My entire kitchen-consciousness shifts in the summertime. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
The mindset moves from something that is predominantly focused on the oven and range to one that is all about live fires, crackling wood, and smoke. This usually leads me to the meat and hard veggies side of my pantry and fridge. After all, it can be difficult to cook rice, quinoa, or other grains on the grill without special equipment, and I've yet to find a way to manage cheese over charcoal. But an underrated grill item may be one that coincides with the best that summer has to offer: the explosion
It's impossible not to love the grill, especially in summertime. And at ManMade, there's enough of that love for grills of all kinds: gas grills, kamado cookers, offset cookers, vertical smokers, hibachis, and whatever else helps bring your food that flame kissed flavor.
But for all-around versatility, our vote goes to the charcoal kettle grill. This design has remained basically unchanged for nearly seventy years, and it has stood the test of time as an affordable, adaptable, and portable way to make dinnertime that much more enjoyable. Kettle grills such as the ubiquitous Weber are, as much as a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers or the Eames Lounge, a classic.
Fall means many things. Most important among them: firewood season. Whether building a campfire in a stone ring for cooking, heating your space via a woodstove, or just setting your indoor fireplace ablaze for some warmth, these next six months are all about the cheer that can only come from the presence of an open flame.
So, as we settle into the new half of the year, let's take a moment to address humankind's most primitive tool: the axe. Whether your splitting whole tree rounds, dividing logs into kindling, or getting creative with woodcarving, the process is simple, and only needs to happen once a year for the average non-lumberjack. Here's how to sharpen an axe.
Knowing how to start a campfire is an essential life skill, for sure, and most of us have our preferred technique: the lean-to, the tepee, the log cabin. But, even though most fires aren't started in emergency, or even in one-match situations, that's part of the fun. Once you've learned how to do it without turning a gas knob or lighting one of those Duralast logs, lighting a fire with one match (or spark from a starter) becomes part of the game, even if you have a whole box at your side.
Among the true believers, there's a fair consensus that when it comes to grilling: charcoal simply tastes better than propane. No disrespect to the gas grill; it can turn out great results. But when the true taste of summer is the priority, nothing can beat the smoky, open-flame flavor of food grilled over hardwood coals.
Well, except for food cooked over an actual hardwood fire, with coals freshly made from whole logs that you just ember-ed down yourself. This is easy enough to do in a backyard firepit, or even in the same kettle grill you likely use with your charcoal.
Even if you don't know it by name, you likely already know paracord. Chances are very good that you've seen it, either in the aisles at your local craft store or knotted into a survival bracelet.
It's a classic example of how a military-specific product found new life as a civilian utility item. Originally designed with airborne units (the name is portmanteau of "parachute" + "cord"), its strength, durability, and versatility lend well to all sorts of other functions. It's especially useful for survival and adventure situations, which means that enterprising outdoor gear companies have begun including other materials in the core of the cord besides the standard separate nylon yarns: in the case of ParaTinder, a waxed thread meant to be used as a firestarter.
I got a package of this as a stocking stuffer last Christmas and wanted to give it a whirl—it's important to test out your survival gear when the stakes are low rather than trying it out for the first time in an emergency.
I've always loved the feeling of contrasting materials, especially metal and hardwood. Metal is the yin to wood's yang: cold, crisp, and unforgiving, while wood offers smooth, supple, and organic patterns. When I really want to make a piece stand out, I'll put a bit of effort in mating these unlikely partners to play off each other for visual interest and a little bit of "how did they do that?" My youngest turns 5 this month, and I have been building a keepsake box that I hope she'll have for the rest of her life — an heirloom piece that I want to stand out as timeless, personal, and familiar. I decided a metal inlay of her initial would be a great way to make it her own.
Have you noticed? It's summer! It's the time of year when we dust off the backyard with friends and linger late into the night. There are so many great conversations I remember around a flickering fire, and I'm looking forward to more this year. But good conversations don't always come easy, so here are a few tips to get into the kind of convos you'll remember for years.
