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Old Flame

Wood-fire cooking heats up in Baltimore.

Lydia Woolever - December 2017

Old Flame

Wood-fire cooking heats up in Baltimore.

Lydia Woolever - December 2017

Ben Cole and his son, Will, at Blue Moon Farms. -Christopher Myers

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Cooking has changed a lot over the years—a trendy ingredient here, a futuristic technique there—but throughout the ages, one thing has remained the same: our obsession with the ancient element of fire. Since the dawn of civilization, we’ve been roasting, grilling, and toasting food over an open flame, using its smoke and embers to enhance the flavors of our meals. And while heat has never lost its cool in the kitchen, it’s now gaining newfound favor as chefs get back to the farm-to-table basics.

In Baltimore, most of those fires are ignited by Blue Moon Farms off Liberty Road in Randallstown. At this second-generation firewood business, owner Ben Cole provides fuel to more than 50 of the region’s top restaurants, from Cosima and La Cuchara to Linwoods and Cunningham’s. On any given day, he has multiple piles of oak, hickory, and cherry brought in from the forests of Pennsylvania and Western Maryland that are then split down to size, stacked a story high, and seasoned in the sun until the calls come in from local chefs. When they do, whatever the hour, he hops in his Ford F550 and sets off on deliveries, as early as three in the morning or as late as 11 at night.

The restaurant boom began about three years ago, says Cole, who used to focus on residential firewood, and now, he can barely keep up. These days, whether you’re having pizza at Paulie Gee’s or steak and potatoes at Parts & Labor, there’s a good chance that your dish was kindled by Cole’s woodpile. Luckily, though, he has one diehard employee—his 9-year-old son, Will—who happily helps around the yard. “It’s a family operation,” says Cole with a smile. “He would skip school [to work] if his mother let him."


Caveman 101

Your primitive primer for playing with fire.

All woods are not created equal. Whether it’s oak, cherry, or walnut, each comes with distinct aromas and flavors, as well as densities and moisture levels that effect the output of heat and steam. Heavier woods, such as oak and hickory, are best for rich meats like pork and beef, while lighter woods, such as maple and fruit or nut varietals, lend themselves better to chicken and fish. 


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License to Grill

Some local eateries that burn
Blue Moon wood
.

Cosima
Mill No. 1, 3000 Falls Rd. 

Cunningham’s 
1 Olympic Pl. 

Gunther & Co.
3650 Toone St

Handlebar Café
511 S. Caroline St

La Cuchara
3600 Clipper Mill Rd

Linwoods
25 Crossroads Dr. 

Minnow
2 E. Wells St. 

Mission BBQ
3701 Boston St

Neopol Savory Smokery
529 E. Belvedere Ave

Parts & Labor
2600 N. Howard St

Paulie Gee’s
3535 Chestnut Ave

Rye Street Tavern
225 E. Cromwell St

Well Crafted Pizza
Locations vary.




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Ben Cole and his son, Will, at Blue Moon Farms. -Christopher Myers

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