'Smokeless' Fire Pits Offer Cleaner-Burning Backyard Warmth

These heat sources for your yard produce less smoke than traditional models. Here are your options and tips to stay safe.

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For all their warmth and glow, one of the biggest knocks against traditional wood-burning fire pits is the smoke that can billow and get in your eyes. But some new “smokeless” versions burn cleaner.

These models still emit some smoke, but their designs dramatically reduce the amount, making it easier to sit closer to the fire without constantly switching seats in the changing wind.

Smokeless fire pits from brands such as BioLite, Breeo, and Solo Stove typically have a double wall—like many commuter coffee mugs—that’s perforated, or they have a small fan to reduce the amount of smoke produced. With these designs, the goal is the same: to send oxygen directly into the base of the fire for a more efficient, cleaner burn.

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Smokeless fire pits are almost always made of steel or a combination of metal and plastic, and prices range from $200 to almost $1,500, far more than what you’d pay for a basic metal bowl-style fire pit. Smokeless fire pit sizes range from about 15 inches to 24 inches across the face of the pit. The smaller ones weigh as little as 15 pounds and are easy to move around. Heavier ones can weigh around 135 pounds.

Another option is a smokeless fire pit insert, which you can drop into an existing round masonry fire pit as an upgrade that lets you keep that rustic stone, brick, or concrete paver look. These start around $750 for an insert that fits a pit with a 24-inch-wide opening, the smallest insert available.

The Setup

Smokeless fire pits arrive almost completely assembled. As long as you have dry hardwood, getting a fire going is pretty straightforward: Load the pit up with kindling, get a small fire started, then feed it with some larger logs.

Most pits have flat bottoms that will rest right on a lawn, concrete, or a patch of dirt. If you plan to use it on a patio, it’s best to shop for one that comes with a stand that elevates it to prevent any markings from the pit and the fire.

In addition to keeping you warm, a majority of smokeless fire pits let you roast hot dogs and marshmallows without much fuss. Most smokeless fire pit manufacturers offer some form of grill grate as an accessory sold separately, so you also can grill food, such as burgers or chicken, like you would on a grill. Some models also have holders to hang a pot of chili.

“They can become a destination in the yard,” says Tom Rodler, co-owner of Huntington, N.Y., landscape design firm Goldberg & Rodler.

Safety Tips

You should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, but a good general rule is to keep your fire pit at least 10 feet away from your house, wood fence, or anything that might be combustible. Vinyl, a popular siding and fence option, can warp at around 160° F, requiring replacement well before it starts burning. Beyond that, your municipality might have its own regulations for situating fire pits safely.

There are a few items you’ll want on hand before you start using any fire pit. “The first thing you want to have is a water source like a hose turned on and placed nearby should you need it,” says Isaac Sanchez, battalion chief of communications for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "We’re not talking about a bucket of water you can only throw once.”

Then, as backup, you should have a shovel that you can use to throw dirt or sand onto the fire. “If you’re thinking of using a heat source on a wood or composite deck, check with the manufacturer first for recommendations about some sort of a noncombustible pad underneath,” Sanchez says. “See if those are even permitted or allowed by your town. I personally wouldn’t do it with a wood deck even with a pad under it.”

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Head shot of Home freelance author Sal Vaglica

Sal Vaglica

Sal Vaglica is a freelance journalist with 14 years of experience covering DIY projects, tools, outdoor gear, technology, and culinary products. When he's not actively testing products on his house for a story, he's likely roaming the aisle of the home center looking for new tools and products to geek out on. Before freelancing he was on staff at This Old House magazine, Serious Eats, and Men's Journal.