Making the Most of Your Fire Pit
Expert Advice

Image: Deposit Photos, monkeybusiness

There’s nothing sadder in the backyard than a forlorn fire pit sitting forgotten. It’s one of those rare accessories that can be part of a whole host of life’s activities, turning even the outer reaches of your backyard into an outdoor living room. If you don’t have a fire pit, get one. It’s a unique enjoyment, and the options for fuel, styles, and sizes means there’s one out there to fit your space, even if it’s just an apartment balcony.

If you have a forgotten fire pit in your yard, then perhaps you just need a reminder of its many ways to enhance your life. Whether it’s a simple log burner or a fancy natural gas or propane unit, makes no difference. As long as you can see flickering flames, then you’ve got what’s needed to create memorable moments, bouts of laughter, and relaxing respites in any season. Here’s a few tips to enjoy your outdoor fire pit and create new memories.

Light Up Your Kids’ Faces

Fire on its own mesmerizes kids (and adults), making it a powerful way to draw them outside and away from electronic screens. Growing up, our dad would take us to the park on early weekend mornings and cook breakfast for us over the rustic, ground-level grills there. Granted, not a traditional fire pit, but it was the closest free thing available. Then we’d hear stories about my folks’ past—pheasant hunting, farming, our ancestors. All alien to us. Forty years later, I still remember those times.

If your kids aren’t into listening to stories, let them tell their own. Or play the Story Starter game. You start them off with an opening sentence, then each kid adds their own sentence going around the circle until they fall apart giggling.

To spice up any story, throw a pack of colorant on your wood firepit and listen to the oohs and aahs as the flames change colors. Or introduce your kids to a whole new way of making hot, fresh popcorn using a long-handled popcorn popper over the fire. It may be their first look at popcorn kernels outside of the microwave.

Start a Fire Pit Club

Who says groups have to meet indoors? Day or night, you could move your monthly gatherings out around your crackling pit to talk cigars, wine, books, sports, microbrews, or the latest movies. The unexpected environment could lead to a whole new exchange. The same holds true for more serious meetings (laptops and hotspots still work outside), like charity committees and study groups.

Outdoor Gym

Weather permitting, fire pits can re-energize your boring exercise regime. Yoga, especially, suits a fireside workout. But weights, planks, exercise ball, Zumba…they all get more interesting when watching flashing flames instead of a wall.

Spark Some Romance

Take advantage of the instant romance igniter sitting in your own backyard. A bottle of something smooth (or bubbly), a warm fire, and the stars. It’s the age-old recipe for kindling intimacy. Winter calls for hot toddies, instead, and a fluffy blanket. The full moon is a bonus.

Distinct Dining

It’s not all hot dogs on a stick. Wood-fueled fire pits also create the embers needed to bake foil packet meals. Some pits come with grill grates, which can work just as well as your regular grill.  Recipes abound on the internet for foil packets. Garlic fries, shrimp with corn on the cob, nachos…most anything bakes in a folded sheet of foil. The simplest is a veggie, some butter pats, and garlic. Let everyone mix their own packet, which also serves as their plate. 

Enhance a Holiday

You can imagine how Halloween goes better with a fire pit. Ghost stories in the dead of night as trick-or-treat bags get pillaged. Or your pit can form a warming station at your Halloween party, complete with a bubbling potion nearby and a ghost hanging in the trees. Fourth of July also pairs perfectly with fire pits, not just for the celebration, but as a source for lighting punk igniters and sparklers.

What may not cross your mind are Yuletide celebrations. Start a new tradition and open a few presents on Christmas Eve around your toasty fire pit, while cradling mugs of cocoa, or something stronger, under a ceiling of real stars. It can serve as a unique focal point during holiday parties as well. Decorate the trees and shrubs around its dancing flames, hang twinkly lights, and set out a few chairs and a bowl of wassail or eggnog. Even if it’s just for the stroll out to get a glass and warm their hands by the fire, it leaves your guests with a unique memory of your get-together.

I’ll Have S’more, Please!

So many types of s’mores exist out there, you could host monthly s’more parties around your fire pit for years and never repeat. Other than the toasted marshmallow – that’s a staple item – just about anything else goes The crusty outer shell can vary, extra innards can be introduced, and sometimes a little something more gets sprinkled or drizzled in along the way. Here’s a few variations to get you started.


Well, you knew we had to lead with bacon. It is, after all, the supremo of foods. In this s’mores version, the traditional combo of graham cracker, chocolate piece, and marshmallow gets shazammed by adding a strip of crispy, candied bacon. How to make candied bacon? Sprinkle bacon strips with brown sugar and bake at 400°F for 15-plus minutes til crisp. Easy peasy.

Chocolate-covered Twist

Now this salty genius substitution of a chocolate-covered pretzel for the plain square of chocolate deserves applause.

More Candy, Please

Speaking of substituting the chocolate, go truly wild and replace it with the chocolate-based candy bar of your choice, such as a Heath Bar, Milky Way (cut it in half lengthwise), Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or a surprising favorite for us, Andes Chocolate Mints.

The Cone

Potentially less messy and with fewer burned fingers, the graham cracker gets replaced with a sugar cone. Drop in some chocolate chips, then a gooey marshmallow, followed by more chips. If you have room, do another marshmallow, so all the chips get softened.

Love Bite

Back to the traditional s’more. But this time, sprinkle it with chili powder for a surprise bite amid all the goo. You can also add cinnamon or cream of tartar for a truly subtle shift of flavor. Other savory sprinkles to mix and match with your s’mores ingredients include potato chips, sea salt, crushed nuts, and roasted coconut.

Hunka, Hunka Gooey Love

Oh, Elvis. The man could sing, swivel, and knew a good thing when he ate it. Spread some peanut butter on the graham, lay down a few slices of banana, top with some bacon pieces, and smoosh on the toasted marshmallow. Uh-huh-uh- huh.

4th of July

This version replaces the cracker with waffle cone cookies. Put a dollop of mixed strawberries and blueberries (mush them up) on one cookie, place a piece of dark chocolate on top, and let it melt under the gooey marshmallow. Pear slices work as a treat too, but they offer no red or blue. White chocolate keeps the innards all red, white, and blue.

A multitude of delectable subs for the graham cracker lie within easy reach. We saw Oreos (of course), giant tortilla chips, Rice Krispie treats, pita crackers, and crispy cookies (sugar, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles). Just make sure your “crust” can take the pressure without crumbling. Other gooey spreads ran from melted caramel and Nutella to jelly, which is easier than fixing a berry concoction.

The latest thing is s’mores boards. You present a variety of s’more options, just like on a cheese board, and let guests loose to assemble whatever their hearts desire. Even the failures will bring laughter and the discoveries will bring happy sighs.


Image: Deposit Photos, urban_light