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A fire pit is an excellent way to spruce up your backyard, especially during those colder winter months. Even in warmer weather, in the evenings having a convenient light and minor heat source is a great way to add to the ambience, and sometimes add a little fun to a friendly gathering.
If you’re looking to buy a fire pit for the first time, you might be surprised to note that there are a number of different kinds. Each has its own benefits and advantages, so it’s mostly up to personal preference (and your budget). Let’s go over them and see why you might want each one.
1. Wood Burning Fire Pits
These fire pits come in a variety of forms, shapes, and materials, but they all share one simple characteristic: they’re the most direct kind of fire pit, simply allowing you to burn piles of wood in them to produce the flame.
These are, on average, the ones with the biggest variance in price. You can get a cheap steel one for a pittance that looks nice and will serve you well enough, or you can get an enormous, elaborate marble or brick option that can help heat a very large yard when needed.
Wood burning fire pits are also fairly easy to make yourself. If you have the raw materials, you can make a homemade fire pit table, which you can’t say for the other fire pit options here.
Wood burning fire pits are probably the most versatile type, at least in my experience. You can cook with them, if you set them up right, essentially making your fire pit a two in one grill and fire pit combo, which is great.
Since the construction and pricing vary so much, though, you can have a real hard time finding one you like that’s also within your budget and size constraints, whereas compact and relatively reasonably priced options are a bit more common for the other types of fire pit.
With a wood burning fire pit, only the absolute cheapest are really guaranteed to be small enough to work with minimal space. You’ll also need to keep in mind that a wood burning fire pit makes a true flame; they are not suited for use on a patio, porch, or balcony unlike some of the other options here. If you don’t have a real yard, with enough space to keep the fire away from anything you don’t want to burn, you can’t use a wood burning fire pit
2. Propane Fire Pits
These are what I’d mostly consider the vanity pieces. Most propane fire pits look much the same. Not exactly, as they come in all shapes and sizes as well, but they share many features. Primarily, almost all propane fire pits not only make a nice cozy little flame, but they double as a table of some sort.
The smallest are more like a coffee table; good for little else but resting your drink to the side of the fire and relaxing.
But the larger ones can work as full sized dinner tables and the like, making them excellent for entertaining.
A propane fire pit is a bit safer to use in more circumstances, meaning you can use it on a patio or porch without much issue. You just need to make sure it’s an open space with access to free airflow and you’re good.
Propane fire pits start being relatively expensive, and scale up immensely from there, so keep that in mind. They’re also not suitable for cooking with, so are significantly less versatile than a wood burning fire pit. More about this on our wood and propane fire pit comparison article.
That’s not to say the propane fir pit models are bad, and for entertaining purposes they’re probably better (especially if you live in a city), but you’re not going to get the most bang for your buck in terms of true usability.
3. Natural Gas Fire Pits
A natural gas fire pit is in many ways identical to a propane one, at least in functionality. They produce a similar smokeless flame, and can similarly be used indoors with proper ventilation; some apartments and homes come pre-equipped with a natural gas fireplace, and a fire pit works under the same principle.
Natural gas fire pits do have an advantage over propane fire pits in that they’re cheaper to operate. Instead of buying propane propane tanks on the regular, you have your natural gas hookup which will be cheaper on average per time of activation.
Of course, it does have some drawbacks. That natural gas hookup is fully necessary, and not every home has an available hookup. A natural gas fire pit is also immovable, unlike most other kinds of fire pit, since it needs full access to that gas hookup at all times.
Basically, if you plan to own a home, and have access to natural gas power, a natural gas fire pit is a great alternative to propane. If not, well, better to pass on it and get some other kind.
4. Gel Fuel Fire Pits
These come in a ton of forms, some small enough to fit on a tabletop.
These fire pits burn using a can of jellied fuel, like a Sterno can or something similar, and can just burn until that container is done with, when you can toss it. You can also usually put a cap on it to extinguish the flame and use it later.
These are pretty versatile and easy to make. It’s great for short term use; stuff like just roasting a few marshmallows on the back porch or keeping around for when you go camping. Just be sure to handle it with care.
These are generally no frills affairs, and are typically made for usability. They’re generally usable indoors, which is nice, but overall these aren’t going to impress you if you’re looking for something to make a good impression while entertaining. They’re utilitarian in nature.