Whether you are on your back porch or camping in the mountains, there’s nothing quite like sitting around one of the best fire pits. It is a pleasure humankind has shared since the dawn of time. Beyond the utility of staying warm and cooking food, a good quality fire pit can be a source of entertainment and the focal point of your modern back yard or patio. It is a place to share memories and make new ones.
Significant design improvements have been made in recent years in terms of safety, aesthetics and reduced smoke. And as we move beyond the traditional stone circle, the amount of options available can seem overwhelming. Fire pits have now been split into two categories: Traditional and smokeless.
Traditional fire pits consist of a metal fire bowl that is raised off the ground by legs. They are typically constructed of steel, coated in a heat and rust-resistant paint and come in a wide range of sizes.
Smokeless fire pits are also constructed of steel, but have a double-walled design with strategically placed air holes for improved airflow. This airflow allows for a more complete burn, and therefore less smoke. They typically sit on a base just a few inches off the ground.
Within those categories, there are also portable and non-portable fire pits. These designs tend to be more lightweight, with the ability to collapse the body. It may also come with handles or a carrying bag.
To help you choose a model, we stoked the fires and put more than a dozen of the most popular fire pits to the test. These were tested by an experienced camper, Eagle Scout and former cookstove product designer on his family farm. Each fire pit was tested three times using the same type of firewood and fire starting techniques. Ease of lighting, smoke and spark production and heat throw were among the many observations recorded. All fire pits were then left outside in the elements for over a month after use to test for weathering.
Best Smokeless Fire Pits
As a smokeless fire pit, the Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0 offers everything and more. It has a sleek design, great airflow for a nice smokeless burn, and is very easy to clean after each use. It was the only smokeless fire pit in our tests that had both a removable ash pan (the metal grate the logs sit on) and a removable ash tray located below the pan. This made the Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0 the easiest fire pit clean out of all of those we tested. That’s why it takes the top spot as the best fire pit.
The Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0 was incredibly simple to assemble, taking less than a minute; just rest it on its base and flip over the fire ring on top. That’s it! It had great instructions, and I was able to build a nice, controlled fire very easily. It produced very little smoke and sparks, and after half an hour, the fire burnt down to a point that was perfect for roasting marshmallows.
Unlike other fire pits that may reserve stainless steel for only the inner burn chamber, the Bonfire 2.0 is entirely constructed out of corrosion-resistant stainless steel. This results in a sturdy and quality product. In fact, Solo stove is so confident in the design and durability, that it offers a lifetime warranty with each fire pit.
Like most smokeless fire pits, the Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0 is not designed to be permanently left outside. There are no built-in handles and the smooth stainless steel design can be slippery when moving. However, it comes with its own canvas travel bag and at just over 23 pounds, it is relatively easy to pick up. The included stainless-steel stand fits and supports well, lifting the fire pit off the ground by a few inches. Overall, I was very impressed with this fire pit, and could find little to complain about. It should provide years of backyard entertainment.
If buying cords of wood is not your thing, Solo Stove also sells a wood pellet adapter (opens in new tab) for its fire pits; this perforated metal plate sits inside the stove, and lets you pour in pellets to keep the fire going.
What makes the Cuisinart Cleanburn Fire Pit unique is its bowl-shaped design. While the majority of other smokeless fire pits have vertical walls, the Cuisinart Cleanburn’s convex shape gives it two advantages. First, it makes it much easier to reach in to light the fire compared to the traditional deep-cylinder design. Second, once the fire is going, its concave design radiates the fire’s heat outwards towards the user, instead of straight up. Heat could be felt sitting over 6-feet away. This made the Cuisinart Cleanburn the warmest fire pit to sit around, compared to all other brands tested.