Pegboards have always had a place in my shop. They are simple to install, and easy to reconfigure as the needs evolve. I have a section by my stationary tools and few large boards for everything else. Mostly, I keep small tools like screwdrivers, scrapers and saws hanging. But there's so much more than hooks and pins. For example, here's a simple pegboard holder to organize my growing collection of blowtorch tools.
Your kitchen stove is a recent development in human cultural evolution. For millenia, all cooking was live fire cooking. From traveling groups building beds of coals in the wilderness, to stone and earth homes centered around the hearth, the use of wood as fuel for food represented what it meant to be human for tens of thousands of years.
These days, cooking over an open flame makes a meal an event. Live fire cooking is portable, sure, but more importantly, it adds flavor and ambience your electric oven can never achieve. Whether grilling over glowing hardwood or slow roasting in a cast iron pan, cooking with real fire makes the meal the point of the evening.
During summer, it's my goal to bust out the charcoal and chimney starter as much as possible. Call it a masculine stereotype if you must, but I never miss an opportunity to take advantage of extended daylight to cook dinner outside. It avoids heating up the house with the oven, and, of course, makes everything taste amazing.
And, if you want you grilled food to taste even better, here's my tip. It takes all of five seconds to set up, and takes your meal up to the next level:
I guess the real problem with this project is that it actually worked.
I mean — I succeeded in what I set out to do. I created two DIY variations on an easy-lighting, long-burning fire and grill starter using coconut oil. Coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature. Coconut oil, which is about the same price as beeswax and much easier to find. Coconut oil, which can easily be melted in the microwave, so you avoid having to use a double boiler and scraping wax out of your mixing bowl. Coconut oil, which smells awesome and burns forever.
If you haven't depressed the trigger on a blowtorch and heard the momentary hiss of the gas releasing, followed by the low whoosh of the flame catching, well, my friend, I recommend you try it. There must be some caveman-brain connection with fire that takes place, or maybe it's the six-year-old in me. But either way, the first time I grabbed a blow torch and clicked it on, I was hooked.
Fortunately, it's also a ridiculous useful tool to have around the shop! It's one of those tools that you don't know you need until the occasion presents itself, but trust me, once you own one, you'll have plenty of occasions to use it. Here are just a few of the ways a blowtorch can make itself useful:
I love s'mores. I hate getting sticky.* Which I mention only to point out how much I truly love s'mores since they nearly always get your hands/face/everything sticky. It's the perfect smoky and sweet desert to finish off any night's worth of camping and hiking or simply sitting around the campfire with friends. But here's a suggestion that takes the s'mores game to a whole new level...
What's a Swedish flame? Something you can buy at IKEA? No sir.
If you haven't seen one of these Swedish Flame logs lately, they definitely need to be the star of your next outdoor fire. Its genius design allows the fire to burn from the inside out which means little to no tending from you!
Building a strong, sturdy fire is one of those basic skills everyone should have. When I'm out camping, I like to challenge myself to carefully prepare a perfect stack of kindling, tinder, and fuel, and see if I can get my bonfire started with just one match. But at home, in the backyard, when I'm grilling, what I really want is a perfect bed of coals that I can confidently cook on, and fast. For years, my preferred method of starting a perfect grilling fire has been to use a blowtorch. Sounds easy, right? It is. Here's how I do it:
If you're a fan of salt and vinegar potato chips then you're gonna love this recipe for pan fried sea salt and basalmic potatoes.
It's always satisfying to burn your initials or insignia (or whatever you choose as your calling card) on a newly completed woodworking project, but why not take that a step further with some high voltage to create a unique fractal design? Perfect for a coffee table, end table, or even as stand-alone art...
Looking for a way to keep the fun going when the sun goes down? A firepit is the perfect post-BBQ gathering point for a bit of warmth, some roasted marshmallows, and conversations well into the night. I wanted to build a place where we could keep the summer nights going, but the store-bought kits just didn’t catch my eye. That’s why I decided to build my own from durable, solid outdoor materials that will hold up to years of use, and look great doing it. This project is pretty straightforward, and combines with my backyard corner benches project to create a place where a long evening turns into a lasting friendship.
Of course, no night spent around a fire is complete without a little refreshment,