Stay Cozy: A Guide to Fire Pits

cozy outdoor firepit

Garden fire pits are the ultimate in al fresco socializing, but they can also be the backdrop for a peaceful evening drink with a glass of red whilst you delve into a good book (or scroll through social media, of course). You can make it the centerpiece of your garden, or secrete it away in a corner for occasional use if you prefer. There are no rules: it’s all about the primal sights, sounds and aromas of a real fire raging away in the bowl. If you’re new to the world of fire pits, here are some of the most common questions surrounding them.

What’s the difference between a fire pit and a chiminea?

A fire pit is a (generally) large bowl-shaped vessel for burning wood in, whereas a chiminea has more of a vertical form and – the clue is in the name – a chimney. You put the fuel in a fire pit via the top, but load a chiminea from the front.

You can obtain both clay chimineas and cast iron chimineas. The advantages of wood burning chimineas are that they take up less space than a fire pit; they focus heat in one direction (handy if it’s in a corner); and they channel smoke upwards, usually above head height, so it’s less likely to get in your eyes. Fire pits emit heat in all directions but with less intensity, and they are much better for socializing around and toasting marshmallows. They’re a more natural form of outdoor heating than patio heaters, and much more entertaining.

outdoor firepit

What’s the best type of fire pit?

Your choice of firepit depends on how you plan to use it and how it fits into your garden. The traditional cast iron bowl is the most common type, as it’s easy to get lots of people around it. But you can also get ornate ones, ceramic ones, and even gas fire pits.

If you’ve got a modern-looking garden with plenty of hard surfaces, a sleek, contemporary pit will probably look best. Traditional gardens with shrubbery, floral displays, and meandering pathways probably suit a more traditional outdoor fire pit, perhaps surrounded by bricks or stone so it ages more naturally. You can get some beautiful fire pits worthy of the Olympic opening ceremony nowadays, so do look around.

What is the best material for a fire pit?

Clay, cast iron, stainless steel, and stone are all viable materials for a fire pit. As long as it fits in with the decor of your outdoor space, it’s going to look great. Once the evening comes and the flames are crackling, nobody will care what it’s made of anyway.

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What is the best fire bowl fuel?

There are three fuels that work well with a fire bowl: wood, charcoal and briquettes/heat logs. The most popular is wood – it’s traditional and gives the crackles and aromas you crave. Remember to buy bags of pre-dried wood, not freshly felled wood, as fresh wood or slightly damp timber will smoke a lot more.

You can buy artificial logs and briquettes from DIY stores, supermarkets and even petrol stations, and they’re a good alternative, although you won’t get the natural look of real wood. Charcoal is easy to light and gives off more heat than light, so it’s not the visual spectacle of wood – but just as toasty.

If you value the aroma of the burning wood as much as the glowing flames, stick to oak, hickory, apple, cherry or beech. Make sure any wood you acquire is sustainably sourced and prepared, though – check the label and any company websites you see. It’s important that you don’t damage natural habitats for your pleasure.

How do I light a firepit?

When lighting a fire pit, it’s best to start with tightly twisted paper, firelighters, or fine kindling in a fist-sized pile. Once that’s lit, start putting medium logs or large kindling on top, piece by piece, blowing gently to keep the oxygen flowing. Finally, place three or four full-size logs on the top, forming a wigwam shape.

The main logs are the hardest to get burning, so keep plenty of spare kindling to hand, and get ready to slide some more under the main logs if the flames start to die down. Continue blowing, or use bellows, to keep it roaring. Fires don’t just start themselves – you’ll need to give it your undivided attention for a good quarter of an hour in the beginning. Eventually, the larger logs will take. From then on, just throw on another log every 10–15 minutes or as your timber starts to burn down. Needless to say, keeping your kindling and logs dry helps, so store them indoors or in a covered compartment outdoors.

Can you have a fire pit in a conservatory?

We would not recommend this at all. They are for outdoor use only, as they produce a lot of heat and potentially smoke and fumes. If you want a genuine fire in your conservatory, you’re better off with a wood burner and an external chimney.

outdoor firepit table

Can you cook food on a firepit?

In essence, a fire pit is really like a large barbecue, and you can get grills to place over the top, making it good for cooking all the usual BBQ foods. However, BBQs cook on glowing embers, not open flames, so you need to let the flames die down first.

For most people, letting the flames turn to embers defeats the object of a fire pit, so they don’t cook on it. You could certainly bake foil-wrapped potatoes in the flames, and make s’mores with biscuits and marshmallows. But if you’re really looking to cook outside, you’re better off with a genuine barbecue or pizza oven. There’s a wide range available, so you’re bound to find one that suits your outdoor living space.

What tools do you need for a fire pit?

You don’t need complicated tools for a fire pit – just something long, strong, heat-resistant, and non-flammable to move burning logs around or if they fall off the pile. A traditional poker will suffice, but tongs, pincers, and a long-handled shovel will help you tackle anything when the flames are licking.

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How do you protect a fire pit in the winter?

If you have a portable fire pit, or one on wheels, it’s always a good idea to invest in a suitable cover, or better still, bring it inside in the winter. A shed, garage or greenhouse is perfect – just make sure you keep the rain off it, especially if it’s cast iron.

Stainless steel fire pits are more forgiving, and can generally be left out all winter without any ill effect, although you’ll probably have to clean the grime and dead leaves off in the spring. Obviously, you have no choice with a permanent outdoor fire pit, such as one made of brick or clay. Many of them come with a lid that you can place over the top whenever it’s not in use, but general-purpose BBQ covers will work just as well. Allow it to cool down before covering.

What’s the best seating for a fire pit?

All outdoor furniture brands will have a selection of chairs and benches that are perfect for fire pits. Long benches are great for socializing, but recliners and deck chairs help you to while the evening away in complete relaxation. Stools and trunk logs are great too – whatever you want works.

You can try and match the fire pit with complimentary seating if you prefer. Stainless steel fire pits can look sleek and modern with tubular steel or aluminum chairs. Clay pits can go well with earthier varieties of seating that are more rounded, cushioned and organic. As with all garden furniture, it’s finding the blend between comfort, weatherproof qualities and appearance that matters. Whatever you choose, you’re probably going to be too chill to notice once the fire is blazing and the conversation is flowing.