There’s something deeply primal yet peaceful about gathering with friends around a fire and gazing up at the stars. We’ve come a long way from the crude stone hearths early man built for warmth and companionship (and, probably, grilling up some mammoth steaks), so much so that fire pits now have a massive product category all to themselves. While early humans relied on fire as part of survival, modern models serve different purposes depending on their style. They can be serenely warm and cozy gathering places, elegant additions to a backyard, or the true focal point of an outdoor space. Now, the question is what is the best fire pit for your needs? Should it be a bowl fire pit or a fire pit table? Should you look for a natural wood fire pit, or the best propane fire pit?
As you can see, there are few limits to the form and function of fire pits, which makes them tricky to wrap your head around. We know firsthand just how many shapes, sizes, and styles are available. Our friends at BBQGuys put together this guide for everything you need to consider when shopping for an outdoor fire pit. Ready to stoke those embers of curiosity?
Fire Pit Fuel Types
Cavemen burned wood in their fire pits, but today we have a few other options. Gas has joined wood as a primary fuel, with a few new choices appearing here and there. Wood-burning models allow you to recreate family camping experiences in your own backyard, while gas units are known for being more customizable. Gas models must be filled with some type of media, and you can choose the color, type, size, and texture of fire pit filler. Though fire glass is the most common media, your filler can be mixed and even supplemented with fire pit décor to add an aesthetic flair. There are more differences between gas fire pits and wood fire pits, but we should first discuss each fuel type in greater detail.
Wood Fire Pits
The rustic charm of a roaring campfire in your own backyard sounds appealing, right? That’s exactly what you get with wood fire pits, which are usually the least expensive option in this category and come in many different shapes and styles. They also tend to be lightweight, meaning you can move them where warmth is most needed. Perhaps most importantly, wood-burning fire pits can produce larger and hotter fires than their gas counterparts (winter bonfires, anyone?) and are safe to cook on when using hardwood. Roasted marshmallows and caveman steaks aside, you’ll need to start your fire from scratch and clean up ash with each use. Never place wood fire pits below a structure, and never use them on wooden decking or other combustible surfaces.
Gas Fire Pits
Easy to ignite and mostly mess-free, gas fire pits are the more convenient option by far. Natural gas fire pits and propane fire pits are quite similar, but they differ in terms of mobility — propane models are portable when attached to standard, 20-pound tanks, whereas their natural gas brethren are hooked up to gas lines and fueled by utility companies. Note that a select few propane units can be connected to bulk tanks on your property, but they ultimately sacrifice mobility and must be inspected and installed by a licensed plumber. Natural gas models also require professional installation, even if you take advantage of how easy it is to build one using a DIY fire pit kit. Whatever you decide, remember that gas fire pits are never to be used for cooking.
Other Fire Pit Fuel Types
Wood and gas get all the shine, but there are a few innovative brands out that didn’t settle for conventional fuel types. A pellet fire pit, for instance, burns compressed wood heating (important: not “eating!”) pellets to pump out intense amounts of heat that keep you warm and cozy when the temperature drops. Why heating pellets? Well, they burn both hotter and longer than standard wood — in fact, a 20-pound bag of heating pellets can last approximately 8 hours in a Blaze fire pit.
Fire Pit Styles
Remember up top when we said outdoor fire pits come in a variety of styles? Yeah, we weren’t kidding. As you’ll see below, there are five popular styles that stand out in the current market. Each lends a different aesthetic to an outdoor space, and some are even surprisingly practical. Read on to see which style (or styles!) best fits your backyard.
Standard outdoor fire pits are usually rectangular, though they’re available in many different shapes and sizes. This style also includes a variety of materials and fuel types (making it even more diverse), and it’s common to see models with legs and some form of interior storage. From a design standpoint, these fire pits bring a familiar and classic aesthetic that works best in rustic or traditionally styled spaces.
With rounded bodies and beautiful contours, fire bowls are trendy and well suited to modern or European-style outdoor spaces. Their relatively streamlined design doesn’t allow for much or any storage, though some propane fire bowls have hidden tank compartments. This style is about innovation and making a statement, which is apparent in the many styles and shapes that help invoke a striking piece of outdoor décor.
Tabletop Fire Pits
These small-scale models are designed to be centerpieces for a dining table or anywhere else that might need a bit of light, warmth, and ambiance. They’re usually fueled by either a liquid or gel fuel that burns very cleanly, not to mention they give you all the charm of a fire pit while exerting only a tiny footprint.
Fire Pit Tables
No need to overthink this one. Fire pit tables are exactly what they sound like — a table with a built-in fire pit! Perfect for nighttime meals or wine tastings on cold evenings, these models come in different heights to fit your preference or current patio furniture. You can also purchase a complete fire pit set with chairs at the appropriate height, and there are even units with interchangeable pit and ice bucket inserts.
Fire Pit Grills
OK, now this is just cheating. With a wood-burning fire below and a cooking surface above, you can enjoy a cozy campfire, prepare a meal on the grates, or do both at the same time! Some fire pit tables and sets have a cooking grate insert that lets you convert them into a grill, but just be sure to use hardwood like oak or pecan when grilling. Softwood species like pine contain bad-tasting and potentially harmful chemicals.
Hopefully this fire pit buying guide has you all fired up and ready to transform your backyard with this warm centerpiece as you gather with friends and family!