Master These New Summer Skills and Enjoy Them Forever

Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Mia Coleman/Thrillist
Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Mia Coleman/Thrillist

Being productive this summer doesn’t have to mean spending the weekend organizing your closet or performing menial yard work. The extra time you’re spending at home has a silver lining: You’re finally free to master those skills that will help you get maximum enjoyment out of the season this year and for many years to come. Maybe you’re a budding grill master looking to take your menu beyond burgers and dogs, or you’re hoping to come out of quarantine a lawn game pro. Either way, with a summer to-do list like this, it’ll hardly feel like work.

Become a cornhole pro

The best summer sports are enjoyed at a leisurely pace, drink in hand, which is why cornhole stands supreme. It doesn’t take much to become better-than-average at the game, so a little practice should go a long way. According to a former cornhole world champion, the things to focus on are: giving the bag an arc so it doesn’t slide off the back, going for a flat landing, and settling on a preferred grip method (our pro recommends a Frisbee-style hold.) Keep in mind you may need to adjust for individual boards and bags: some boards have a smoother finish or flatter angle that will require more arc to stay on, and some bags are even two-sided, allowing you to get more friction on landing. It’ll come down to consistency and practice -- with help from your trash-talking skills, of course.

Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Mia Coleman/Thrillist

Make the perfect s’more

Roasting marshmallows for s’mores tends to result in one of two outcomes: an uncooked, almost-cold ’shmallow, or a full burn. For those of us seeking the perfect light char, there’s a technique. Grab a metal skewer or, if you’re old-school a stick (go with a newly-picked one, since fresh wood won’t catch fire as easily) and stick on your marshmallow(s). Hold the marshmallow 4 to 8 inches above glowing embers, being careful to avoid direct flames, as that’s how you get ignition. Look for spaces between logs in the fire -- the wood will reflect heat and create a natural oven effect, helping you cook the inside more thoroughly. Withdraw when it’s golden brown and serve. Once you’ve mastered the basic s’more, try out these recipes -- you haven’t lived ’til you’ve tried a peanut butter bacon s’more.

Go fish

If you’ve never explored your local streams and shores, you’re missing out on a classic summertime activity. Ideally, you should pick a spot by asking a local fisher, but city and state government websites generally also contain info on where it’s allowed and any permitting rules. (You can also check sites like Take Me Fishing.) Then you’ll need to get a rod, lures, and bait. Look for a simple open-faced spinning rod, as they’re the easiest to learn how to cast with. Just flip the cover bar down so the line lets out, then give your rod a flick to cast the lure. Local outdoor outfitters will have everything you need (and plenty of advice, opinions, and fishing tales you should take with a grain of salt). If you’re lucky, you might be able to turn that lazy summer hobby into fresh fish for your grill.

Learn a jump rope workout

With gyms closed, at-home and outdoor workouts are becoming the norm. Jumping rope is a simple addition to your usual exercise routine that’s really only doable outdoors (that is if you value any relationship with your downstairs neighbors) and allows for a surprising amount of variety. Since there are different types of rope for different fitness goals, consult a buying guide that can help you choose between options like beaded vs. PVC and thick vs. thin cords. Then it’s on to learn all the workouts: boxer steps, double unders, high knees, and more. (Some YouTube tutorials or an exercise explainer will definitely come in handy here.) You’ll get to channel a bit of childhood nostalgia and torch calories at the same time.

Photo: Shutterstock; Illustration: Mia Coleman/Thrillist

Upgrade your grilling game 

If you get a fireball of lighter fluid blowing up in your face like Elmer Fudd when you try to start your grill, you’ve got work to do. (Step 1: Proper grill technique says you shouldn’t be using lighter fluid at all.) Here at Thrillist, we have no shortage of grilling tips, but let’s start with a couple of basics: a chimney starter can help get your coals cooking sans lighter fluid. If you’re getting uneven cooking, try lying pieces of white bread across the grill for one to two minutes and seeing which spots come out blackened. One method for easily stepping up your grilling is smoking, i.e., cooking the meat low and slow (using half the number of coals as usual) and adding in wood chips or wood chunks for extra flavor. Because with tender, slow-cooked meat in your arsenal, your backyard barbecues just got a lot better.

Build a roaring fire

At the end of a long summer day, nothing beats relaxing by a crackling fire. Less relaxing, however, is having to restart said fire over and over. For the perfect blaze, you want to start your fire with tinder: dry, thin scraps of wood; dry pine needles; or leaves (dryer lint also works great here). Then layer kindling (thin wood about an inch thick) just above it in the classic teepee shape, so flames and heat coming off the tinder have room to catch. Be patient when lighting -- you don’t want to start fanning the flames before they’ve had time to grow. After the kindling catches, gently add larger firewood. Different wood will burn at different rates depending on the size of the fire, so keep an eye on it and add more fuel as needed. Soon you’ll be a pro at setting the perfect summer night bonfire (which will come in handy for making that s’more, too.)