With social distancing the new normal, there’s no doubt Pennsylvania residents are looking for any excuse possible to get out of the house and breathe some fresh air.

Fortunately, there’s an enjoyable pastime that allows folks to do just that in a safe and responsible manner while putting delicious food on the family table.

Outdoor cooking is a low-and-slow leisure activity best reserved for pairing with a remote campfire ring, popup bucket chair and cold beverage in hand, but there’s no reason it can’t be adapted for application in your own backyard.

For those who don’t have a fire pit, now’s the time to build one or buy one online.

A prefabricated metal fire ring, or freestanding pit, can be purchased from a variety of online retailers, but one can also be built inexpensively with rocks, bricks or old recycled pavers. The metal rim of an old vehicle wheel works great too if you have access to one without traveling unnecessarily.

Grates from junk ovens can be used for outdoor cooking, but a piece of metal fencing wired to rebar works just as well as a makeshift grilling platform in a pinch.

A pile of split and seasoned firewood, as well as an assortment of simple cooking tools, such as aluminum foil, skewers/tongs, leather gloves and cast-iron pots and pans, completes the necessary equipment for the job.

When cooking over an open fire, it’s best to burn down most of the wood first, as a bed of hot coals provides steadier, more consistent heat and is much easier to control than a dancing flame atop burning firewood.

Start your fire with some dry kindling, and add enough logs to work up a fair bed of coals while you prep your food for cooking.

Campfire stables include baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil, baked beans cooked right in the can, and sausage thrown either directly on the cooking surface or impaled on a metal skewer.

Foil packets are super easy too. Double up two sheets of aluminum foil, add sliced veggies, butter and seasonings, maybe a fish fillet or two, seal it up with a slightly tented seam and set it on the cooking grate and check on it later. Cleanup is a cinch.

Corn on the cob, presoaked in salted water, can also be grilled in such fashion within its own greenery prior to shucking. It doesn’t get much easier and tastes great with the added smoky flavor.

Those who own cast iron very much enjoy the simplicity of a slow-cooked stew simmered in a hot bed of coals, which can be prepared similarly to how you would cook in a crockpot. Wipe down the metal with olive oil, add your preferred ingredients, put the lid on, and insert right into the coals — perhaps even putting some coals on the lid for more even cooking.

Now, go put up your feet and relax. Your dinner will be ready in an hour or two.

Don’t forget dessert, which can be baked in a Dutch oven, a mountain pie maker or toasted on a pointed stick “s’more style.”


S’mores recipe

Place half of a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar on a graham cracker half. Using a long stick or metal skewer, toast marshmallow over flame until golden brown or desired char. Rotate periodically. Avoid tilting rod or skewer downward. Place toasted marshmallow over chocolate graham cracker half. Top with second graham cracker half and gently press together. Slowly remove rod or skewer. —