The Cuisinart Cleanburn was very easy to assemble, taking only a couple minutes to figure out. Just rest the fire pit on the base and give it a quarter turn clockwise to lock it into place. The base has a useful integrated ash tray. When it’s time to dump the ashes, just twist the fire pit a quarter turn counter-clockwise and lift it off the base to reveal the ash. It was definitely an inconvenience compared to the Solo Stove Bonfire 2.0, but not a dealbreaker. Though, I admittedly had to use a small hand broom to sweep the excess ash down through the holes in the fire pit, so it all ended up in the tray. At 22-pounds, there is also the option of flipping the fire pit over after removing it from the base to dump out the remaining ash and debris.
With a limited, one-year warranty, you definitely want to take good care of this fire pit and bring it inside after each use. Although it does not come with a cover, they are available to purchase separately online. Overall, the Cuisinart CleanBurn Fire Pit created the best fire-side experience in our tests. It was easy to light, produced very little smoke and sparks once started and burned steadily for about 35 minutes. If it had a better warranty, the Cuisinart Cleanburn fire pit could have tied for first place as the best fire pit.
If you’re looking for the best “portable” smokeless fire pit, the Tiki Portable is our recommendation. It has a stylish and compact, rectangular design, a removable ash tray and convenient handles. Built with a 16-gauge stainless steel interior and powder-coated exterior, this fire pit is both durable and sturdy. Plus, it’s easy on the eye too.
The Tiki Portable had easy-to-follow instructions and took about five minutes to assemble with the included hardware. It was the only rectangular-shaped fire pit we tested, but it performed just as well as its cylindrical counterparts, offering a four-foot heat radius from the fire and the longest burn-time (40 minutes) of all the fire pits we tested. It was easy to reach-in and light the fire because of its width, and it produced a nice, low-smoke flame. Weighing in at 41 pounds, it is surprisingly heavy for a “portable” fire pit, but the handles make moving it easy.
The Tiki Portable features a removable ash tray, and the interior just requires a quick brush between uses to knock the ash down into the tray. You just grab the tray by the handle and it pulls right out of the unit without having to move the fire pit at all. It comes with a weather-resistant canvas cover, however, that does not mean it should be left outside for an extended period of time.
The fire pit also comes with a pack of Tiki Brand of wood pellets; just light the bag for an easy ½ hour campfire. This fire pit worked equally well using hardwood and wood pellets as fuel. Both options burn very well, but the wood pellets felt like they produced more heat from a distance, although they didn’t burn for as long as the hardwood. However, it was very easy to add another log or two to the fire after the wood pellets died down. Whether sitting in your back patio or camping by the lake, the Tiki Portable is a great fire pit option for people on the go.
For those who like to sit around a big campfire, but don’t enjoy the smoke, the Breeo X 24 is a rugged backyard companion. Weighing a whopping 62 pounds, this fire pit is built tough, with corrosion-resistant Corten steel. The 24-inch interior provides ample room for wood and creates a nice, large fire with plenty of scope for at least eight people to gather around.
Unlike most fire pits, the Breeo X 24 is designed to be left outside all year round. As it weathers, the patina of the steel changes color, creating an attractive finish without impacting the integrity of the fire pit.
The Breeo X 24 comes ready to use right out of the box. It is expensive, but to be fair, it is more convenient, able to withstand years of exposure to the elements. Although it is designed to be left outside, an optional and also expensive $180 lid is available from the Breeo website if you want to add additional protection to your investment. The air vents on the floor of the burn chamber are in a raised X-shape, which makes ash removal difficult, and the weight makes it unwieldy to dump out as well. In response, some users have modified dust pans into pie-shaped wedges to clean it. Breeo does offer an optional ash shovel for $40.
I was able to fit six logs in the fire pit, creating a large, controlled fire without any noticeable increase in smoke. It burnt through firewood slightly faster than the other brands we tested, lasting about 25 minutes, but its large size made it easy to add additional logs. Of all the smokeless fire pits we tested, the Breeo X 24 had the best “campfire feel” — it would suit those who require large and regular fires, while being prepared to pay for a premium design. It’s a high price to pay, but it still makes the list as one of the best fire pits.
