A good fire pit can take your outdoor space from meh to downright magical with one strike of a match—especially on a crisp autumn night. But finding the perfect fire pit for your backyard can seem like an impossible task, especially considering the crazy-big selection that’s out there.
Should you choose something simple and portable, or something more permanent that will become a design element in your home? Do you need space to cook, or are you just hoping to stay warm while stargazing?
We know—it’s overwhelming. But don’t get burned out! We’re here to help with expert tips for picking your perfect fire pit.
Determine your fire pit’s purpose
The first thing you’ll want to consider when shopping for outdoor fire pits is why you want one in the first place.
“Will it be used for outdoor decor and ambiance? Or an outdoor heater and/or cooking appliance? Do you plan to take it with you on camping trips?” asks Erick Chang, owner of FireplaceLab. “Depending on these answers, there will be an appropriate type of fire pit.”
Then decide whether you want one that’s permanently installed outside your home, or something more portable that can travel with you.
While many fire pits can be used for cooking, some just shouldn’t be. You’ll want to get specific in your research if you’re looking for an all-in-one fire pit-grill. You might even consider building your own.
How hot do you like it?
Something else to keep in mind during your hunt: how hot you actually want your fire pit to be.
“One common mistake I see people making is overestimating a fire pit’s capability to heat up its surrounding space,” Chang says.
To combat this, he recommends looking for fire pits with a higher BTU (British thermal unit) than you think you need.
“For optimal heat to hang around, you’ll want to go with a wood-burning fire pit, as they burn hotter,” he says. “I really like the Solo Stove fire pits, which are unique because you get the benefits of wood-burning fire pit but without the smoke.”
Decide what’s going to fuel your fire
When picking out your perfect fire pit, you should also think about the type of fuel you’d like to use—since each one (wood, propane, and natural gas) has its pros and cons.
“Wood-burning pits are the least expensive, but can be troublesome to light,” Chang says. “Propane is the easiest to ignite with minimal cleanup, and natural gas is very high effort to set up and hook up—so it’s often used for permanent fixtures in the yard.”
If you’re more interested in a low-key centerpiece than a rolling campfire, then you probably want to avoid wood.
“Propane and natural gas fire pits give homeowners complete control of igniting and putting out a fire with the flip of a switch,” says Rhianna Miller, landscape and yard design expert with Rubber Mulch.
Consider, for instance, this propane fire pit from the Outland Living Series.
“I especially like the look of fire pit tables,” Chang says. “And this one has a wicker material, which gives it a high-end feel.”
Consider the material—and your weather
Then, of course, you’ll need to decide what you want your fire pit to look like and how it will serve your lifestyle best—it is going to be your central outdoor accessory, after all.
“Designwise, I really love how a nice round fire pit or fire-bowl fire pit looks,” says Nick Stokes, editor of HeatWhiz.com. “But usagewise, fire pit tables are hands-down the superior option since they let you have both a fire pit and a table for your food and drinks.” (Stokes’ current favorite for both design and practicality is the AZ Patio Heaters Propane Fire Pit.)
While there are plenty of materials to choose from, the experts say cast iron, steel, and stone are the most resilient and low-maintenance.
“Steel and cast iron dominate the market because they’re lightweight, and inexpensive,” Miller says. “And stone is common with DIY fire pits.”
Whichever fire pit you choose, just be sure to consider the weather. Some fire pits need more maintenance and protection than others—like steel, which can rust over time.
If your fire pit comes with a cover, chances are there’s a good reason for that. Find out what kind of TLC your new fire pit needs so you can enjoy it for many seasons to come.
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