For many of us, the backyard firepit got us through the long days and nights of the pandemic, a social lifeline that let us sit around and chat with drinks and s’mores night after night. After night. After night.
If you think back to last fall, when the leaves turned and the weather chilled, there was one unsung hero that kept us all sane, allowing us to get together socially while social distancing and staying safe.
No, not Netflix or Peapod grocery delivery. I’m talking about the reliable little hero that saved us when we weren’t going inside family and friends’ homes, and we weren’t going out of our own houses much.
For many of us, the backyard firepit got us through the long days and nights of the pandemic, a social lifeline that let us sit around and chat with drinks and s’mores night after night. After night. After night. The real truth is that with the Delta variant on the move throughout the area, we may just have to rely once again on the good old firepit to hang with other humans this season.
“Last year before everybody was vaccinated, we would have the firepit because we were still at that point where we weren’t having anyone in the house,” said Maria Johnson, a mother of two in Wyndmoor. “Socially, we would use it. Those beautiful, crisp fall days where it’s cool and you have the fire going. My husband and I would sit outside and read…I’m definitely going to use it this year. We just got our big delivery of fire wood!”
This year, if you haven’t already discovered the joy of socializing in the fall al fresco with a blanket wrapped around you and a hot drink in your hands, perhaps it’s high time. My neighborhood is apparently way ahead of the curve, the air filled with the woodsy scent of fatwood and marshmallows for weeks already.
But why don’t we expand our horizons? Who says we can’t pull up an Adirondack chair and cook some meals on the contraption?
Local firepit dealers are seeing a spike in sales in the last couple of weeks among all kinds of models, from gas to wood. While the gas styles are more decorative, the wood models are the workhorses that can hold charcoal and cook up everything from hotdogs to dessert. Now we’re talking.
“The portables are the most popular right now but we are doing a lot of stainless steel burners…and we are definitely doing a lot of wood too,” said Ambler Fireplace & Patio Willow Grove manager Jerry Woodward. Woodward attributes the sales uptick in part to homeowners “fixing up the castle with the money they would have put toward a vacation.” The firepits give “ambiance, something to sit around and talk,” he said.
If you are going to do a firepit the right way, the first order of business is to make sure you have it in the right spot. Fire pros recommend placing the firepit at least ten feet from any structures, and atop a fire-proof surface like stone or brick, not grass or woodsy areas. It should definitely not be placed below hanging trees, branches or tents and pergolas. If you are using wood or charcoal, take note of the wind to be sure sparks aren’t flying.
The next order of business is getting the right tools to get cooking. Most everyone cooks up s’mores when they’re gathered around a firepit. But if you have a wood-burning model, you can stoke up some charcoal and make the entire dinner. There are a few ways to make food over the fire, but two of the easiest methods are grilling baskets and aluminum foil packets.
Before you load up the foods, you’ll need a grill grate to sit on top of the firepit opening. Most models at the local home or hardware store will run about $30. Once you have a grill grate, you can wrap just about anything from veggies to popcorn kernels in aluminum foil packages with some seasoning and oil and place them on the grate. If you’re wrapping something like chicken, chopped potatoes or other dense meats, allow about 40 minutes to cook, recipes advise. The fire should not be too high, or the food will risk charring. Getting the coals red and glowing is the best way to cook.
Kitchen Kapers in Chestnut Hill even has a mesh grill bag ($12.99), which can be loaded up and placed directly on the fire grate.
“We’re selling a lot of them,” said assistant manager Mercedes Dennis. “We have a whole table at the front of the store with all the firepit cooking gadgets.”
With a grill basket, you can get even fancier than foil packets. Ready the charcoal in the firepit and load up a basket to make things like charcoal chicken or burgers. The basket gets filled up with food, latches closed, and is attached to a long pole that can be held and turned easily for even cooking.
Kitchen Kapers also carries a grill pan for $29.99 if you want to roast veggies, or grill chicken, and they have an assortment of long metal skewers for about $14.99. The skewers are great for hotdogs, grilled veggies, kabobs and of course marshmallows, if you, like me, can’t live without s’mores.