The Tiki Fire Pit is a great looking and well-made smokeless fire pit. It features a stainless-steel burn chamber and a powder-coated steel exterior. It does come with a weather-resistant canvas cover, however, the fire pit is not designed to be left outside for an extended period of time. And at 43 pounds, it can be a bit cumbersome to move when necessary. The fire pit comes complete with a pack of Tiki Brand of wood pellets and a special cone insert for the perfect wood pellet fire. Just light the bag for an easy ½ hour campfire.
The Tiki Fire Pit had easy-to-follow instructions and took about five minutes to assemble with the included hardware. While it offers a four-foot heat radius, it had the coolest exterior surface temperature of all the other smokeless fire pits we tested (under 160°F), making it much safer to be around.
Similar to the portable version, theTiki Fire Pit features a wood-handled removable ash tray that pulls right out of the unit without having to move the fire pit at all. This made clean-up very easy.
Due to its surprisingly shallow burn chamber (just 7.5 inches deep), standard 16-inch split logs would often stack up above the rim and create excess smoke. This was frustrating as it occurred every single time I added additional logs, thus limiting my control of the fire. For the size of the unit, you would expect a deeper burn chamber. However, this fire pit worked fantastically well with the supplied wood pellets, creating a nice, warm, smokeless fire. Just wait for the hot coals to burn down to roast the perfect marshmallow. If you plan to mainly use wood pellets for fuel, then we highly recommend the Tiki Fire Pit as the best fire pit.
It is difficult to compare the BioLite Firepit+ because it has a different design to all the other fire pits we tested. Typical smokeless fire pits use passive convection to pull air into the fire pit to achieve a smokeless burn. The BioLite Firepit+ uses forced air, powered by a rechargeable blower that attaches to the side of the unit. That forced air goes into the fire pit with 51 strategically placed air jets.
This unique design paired with handles, foldable legs, a grill and a weight of less than 20 pounds, makes for an ideal portable fire pit for cooking. The rechargeable blower has three speeds for different intensities of burn and even offers Bluetooth connection through your smartphone for added accessibility. The higher the speed, the hotter the fire. This makes cooking on this fire pit very manageable. Once the fire burned down to embers, it was easy to control the heat to cook hotdogs without burning them. As the embers burned down, I would simply increase the airflow to keep the grill hot. This gave me much more control over the fire than I’ve experienced with any other fire pit, and it pleasantly reduced the amount of smoke in my face while cooking.
The blower is easily detached and charged with a micro-USB cord and has up to a 30-hour run time on low. The blower also doubles as a power bank and can be used to charge your USB devices while off the grid — or fire pit.
The BioLite Firepit+ pit was by far the easiest to light out of all the fire pits we tested — the forced air maintains a steady flow of oxygen to the fire. It is designed to use both wood and charcoal, and creates manageable cooking coals in less than 20 minutes. The drawback of the design is that the blower makes an audible noise in use and it only works as a smokeless fire pit if the blower is charged. Being electric, it is also not designed to be used out in the rain, which could be a dealbreaker if you choose to use it as your primary camping grill and need to cook regardless of the weather. The BioLite Firepit+ is a great option if you’re looking for a smoke-free camping grill, but is not recommended as a primary backyard fire pit.
Best Traditional Fire Pits
We found the Bali Outdoors 32-inch to be the best traditional fire pit, and it comes at a great price. Its large, 32-inch diameter interior holds a lot of wood and throws a nice amount of heat to those nearby. It is solidly built, easy to use and very stable. In fact, it seemed to be the best constructed of all the traditional fire pits we tested. This fire pit comes with an 18-inch adjustable grill that can be swiveled into place at an ideal cooking height. It also comes with a collapsible internal log frame to make building your fire a breeze.
The Bali Outdoors 32-inch does not come with a mesh screen cover, mainly due to the built-in adjustable grill. If you live in an area where local regulations require a screen cover for fire pits, this will likely be a dealbreaker. We did, however, like that that grill can be locked into place at different heights or easily removed if not required. We cooked hotdogs evenly with the grill set at the top rim level.
