There’s a tribal pull to a firepit: Friends gather, conversation flows, the smoke of your cigar blends with the cinders. It’s magnetic, like the kitchen in your home. So why would you put a Sub Zero and a Wolf stove inside and not build anything but an investment grade centerpiece for the backyard?
“This is something you’ll pass down to your children,” says Mike Bertelsen, the creator of the Cowboy Cauldron, a suspended firepit that—like the Big Green Egg and other “heirloom grade” hard goods—has inspired devotion. “It suits your most primal instinct. Around a circle, face to face, not looking at it like a screen.”
Bertelsen, a D.C. lobbyist, says the Cauldron idea sprung from a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. “They had a couple of braziers hanging to keep the onlookers warm, and it just clicked for me. I had a guy make one out of steel and next thing you know I had people opening up about their personal lives, which is a rare thing in Washington, D.C.”
The Cauldron lifestyle soon spread among seemingly unconnected customers. The Prince of Qatar has nine of them. Meadowood Restaurant in Napa, the Four Seasons, Mayacamas Vineyards and Blue Smoke all have one (or more). With names like the Urban Cowboy, the Wrangler and the Ranch Boss, they range in price from $1,695 to $2,995.
Today, the units are stamped out of American steel by a ball-field-sized press in Ohio. Functionally, the alloy is formulated to stretch into the half-sphere structure, which allows it to radiate evenly to your legs and feet while concentrating the heat inside the grill. The Cauldron can also be a cooking surface with the addition of a grate, made in Indiana.
But the Cauldron would be a failure if it were only a cook top or social catalyst. It works because it’s a damn good pit to stand around. “The warmth is closer to your core, while the smoke is already accelerating past your head as it rises,” says Bertelsen. “It’s beautiful, functional, practical.”
Just about the only thing wrong with the Cauldron? Getting one. “We don’t have trouble selling cauldrons, we have trouble making them,” says Bertelsen.