It seems absurd. You can build a pretty firepit with bricks for $20, or get an elevated, portable one for about $100 on Amazon. How can this $500 stainless steel circle be that much better? After about a month of socially distanced burning, I’m almost sad to report how good it is. The gorgeous, patented design doesn’t just make my lawn look like a tasteful bee sanctuary instead of a weedy mess—it also burns wood better than anything I’ve ever seen.
Get Harder Wood
I like oak-smoked burnt ends as much as the next guy, but outside of bimonthly excursions to Matt’s BBQ (a Guy Fieri–approved must-try in Portland, Oregon,) I’ve never paid much attention to the type of wood I put in a fire.
It’s not that I don’t know that various types of woods burn differently, it’s just that I never needed to care. My basic teepee fires burn relatively low and slow, no matter what I use. But the first time I piled a mountain of Douglas fir (the cheapest in my neck of the woods) in the Yukon and lit it, I realized I needed much harder wood.
This all comes down to how hot the thing is able to get. Solo Stove’s keglike circle has round holes around the bottom of the outside and the top of the inside, with an elevated section to put the wood in, allowing for excellent airflow. It’s a great design that lets the pit suck air through the wood the entire time a fire is lit.
But that design also comes with a downside: It burns wood hotter and faster than most fires, ripping through my soft fir logs in no time. In my experience, it will reduce a medium-size log to glowing ash in about 30 minutes. Next time, I’ll go with oak or another harder wood, so I won’t have to pop logs in as often.
The design makes it super easy to light, no lighter fluid or kindling required. I usually tear up a paper bag and light it beneath my logs—the airflow immediately pushes the flame toward the logs above, passively fanning the flames. Gathering logs, setting them up in my shape of choice, and lighting a blazing fire takes about five minutes.
A stainless steel lip that fits around the top of the pit creates a smoke deflector of sorts, working with the high heat below to push smoke straight up instead of blowing it toward people around the fire, a big perk compared to home-brewed firepits.
Get it going hot and high enough and you’ll notice the small holes on the upper inside rim emitting flames, presumably colder outside air igniting as it exits from below. When this effect is happening, the Solo Stove is nearly smokeless but still so hot.
It’s impressive how warm and cozy the Yukon can make your backyard, even on cooler late-summer nights. One of my roommates declared he could feel the heat a dozen feet across the yard. It’s self-contained enough that you feel safe letting the final coals burn out overnight, unlike a plate-style or sunken firepit, which I’d typically douse with water before heading to bed.
I also like its portability. I just roll it out from under a tree behind my garage, and it doesn’t damage the grass when I have a fire in it. The next morning, I roll it back to its storage spot and my dog has full reign of the yard once more. But it’s a bit too large to take anywhere you want. If you’re after a leave-no-trace pit for car camping, you’ll need a big SUV, van, or pickup to transport it. Solo Stove’s smaller pits are much easier to move and cost hundreds of dollars less.
Smaller Size, Same Experience
The difference between this new Yukon and the old one is size; the older model was three inches wider in diameter. Even having exclusively used the new 27-incher, it’s easy to see why it shrunk. Even at this size, it creates what can only be described as a bonfire-level fire. It’s big, hot, and probably too large for most people, even in this slimmer form.
That brings me to the crux of my review: The Yukon is awesome, but I’d never buy one. Instead, I’d opt for the smaller Bonfire or Ranger versions, which are almost half the price and offer the same design in a smaller package. If I were to spend hundreds on a firepit, I’d want something I could take anywhere.
Still, the engineering Solo Stove put into the Yukon firepit is impressive. Given how much joy it has brought my entire household, I struggle to call it frivolous. It’s also worth noting that firepits like this one are essentially indestructible (as long as you cover them in winter), so you’re likely to get many years of great s’mores for your $500.
My roommates might be onto something. If you think about it as a valuable social tool in a time of social isolation, that might make it worthwhile for some people. The best gear brings us closer, and this stainless steel firepit does that in spades.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/review/solo-stove-yukon