This fire pit had the most pieces to assemble of all the fire pits we tested and took about half an hour to do so. However, it had very detailed and intuitive instructions, so it wasn’t difficult. It features a nice ledge around the rim that works as a great safety bumper as well as a shelf to rest a mug of hot chocolate. The design also includes a ring of steel that overlaps the legs for support. This acts as an additional safety bumper, so you can’t trip over the legs while walking by. It comes with a very short fire poker. Though it works well when the fire burns down and you can get close enough, it will most likely result in singed fingers when the fire is fully stoked.
We liked that the fire pit has drain holes in its base in case it gets rained on. Based on reviews, the fire pit can be prone to rust, especially at the base of the bowl and the screen around the fire bowl, but that was similar across all fire pits we reviewed. It is designed to be left outdoors for the season, but rust can be prevented if it’s covered or brought inside when not in use. This fire pit was easy to light and it’s easy to build a large, controlled fire which produces a typical amount of smoke for a traditional fire pit. Overall, it provided an all-around nice fire pit experience — that’s why it’s one of the best fire pits.
The Hampton Bay Piedmont comes with a large 24-inch wide by 12-inch deep fire bowl, an adjustable grill rack and a mesh screen cover. The fire bowl features drain holes drilled into the center to prevent water accumulation and rust. A safety ring circulates the rim of the pit, similar to the Bali Outdoors 32 inch, and this can be used as both a safety bumper and a handle for moving the unit.
One feature that makes the Hampton Bay Piedmont stand out against its competitors is its heat shield. This is a metal pan below the fire bowl that shields the ground from the heat above. Because of this feature, during testing, this fire pit was the only one that didn’t make the ground steam. While the instructions still recommend placing this fire pit on stone or sand, it is nice to have that added layer of protection.
It took about 25 minutes to assemble the Piedmont and getting the safety ring aligned was a little tricky, but it looked great and was very sturdy once completed. The grill uses wingnuts to adjust the height and location of the rack, which proved a little awkward — the one that adjusts the height is located on the inside of the fire pit right next to the fire. We tried cooking hot dogs and had initially set the rack too high, but we were unable to adjust it because of the heat. However, it does have a second grilling option where the user can forego the height adjustment bar and just place the grill on hooks directly above the coals.
The Hampton Bay Piedmont tested very well under our trials and is a great fire pit overall. We were able to build a fire large enough to warm eight people sitting around it, but still felt that it was safe and under control. The one glaring drawback is the short 90-day warranty.
The Sunnydaze Cosmic Fire Pit stands out for featuring a celestial moon and stars design cut around the fire bowl, that shines as the fire burns inside. It comes with a mesh screen cover, a screen lifting tool and a removable grilling rack. Unlike all of the other pits we tested, this one has three legs instead of four. Although it might not be as stable on level ground, the tripod design makes it great on uneven surfaces as all legs make ground contact.
Assembly took about 15 minutes, and probably could have been faster if the instructions were clearer on which sized screws went to which part. The safety ring that circles the rim helps protect the user from accidental burns and doubles as a handle to move the fire pit when not in use — at just 18 pounds, moving it is very easy.
At 10-inches deep, the fire bowl was slightly shorter than some other models we tested, which made it easier to reach in and light. The shallower bowl did not seem to reduce the safety at all and the wood never reached above the rim. Smoke and sparks produced were typical with other fire pits of this size, and the mesh screen worked well to contain the sparks in the wind. Once the fire burnt-down, hot dogs cooked quickly on the removable grilling rack, but I managed to avoid burning them by keeping them moving.
The Sunnydaze Cosmic Fire Pit features raised metal strips on the floor of the fire bowl that act as a wood grate; this both strengthens the base and helps increase initial airflow to the fire by lifting the wood off the floor. Overall, it produced a great fire and was the best fire pit, according to my kids.
At $128 at the time of this review, the Amazon Basics 23.5 Inch Steel Lattice Fire Pit is one of the best priced fire pits we’ve tested. It features a 23.5-inch wide and 12-inch deep fire bowl with a mesh screen cover. It’s the only fire pit we’ve seen with designated handles, giving it a rustic, cauldron-like appearance. And at 17 pounds, it was very easy to move around and dump out the ash. It has no grill. It is your basic backyard fire pit, but it’s still one of the best fire pits.
