Best Outdoor Fire Pit: Pros, Cons, and Recommendations for Wood, Smokeless, Portable, and Gas Fire Pits

Bring light, heat, and fun to your yard or campsite with the best outdoor fire pit.

People have been gathering around a fire since the age of cavemen, and the practice shows no signs of going out of style. Winter or summer, nothing quite compares to the cozy feeling of gazing into a flickering backyard fire pit. Light one up to set the mood at a casual bonfire with friends, to cook a hot dog or roast a marshmallow for the kids, or to warm everyone’s hands as you swap stories. Outdoor fire pits come in a huge variety of forms, from sleek, gas-fired built-ins to sturdy cooking cauldrons to simple elevated containers—but all keep your fire safe and mess free. Our guide will point you to the best outdoor fire pit for your home, budget, and favorite use.

For some, the best outdoor fire pit is small and rustic—as close as you can get to a campfire in your own backyard. For others, it’s highly decorative, perfectly matched to the patio furniture, and ignites with the flip of a switch. And there are plenty of options that fall somewhere in between, from cinder block fire pits to smokeless fire pits to wood-burning fire pits to portable fire pits. 

How to zero in on the best pick for you? Start by considering the major variables. One of the biggest variations is the source of fuel. Some backyard fire pits burn wood, which creates the most campfire-like vibe and doesn’t require installation, but needs TLC and can run afoul of air quality regulations. A subset of these pits burn wood pellets, which cuts way down on smoke. Propane, another popular choice, burns cleaner and is easy to light and control, but it isn’t as warm and requires a nearby propane tank. Natural gas is another option: It’s also cleaner burning and simple to use, but you’ll need to tap into a gas line to set it up. 

Also think about materials. Cast iron and stone are very durable, but also heavy, and therefore less portable. More movable options include steel (lighter yet still strong) and aluminum (lightweight and usually more affordable). If you’re looking for a more permanent backyard fixture, concrete, brick, and stone are all attractive base materials that you won’t want to move after the backyard fire pit is set up. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, style should come into play. Do you want a modern square fire pit with glass pebbles? A round, rustic fire pit with designs carved into the sides? A column of flame? An outdoor fire pit table? Fire pits also range from packable campfire kits to freestanding kettle-shaped pits to large, permanent structures that require installation. Finally, there’s price to consider. Luckily, fire pits range from simple fire barrels that cost under $100 to works of art that will set you back thousands of dollars.

Do you want a fire pit that’s easy to use?

When you’re looking for simplicity—just turn it on and voila, there’s your fire—an outdoor gas fire pit is an excellent choice. They’re easy to set up and even easier to control when you need to adjust the fire’s size. Propane burns cleanly, eliminating the smoke of a wood fire. And unlike a natural gas fire pit, a propane model doesn’t need to be connected to your home’s gas line. They’re also somewhat portable, though you’ll have to tote the propane tank along with it. 

Propane fire pits come in all shapes and sizes, making them a versatile style for any backyard. And they’re available all along the price spectrum, from bargains to splurges.

Best Outdoor Propane Fire Pit: Peaktop Outdoor Round Stone Propane Gas Fire Pit

Natural Look

This faux-stone fire pit marries ancient style to modern propane machinery. Peaktop

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Made of realistic-looking yet more affordable stone resin, this circular outdoor propane fire pit includes 13 pounds of lava rocks surrounding the flame. Light a fire quickly with its integrated ignition device and easily adjust it with the control knobs. The fire pit comes with a protective flat lid that doubles as an outdoor dining table.

Would you prefer the sounds and smell of real wood?

There’s a good reason wood-burning fire pits remain popular from the backyard to the campsite: Their homey crackle and powerful warmth are unparalleled, and they’re among the most affordable options for a fire pit. And many of us relish the challenge of building the perfect wood fire and tending it for even burning. When you’ve mastered the art of fire building, you can also harness the flames to grill everything from kabobs to peaches to the quintessential marshmallow on a stick. 

Wood fires create smoke, so check local regulations to make sure your wood-burning fire pit is allowed and won’t be contributing to air-pollution issues. Burn only well-seasoned wood to cut down on smoke when fires are OK. Also take care to contain sparks to prevent fires from getting out of control.

Best Wood-Burning Fire Pit: BALI OUTDOORS Wood Burning Fire Pit

Grill in Style

Dinner al fresco gets better than ever when you cook it on the included grilling grate over this cauldron-style fire pit. BALI OUTDOORS

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Ready to host a grill-a-thon in your backyard? Stoke your fire in this steel wood-burning fire pit, which includes a handy grilling grate, poker, and log rack; the grill swivels out of the way when you just want to enjoy the blaze. A latticed outer ledge provides space for cooking and roasting supplies. 

