Fire pits: Expert advice and safety tips for selecting the best for your backyard

Shop smokeless, portable and propane fire pits to add ambiance to your backyard.

April 10, 2024, 4:39 AM
Shop smokeless, portable and other fire pits
Shop smokeless, portable and other fire pits
ABC News photo illustration, REI, Amazon - TIKI, The Home Depot, Wayfair- Sunjoy

Fire pits are a popular way to create a cozy gathering spot in your backyard that offers a cozy, warm atmosphere where you can gather friends -- some can even be used to cook!

To find out more about what to look for -- and avoid -- when shopping for a fire pit, ABC News consulted with Robert O'Brien, the president of NY Fire Consultants, Inc. O'Brien is a retired member of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) who performed both fire and water rescues, including being a first responder to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

While he says most fire pits are safe to use, the main fault lies in user error.

"Some of the biggest dangers with fire pits are people's ignorance," he told ABC News, noting that folks often "think that they're experts" and get a rude awakening when things turn dangerous quickly.

Luckily, he was generous and forthcoming with his advice so we can relay some vital information you'll want to know before shopping for and setting up your fire pit.

Shop smokeless, portable and other fire pits
Shop smokeless, portable and other fire pits
ABC News photo illustration, REI, Amazon - TIKI, The Home Depot, Wayfair- Sunjoy

Setting up your fire pit

Before determining where to place your fire pit, there are plenty of variables to consider.

First of all, make sure your fire pit is out in the open -- never in an enclosed area like a carport or garage.

"A lot of times, folks want to put up a canopy or tent – you never want to start a fire under something like that," explained O'Brien. "You want to have a vented space with enough room, at least six to 10 feet of clearance above you."

You'll also want to make sure the fire pit is on a safe, stable surface rather than on uneven ground where it could tip over easily.

It's important to be 10 to 12 feet from your house, garage, or any other structure that could possibly catch fire. Sparks can travel a longer distance than you might expect, so avoiding having them fall on buildings is vital.

Relatedly, you'll want to sit at least six feet back from the flames.

"Keep chairs away from the fire pit," cautioned O'Brien. He noted that it's common for folks to want to cozy up to the fire to stay warm on chilly evenings, but make sure you're out of range enough to avoid sparks and excess smoke.

Fire pit safety

Once your fire pit is set up and assembled in a safe place, make sure you're practicing optimum safety during burning.

Many novices will use treated lumber, cardboard, or other materials that can create potentially hazardous fumes when starting their fire.

As O'Brien explained: "Instead of buying bundles or wood or wood from trees, people will use construction wood that is treated with chemicals and can give off very toxic smoke. It can make people very sick – some of it can be deadly."

He also cautions against liquid accelerants, noting there are plenty of starter logs on the market to help you get your fire going, and you can also use dry leaves or even dryer lint for that initial spark.

"Gasoline, lighter fluid, or other liquid accelerants can spark the air and even start a flash fire," he said and warned it is even more likely during a burn notice. He advises to always check the local conditions to ensure you're not putting your natural surroundings or nearby homes at risk by sparking up the fire pit during a dry spell.

Similarly, you should "always check the wind conditions," O'Brien said. "You want to check the weather forecast and wind direction to see which way the sparks are blowing." This can help you keep an eye on anything in the wind's path and best prepare to drench any sparks that may fly.

Possibly the most important rule of all is to never leave your fire unattended. He's seen people get distracted by their children, phones or other environmental disruptions, but "you don't want to come outside and see the chair or table or bushes on fire… Sparks are a threat. If you see red in the embers, that's still a fire. The wind can whip that up and easily start a fire. That's how wildfires are started."

He also suggested using a water hose to completely douse any remaining embers you see, telling us you "can never use too much" water when preventing a future fire from breaking out.

It's also smart to check the fire several hours after you put it out or the next morning to make sure no embers or sparks escaped and have continued to burn and/or smoke.

What to do if a fire breaks out

"Be ready to extinguish the fire," O'Brien emphasized, adding you'll need "either a garden hose or ABC-type fire extinguisher easily available – you don't want to go looking for one when you need it."