It took approximately 20 minutes to assemble and the instructions were very straightforward. The fire was easy to light and produced a nice, controlled flame in a matter of minutes. The attractive lattice design combined with wire mesh allowed plenty of airflow for large fires with very few sparks. Overall, the burn time lasted about half an hour, which was similar across the other traditional fire pits of this size.
Most traditional fire pits we tested came with short fire screen lifting tools or pokers that were only 14-19 inches long. The Amazon Basics Lattice Fire Pit, on the other hand, came with a 3-foot-long fire poker that doubles as a screen lifter. That tool made it much easier to manage the fire at a safe distance compared to all the other fire pits.
The one main drawback of this fire pit is that it doesn’t come with any drain holes. While traditional fire pits aren’t designed to be left uncovered outside for extended periods of time, most have at least one drain hole to prevent accidental water buildup and premature rusting. Besides that one gripe, it is a great overall fire pit that is both sturdy and attractive, at a great price. It has the basics of what you need for a good backyard bonfire.
If you are looking for an attractive focal-point for your backyard patio, the Amazon Basics 34-Inch Natural Stone Fire Pit is the one for you. It is basically a beautiful stone table with a shallow fire pit in the middle. With sleek, adjustable legs, the table can be leveled on any fireproof, flat surface. It comes with a mesh screen cover, fire tool, log grate and removable fire bowl for easy cleaning, and at $200, it won’t break the bank either.
If you order this, don’t be surprised when a heavy box shows up that is only 6-inches thick. I had a hard time believing there was a full-sized fire pit in there. The 52-pound weight made the assembly a little cumbersome to do solo, but after about 15-minutes, there it was. Keep in mind that it’s not a quick one to move around, due to this weight.
It has a very shallow, 6-inch deep fire bowl. There are no drain holes here, but it can and probably should be removed and stored in a dry place between uses to prevent rust. Starting a fire in this fire pit was very easy, but don’t expect to fit a lot of wood in there. This fire pit smoked more than the other traditional fire pits tested and the wind sometimes caused the embers to blow out of the shallow bowl, presenting a safety hazard. Like any fire pit, use of the spark screen in windy environments helps limit the potential danger. Smaller-diameter split logs created the best warm fire experience with less smoke and sparks. Overall, the Amazon Basics 34-inch Natural Stone Fire Pit works well if you don’t expect large fires and it’s a fantastic looking addition to any patio — that’s why it’s one of the best fire pits.
Fireside Outdoor created this ultra-portable Pop-Up Pit with a mission of creating safer and cleaner campfire experiences. The Pop-Up Pit is fully collapsible and has a unique design compared to the other fire pits we tested. In fact, it only weighs eight pounds and packs down into its own 5” X 5” X 27” carrying bag. It is so compact that it can easily be strapped onto a backpack and carried into remote campsites.
Don’t let the compact size fool you. In less than three minutes, it unfolds into a sizable 15” high and 24” X 24” wide fire pit. The mesh screen that holds the fire is rated to support up to 125 pounds of firewood, for a surprisingly large bonfire. The mesh allows for constant airflow underneath, resulting in a more complete burn and less smoke than those fire pits that use a solid metal bowl. The most time-consuming part of the three-minute setup is attaching the cloth heat shield underneath the unit using the supplied Velcro straps.
The Pop-Up Pit has 3.5”-high aluminum sides, which made it the easiest of all the fire pits we tested to reach in and light the fire. However, this also meant that it was prone to creating sparks when the wind blew. Although this might make it a little more dangerous than the other fire pits we tested, Fireside Outdoor designed it to meet federal fire pan safety regulations and it’s definitely safer than the traditional stone campfire circle. Overall, it created a surprisingly great bonfire, and cleanup and breakdown took less than five minutes. While I would personally choose a smokeless or more traditional fire pit design for backyard or patio entertainment, I was very impressed with the Pop-Up Pit and would recommend it for anyone who loves camping.