Do you want a smokeless fire pit?

Love the ambiance of a wood fire, but hate the smoke that seems to drift into your eyes no matter where you sit? There’s a solution. Some outdoor fire pits feature high-efficiency designs that let you burn logs while drastically cutting down on the smoky stuff. The secret lies in controlling air flow carefully, improving combustion and reducing the amount of fuel you need to use for a roaring blaze. Bonus: No more stinky clothes when your bonfire is done. 

Smokeless fire pits preserve the best parts about a wood-burning fire pit: the crackles, the cozy glow and warmth, and the opportunity for DIY flame-broiled treats on a grill.

Best Smokeless Fire Pit: BioLite FirePit+ Outdoor Smokeless Wood and Charcoal Burning Firepit and Grill

High Tech

A rechargeable fan provides excellent flame control on this highly efficient fire pit. BioLite

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This thoughtfully-designed smokeless fire pit includes a fan (recharge it via USB or solar power) that enables efficient combustion; it even has multiple speeds to fine-tune your fire and can be controlled remotely via Bluetooth. The pit itself fits up to four logs and radiates heat outward. The kit includes a grill grate and a removable fuel rack so you can also fill it with charcoal. 

Do you need a portable fire pit for camping and travel?

If your desire for a cozy blaze extends beyond the backyard—camping, beach, or tailgates—then you’ll need a portable fire pit. The smaller ones are easy to load into the car and can be as simple as a fire pan to keep your wood blaze contained. These are a great way to keep natural areas pristine (carry your ashes out with you). Other small fire pits run on propane for an even easier, cleaner burn. 

Larger fire pits fall into the portable category too, as long as you can move them around (though some are heavy!). But these are best for moving around the yard, not necessarily for taking out on the road.

Best Portable Fire Pit: Camp Chef Portable Propane Fire Ring

On-the-Go Flames

Starting a fire in any setting couldn’t be easier with this compact propane kit. Camp Chef

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For a comforting campfire kit that fits in an easy-to-tote case, look no further than this little burner. The fire ring comes with legs for elevating the blaze and a pair of roasting sticks. Included lava rocks and evergreen punch-outs on the ring add a touch of style.

Are you looking for a bargain fire pit?: What You Can Get for Under $100

There are plenty of affordable fire pits out there. If you’re not interested in a permanently installed statement piece, or even a fancy portable pit, a cheap fire pit will still bring light and ambiance to your yard. And you’re not stuck with a streamlined wood fire pan (unless you want one, of course): Propane fire pits can be found for under $100, too. 

Keep in mind that a bargain fire pit might not come with accessories and features like grill pans or high-efficiency combustion. And the materials are likely to be lighter and less durable.

Best Cheap Fire Pit: Endless Summer 15” Gas LP Fire Column

Affordable Elegance

This decorative column provides a quick, attractive flame. Endless Summer

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With a column shape to fit in any corner of your yard or patio, this outdoor fire pit looks great and fits over the required propane tank to keep it out of sight. It’s made of resin to keep the price low, but resembles slate. The column comes with black fire glass as an accent.

FAQs

Q: What fire pit gives off the most heat?

No contest: a wood-burning fire pit will provide the most warmth. Propane and natural gas fire pits tend to have much smaller flames. So if you plan to use your outdoor fire pit as a true heat source (say, for winter bonfires), turn to the wood-burning fire pits.

Q: Do you put a cover on the fire pit?

It’s not strictly necessary, depending on where you place your pit, but it is a great idea to put a cover on a fire pit. Some types of covers, typically made from tough fabric or plastic, protect outdoor fire pits from the elements, preventing rust and staining. Others are metal and used to completely extinguish the fire when you’re done, also keeping lingering sparks contained. Both types add a measure of safety and protect your investment. 

Q: Do you need a grate in a fire pit?

Again, it’s not strictly necessary, but a grate is a useful accessory for a wood-burning fire pit. Durable metal grates sit inside the pit’s container, raising the logs off the ground and allowing more oxygen to circulate around them, feeding the fire. You’ll get a better, hotter blaze and less smoke with a quality grate.

A Final Word on Shopping for the Best Outdoor Fire Pit

There’s no question an outdoor fire pit will instantly upgrade your backyard, enabling you to do everything from hosting a Scout campfire circle to cooking dinner outdoors to enjoying the stars on a chilly night. When you’re shopping around for the best fit, first consider what kind of fuel you’d prefer to burn and which materials fit your style and budget. From there, you can narrow down the options to find the best outdoor fire pit for your needs.