How To Pick the Right Fire Pit

Outfit your backyard to cater to crowds and cooler temps.

When autumn arrives, cooler temps (hopefully) offer a welcome respite from this summer’s heat. Enjoy your backyard time better—and extend your evening dining and drinking window—by adding a fire pit to your arsenal of backyard embellishments. Use it as a common rallying point for socializing, roasting marshmallows, playing guitar or other revelry with family and friends, all while enjoying its warmth and mesmerizing flames. Start with the basics, first factoring the different types of fire pits available, from wood to gas and even pellet, and then balance buying considerations to transform your outdoor space into a true gathering hotspot. 

Pit Pointers

Study your outdoor space before playing Johnny Storm and saying “Flame On!” Determine your needs and goals for the fire pit, starting with where you have to place it (enclosed vs open-air, proximity of neighbors, and user capacity), and your budget. Next, when it comes to fuel, ask yourself if you mind procuring and chopping wood (and the smoke it creates), or if you’d rather have something easier you can control with a switch? Finally, do you want a permanent pit in the ground, or a portable option you can move around? Nail down these variables to lead you to the right light.

Fuel Types 

Outdoor fire pits burn through a wide gamut of fuel options, from wood to propane, natural gas and pellets.  

  • Wood: Great for DIY self-starters who like to build fires, watch flames and listen to the wood crackle; they’re more work, requiring you to make (and extinguish) the fire every time, and come with certain restrictions. You also can't use them on covered porches, under low branches or when it’s windy. And, if it’s dry, they’re often restricted by local fire laws (check with your homeowner's association, city, or county for restrictions before buying), plus there are some health risks associated with inhaling smoke from wood-burning pits.
  • Propane/Natural Gas: Both propane- and natural gas-fueled fire pits are easy to use (simply turn on the gas and start with either a built-in igniter or lighter), offer immediate temperate control, and work well on open porches with overhead roofs. They’re also generally neater (no need to deal with a pile of wood, ashes, smoke, or debris). Gas models burn cleaner with fewer emissions than wood or pellets, too.  
  • Wood pellets: Easy to use and load, pellets burn clean and smokeless. They also produce minimal ash, meaning little post-fire cleanup. Though not as efficient as gas, they have less moisture than wood and do burn more efficiently, providing up to 45 minutes of vibrant flames and good heat, where you won’t end up smelling like smoke. Bonus: No jacket holes from errant sparks. 


Like your indoor fireplace, outdoor fire pits can be a focal point of your deck or backyard. Consider your furnishings, gardens, siding, and overall exterior space to get one that complements your existing outdoor décor. Styles range from simple metal bowls, squares and rectangles to elaborate, fancier models at coffee table height with surface area for plates, drink holders and other features (need a pizza oven?). 


There’s a range here, impacting everything from price to performance. Popular options include stainless steel, which is rustproof and withstands fire heat well; galvanized steel, which is less expensive but less durable; cast aluminum, which is lighter and rust-resistant; copper, which is aesthetic but more expensive and can stain; and cast iron, which is solid and durable but heavy. Decide how often you’ll be moving it and how it augments its surroundings before making your purchase.    


Smokeless Pits

A new wave of smokeless fire pits pull air into the top and around the pit’s rim, where particulate matter can re-burn, eliminating most of the smoke. Some models burn wood (hint: use seasoned/dry wood instead of green), while others burn pellets. These designs that promote airflow do efficiently burn wood hot and thoroughly, creating more heat and mesmerizing flame patterns (meaning less ash to clean up), but also do it much faster than conventional pits (meaning more fuel to procure and feed). Companies like BioLite even offer a Bluetooth-controlled airflow system to improve combustion, while manufacturers like Solo Stove employ a double-walled airflow design. Note: While smokeless designs reduce smoke visually, they do still produce exhaust gasses. 

Fire Bowls 

These bowl-shaped pits are relatively simple and are typically made out of metal. Available in an array of sizes and designs, and with or without legs, they can be moved easier than heavier table-style designs. Fuel options range from wood and pellets to gas. 

Fire Tables/Tabletops 

As with bowls, table-style designs come in a variety of sizes, shapes and décors. More often fueled by gas than wood, they’re great for placing on wooden decks or porches as decorative pieces, without worry of sparks or ash. Many also come with glass beads for decoration and heat radiation, as well as ledges/counters for drinks and food. Running off gel or propane, tabletop pits are smaller and can be placed on top of table, making them great for small patios and decks. 


The tall and thin counter to bowl or table designs, fire columns range from cylindrical to rectangular and take up less surface area, making them perfect for tight outdoor quarters. Decorative and modern-looking in appearance, they typically run on natural gas or propane.


With a small opening in front for feeding wood and a chimney for funneling out smoke, chimineas are made from everything from clay to cast iron and copper and are known for radiating heat from wood fires. But be sure where you place it; they’re heavy and difficult to move.

Camping Pits 

Some folks favor portability over all else for making controlled campfires beyond the backyard, in dispersed and primitive campsites that do not otherwise have a fire ring. While campers can bring portable gas-burning pits, most backcountry models burn wood or charcoal and feature designs made for transport, with reduced size, weight and foldability in mind for a pit that is a step above a basic firepan—preventing damage to the soil and containing any ash—but not necessarily the standby fixture of a more permanent at-home setup. 

Final Factors


Check local ordinances regarding the placement of a fireplace or fire pit, along with “recreational” fires. Code requirements may dictate the location of a backyard pit and can influence how you operate your outdoor fire feature. Fire pits should never be used indoors. Other places not to place the pit: on a wooden deck, anywhere that is considered too close to your house or another structure, on the lawn, under an overhang, or anything that could quickly catch fire. 


Depending on features, models start as low as $40 up to $500 or more for newer designs. Beyond forged builds, pricier metals and technical airflow enhancements, other features that can impact price include removable ash trays for cleaning, mesh walls for flame viewing and other decorative touches. Note: Custom-built or -installed pits will have added costs with labor associated.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.