How we selected and tested the best fire pits
There are hundreds of fire pits available on the market. The ones chosen for this test were selected because they ranked among the highest in terms of product reviews from reputable brands and vendors. We were looking for fire pits that were durable, aesthetically pleasing and provided a proper balance of functionality and easy maintenance. Not all fire pits we tested earned the right to be listed in our Best Fire Pits ranking.
Each fire pit featured in our best fire pit list was tested by an experienced camper, Eagle Scout and former cookstove product designer and his family on their historic farm. Fire pits were separated into smokeless and traditional design categories. Each fire pit was used a minimum of three times and left uncovered outside exposed to the Western, NY elements for at least one month. Ash wood (a hardwood from the ash tree that is available in abundance in the Northeast due to the Emerald Ash Borer infestation) that had been split and cured in standard 16-inch lengths was the firewood used for all tests. All fire pits were started with the same fire-starting technique (crumpled-up newspaper and kindling) and the same quantity of wood. If alternate fuels, such as wood pellets were supplied, we tried those out too.
Heat throw of the smokeless fire pits was tested by walking towards the burning fire pit until heat radiating from the fire could be felt, and that distance was measured. The further the distance, the further the heat was thrown. Hotdogs were the grilling food of choice for this test if a grill was included. Of course, no fire pit test is complete without roasted marshmallows, and so marshmallows were roasted once on each pit. This tester’s favorite marshmallow roasting stick is a collapsible model from MalloMe ($9.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)).
What to look for when buying fire pits
For as far back as humankind has existed, we have used fire pits for light, warmth, food preparation and community. They offer us a chance to unplug and connect with our past while making new memories with friends and family. A simple circle of stones, some dry wood and a spark has been the millennia-old recipe for campfire designs. However, it can also be a recipe for disaster in the wrong conditions. With wildfires and air pollution becoming more prevalent, a need for a safer campfire experience has recently pushed the design of the fire pit into new realms.
The backyard fire pit has had some major improvements over the past two decades. The simple stone circle is being replaced with raised metal platforms, aesthetic provisions, improved airflow and greater convenience. Fire pits have now been split into two categories – Traditional and Smokeless. Within those categories, there are also portable and non-portable designs. The difference between these is usually dependent on weight, the ability to collapse the body and the presence of handles or a carrying bag.
Traditional fire pits are typically constructed of steel, coated in a heat and rust-resistant paint. They are supported by legs that raise a fire bowl off the ground. Some have an open, shallow design while others have a deep wall encircling the bowl that acts as a wind screen and a spark container. These fire pits are usually wide and heavy and create a “normal” amount of smoke. Some have attachments for cooking food and can double up as a charcoal grill. Many traditional fire pits feature artistic designs and can make for a beautiful addition to a backyard patio, even when not in-use. If you'd prefer to grill the old-fashioned way, be sure to check out the best grills.
Smokeless fire pits are constructed of steel and have a double-walled design with strategically placed air holes for improved airflow and less smoke. They sit low to the ground and usually throw less heat outward when compared to traditional fire pits. This is because the double-wall acts as an insulator and most of the heat is consequently directed straight up. The fire burns very efficiently and a little ash is usually all that remains of the wood. The low-smoke design makes them ideal for crowded areas, where smoke can bother people. The most popular smokeless fire pits are typically smaller in diameter than traditional fire pits, but usually burn for the same amount of time.
If convenience is what you’re looking for, find a fire pit that’s easy to clean. Wood ash should always be removed after each use. A clean fire pit will burn more efficiently, plus it’s less prone to rust, so this is important. However, some can be a real pain to clean out. Look for ones that are either large enough to reach into with a dustpan or come with a removable ash tray.
