into your mouth?

Few appreciate open-hearth cooking more than Galen Zamarra, chef and co-owner of New York City restaurant Mas La Grillade. Every dish on his menu relies on ingredients cooked over a wood fire—to great fanfare. In 2011 The New York Times anointed it "a restaurant of rare restraint and craft.”

Granted, Zamarra isn’t exactly cooking over a Weber grill in his backyard. He has four wood-fired grills at Mas La Grillade, and even goes through the trouble of making his own charcoal. Intimidating? Yes. But he insists that it’s easy to replicate at home—outside, safely, over an open fire.

"I just like it because it’s real natural," Zamarra told us. "It’s the most simplistic way to cook something. It allows you to focus on the ingredient itself, more than any other way."


Photo credit: Facebook/Mas (la grillade)

How to Do It:

As far as the actual fire goes, home cooks don’t need to go overboard with charcoal. Zamarra suggests burning a small pile of wood down to red-hot embers and cooking on a grate placed at least four inches above them. (Food should never actually touch the fire.)  Or, if time doesn’t permit, buy pre-made wood charcoal at places like Lowe’s or Walmart. Just make sure you’re not buying chemical-treated briquettes.

Alternatively, Zamarra suggests soaking wood chips in water, enclosing them in a packet of tin foil and placing the parcel under the grate of a conventional gas grill. This method is cheating a bit — you’re cooking with gas — but it’s a good way to get woodsy flavor when an outdoor fire pit is unavailable.

To make the smoky snacks below, you can use a jerry-rigged version of the large perforated pans Zamarra uses at Mas—a metal colander with holes smaller than the nuts and kernels, topped with an overturned metal mixing bowl to form a dome.


Photo credit: Facebook/Mas (la grillade)

5 Easy Snacks to Roast at Home:

Smoky peanuts. These bar snacks are a hit at Mas. To make, toss unsalted, unshelled peanuts with rendered bacon fat and espelette pepper, then roast them over a medium-hot fire for 10 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Sweet pecans. Zamarra’s pecans are the yin to his peanuts’ yang. He roasts approximately three cups of pecan halves on the grill for 10 minutes, then coats them in a syrup of liquid caramel, ground cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. (To make caramel, cook half a cup of sugar with a teaspoon of water over low heat, stirring constantly.)

Herb-flecked popcorn. We love this party trick. Kernels coated in olive oil will pop after five to eight minutes over high heat, says Zamarra. After they’ve cooled, he tosses them with finely-grated Parmesan cheese and minced herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano. (He deep fries them, but you don’t have to).

Roast oysters. These are always a hit. Zamarra first shucks them, then severs the muscle holding the oyster to its shell. Between the two shells, he sandwiches the oyster and a sliver of lemon-thyme compound butter, which then rest on the grill just long enough for the butter to melt.

Shrimp. The sweet Maine variety are a Zamarra favorite. He cooks them in their shells right on red-hot charcoals, plucking them out with tongs after 30 seconds, and dipping them in a homemade mayonnaise.

If these dishes seem simple, that’s because they are. The fire does most of the work, Zamarra says. “Smoke itself acts in a way like a seasoning. It makes food itself taste better.” And that goes for chestnuts, too.