Are you an RV camper? If you are just planning to use a fire pit for a few nights relatively close to your vehicle, then a portable version could be a good fit along with one of the best coolers. You can get the comfort and safety of a fire pit in a much smaller and lighter package. Some of the portable devices also double up as grills and even power sources. However, if you plan to hike into a campsite, then an ultra-portable fire pit, such as the Fireside Outdoors Pop-Up Pit, offers a much safer alternative to your traditional campfire, without taking up much space in your pack.
If you plan to cook on your fire pit, then choose a model that comes with cooking accessories. This usually includes a grill plate that you would slide into position once the fire has burnt down to hot coals. Many fire pits can also use charcoal for a more grill-like cooking experience. The BioLite stove with electric forced air is the best all-around cooking fire pit we reviewed. If you want to up your outdoor cooking game beyond the traditional grilled hotdog, hamburger or chicken, Solo Stove just came out with a new pizza oven attachment for their Bonfire 2.0 stove. Plus, be sure to check out the best outdoor pizza ovens.
Not all fire pit manufacturers are the same. While some may be jumping on the fire pit bandwagon, other brands are truly driven by social or environmental missions to improve air quality and safety. BioLite, for example, designs cookstoves and other products to make cooking safer in developing countries. Fireside Outdoor has a mission to revolutionize the campfire experience by reducing pollution and wildfires that can result from camping. If you like to support mission-driven companies, then perhaps choose a quality product from one of these manufacturers.
Prices for the fire pits we tested ranged from $119 to $599. These prices have been fluctuating wildly over the past few years, and even weeks. We recommend looking for a mix of durability and functionality, at a price you can afford.
Smoke follows beauty: The facts about smokeless fire pits
Have you ever had the sensation that wherever you sit around a campfire, the smoke finds you? As they say, “smoke follows beauty.” While that saying makes it sound like a flattering event, in reality it is irritating and bad for you. Your eyes start watering, it’s not good for you to breathe it in and good luck getting the smell out of your hair and clothes. It is the lack of heat and airflow to the fire that causes the wood to smoke instead of burning efficiently. With that in mind, designers have created what they call “Smokeless Fire Pits.”
While even the best fire pits aren’t completely smokeless, smokeless fire pits are a huge improvement to the traditional fire pits. As mentioned earlier, the smokeless fire pits are constructed of steel and have a double-walled design with strategically placed air holes for improved airflow. The air comes in from the bottom to provide the initial oxygen for the fire. At the same time, additional air is pulled up and heated between the double-walls of the fire pit where it exits higher up into the burn chamber and completes what the manufacturers call a ‘secondary combustion’ of the smoke and gasses that are released.
Expect some smoke when you start your fire. It takes a few minutes for the fire to grow and for the air to start drafting properly. Once it does, the fuel will burn efficiently as long as the wood stays below the rim of the smokeless fire pit. Anything that sticks up above the rim smokes. As long as a good source of hardwood fuel is used and the wood stays below the rim, there is very little noticeable difference in smoke output between brands and designs.
Smokeless fire pits usually throw less heat outward when compared to traditional fire pits, as the double-wall acts as an insulator and most of the heat is directed straight up. The outer wall also does not get nearly as hot and so the user does not feel as much warmth radiating from the fire pit.
How to build a fire
A good campfire requires just three components: dry fuel (usually wood or charcoal), oxygen and a heat source to ignite the fuel. The right combination of those three ingredients will create a roaring fire. Take any one of them away and the fire will go out.
Start small. Place a couple sheets of crumpled-up newspaper or a couple of store-bought fire starters at the bottom of the fire pit. Break up some dry, small sticks (kindling) about the diameter of a pencil and pile them against the newspaper or firestarter. Place slightly larger diameter sticks on top of that pile. Try to avoid piling too much on top as that will reduce airflow and snuff out the fire. Then, carefully light the newspaper or fire starter. I personally like to use a propane torch lighter, but matches or regular lighters work well too. This should start to ignite the smaller sticks, which in-turn will ignite the larger sticks.
Once the larger sticks start to burn, start adding a few split logs into the pit. Now that it’s burning, keep adding logs as needed for as long as you want it to burn. Each smokeless fire pit we tested comes with its own fire-starting instructions. Always read and follow the instructions before using your fire pit.
Hardwoods are the fuel of choice for any fire pit. The most common that you’ll find are Ash, Birch, Maple, Oak and most fruit tree varieties like apple, pear and cherry. Hardwoods are typically very dense and low in resin or sap. They provide the longest burn times and the most heat output for their weight. Of course, not everyone has access to their fuel of choice, so if you’re stuck with pine, that’s ok too. You can still make a decent outdoor fire, but it will burn faster and probably produce more smoke and sparks. Also, know that if you plan to use resinous wood like pine, the burnt sap can leave marks on stainless steel that is very hard to remove. Pine should never be burnt indoors; it can release a toxic chemical called creosote, which can block the chimney and cause chimney fires.
Most firewood available for purchase is pre-split and cut into standard sixteen-inch-long pieces. It is nearly always cured, where the entire log is left to dry-out for up to a year after being cut down. That way you are starting out with dry wood that is ready to burn. The key is to keep your wood and kindling dry! Have a designated box, shelter or garbage can where you can keep your wood protected from the elements.
Wood pellets are quickly becoming a popular alternative fuel for use in fire pits and smokers. Wood pellets are basically sawdust compressed into small capsule-sized pellets. They provide a nice, easy alternative to split logs. A 50-pound bag is relatively inexpensive to buy and can be stored in a portable rain-proof bucket. Whenever you want to start a fire, just place a couple scoops of wood chips into the fire pit and then light it with a torch lighter. As the fire dies down, add another scoop to keep it going. It burns very efficiently and leaves little ash behind. Some models, such as the Tiki brand fire pit, work well with wood pellets and Tiki even offers its own pellet packs for sale.
Use and maintenance of your fire pit
Many fire pits are not designed to be left outside in the elements. Just as water can put out a fire, it can also destroy your fire pit over time. That bowl-shaped design that holds the wood and ash is also very good at catching water. Most fire and rust-resistant paint in the fire bowls burns away within a few months of use, exposing the unprotected metal. When exposed to water, that metal can rust, leaving a dangerously thin layer holding up your entire campfire.
If you’re in an area prone to rain or do not plan to use the fire pit for a while, either cover it, flip it over or move it inside. Do whatever you can to keep water out of it. This is your best bet to extend the life of the product.
Whether you are using a traditional or smokeless fire pit, clean the ash out after every use! Ash will reduce the airflow for your next fire and can also trap moisture against the metal. Some fire pits have slide-out ash trays or removable bases for easily dumping the ash. Others will require more effort, such as flipping it over or using a brush, a small dustpan or even a leaf blower to get the ashes out.
For obvious reasons, any open flame should be kept away from houses and combustible materials. This is especially true for fire pits that project heat down and send sparks flying up. Placing it on the corner of a stone patio or on a stone platform away from any buildings or overhanging trees is the best location. Although campfires can be a great social activity, they can still pose a danger, especially to young children. Do not leave children unattended around an open flame.
Most fire pits are not designed to be placed on a grass lawn. The heat from the underside can scorch the grass and even set fire to it, despite the fire pit being several inches off the ground. Some fire pits offer heat shields that protect the ground below, but most do not. If you are intent on placing a fire pit on your lawn, it is recommended that you place stone patio pavers underneath as a platform. This protects the ground and keeps the weeds from growing up underneath the fire pit between uses.
Wooden decks can be flammable and composite wood patios can melt if a heat shield is not used to protect the surface. Again, just a few inexpensive stone pavers from your local lawn and garden store can be used to create a good-looking, solid platform on which to rest your fire pit and protect your deck.
Always exercise caution in times of drought. Even smokeless fire pits can send up sparks that could ignite nearby brush. Dried tree roots have also been known to catch fire under fire pits and smolder underground, eventually igniting nearby trees. Try to avoid starting campfires on windy days as well — as this can blow embers hundreds of feet away. Whenever possible, always have a source of water or sand available to douse a fire. A little common sense goes a long way in preventing wildfires.