In addition to these tips and tricks from O'Brien, the U.S. Fire Administration offers specific guidelines for using fire pits, campfires, chimneys and outdoor fireplaces which you can bookmark and refer to as needed. To stay as safe as possible, bookmark this article and those guidelines and review them regularly -- you can never be too safe when dealing with fires!

Lastly, O'Brien suggests going to your local fire department with any questions you have or demonstrations you may want. Firefighters are always happy to help, and checking in with them before you attempt your own backyard bonfire could save a life.

Now that you have a better idea of how to stay safe, shop for a new fire pit below! We've selected many top-selling, well-reviewed models that offer a variety of burning methods, sizes, and more.

Whether you want a portable fire pit you can bring to the beach or a larger model that will become a fixture in your backyard, keep reading to shop!

By clicking on these shopping links, visitors will leave These e-commerce sites are operated under different terms and privacy policies than ABC will receive a commission for purchases made through these links. Prices may change from the date of publication.

Smokeless fire pits

4% off

Sunjoy Smokeless Hexagonal Fire Pit

Aside from the unique aesthetic appeal of this hexagonal fire pit, it is constructed from rust-proof stainless steal but remains lightweight and portable. It's double-walled with top vent holes that increase oxygen flow, forcing smoke back into the flame to re-burn thus minimizing smoke and sparks for a clean flame. Nearly every reviewer has given this fire pit a five-star review, many commenting on how easy it is to set up and the sturdiness of the build.

  • $165
  • $173
  • Wayfair

TIKI Brand Smokeless 24.75 in. Patio Fire Pit

More than 2,000 reviewers give this a solid 4.7-star rating thanks to qualities like its patented internal airflow system, ease of assembly and sturdiness. Despite its 45-pound heft, it's also quite easy to move around in case you require some portability, plus it comes with a starter wood pack and cloth cover for storage! It's also quite attractive and will look fantastic in any backyard.

  • $395
  • Amazon

Portable fire pits

Home Depot

Traveler Portable Low Smoke 15 in. Round Wood-Burning Fire Pit in Stainless Steel with Carry Bag

Reasonably priced and incredibly portable, this compact fire pit is a top seller at Home Depot for good reason. It's easy to assemble which makes it great for camping or taking to a friend's house for a backyard burn, and the low smoke factor despite being a wood-burning stove lets you enjoy the light aroma of a traditional bonfire without all the excess soot. The 304 stainless steel used to create the pit is exceptionally durable and resistant to corrosion, and accessories like a grill plate and steel mesh screen are sold separately for those who want a seriously safe experience.

  • $149
  • Home Depot

Snow Peak Takibi Fire & Grill

This portable fire pit and grill is another great option when it comes to camping, fishing or other outdoor activities, especially ones where you'll be cooking a hot meal thanks to the inclusion of a grill net, grill bridge and plenty of other accessories. Long-lasting stainless steel keeps the fire inside where it belongs, and three surface positions offer the heat intensity you need to cook any dish.

  • $349.95
  • R.E.I.

Propane fire pits

"Propane is good if it's used safely," O'Brien said. "It scares a lot of people, and rightfully so! If you use it the wrong way and it blows up, that tank is a bomb."

The best advice he has for anyone looking to use a propane tank?

"We tell people to read the labels," he said. "Read the caution labels!"

12% off
Home Depot

Crossridge 50,000 BTU Antique Bronze Gas Fire Pit Table

Steel and natural slate make for a safe, fire-friendly pit. The flames will burn clean thanks to the propane tank fuel source you'll be using, and an electronic ignition button makes for easy lighting. There's also a mesh screen included, as well as natural lava rocks, and the bronze finish meshes beautifully with almost any outdoor decor setup.

  • $219
  • $249
  • Home Depot
Pottery Barn

Burrows 42" Rectangular Propane Fire Pit Table

Looking for a large, extra-stylish place to enjoy the burn? Try this luxe fire pit from Pottery Barn that offers crisp, elegant design that uses propane to light up the night. This one also features an electronic ignition for easy lighting and a thermo couple which shuts the gas supply down if wind puts out the flame. It's protected against weather and UV rays, as well, and if anything goes wrong in the first year, there's a warranty to protect your purchase. Supplies are limited on this design, so buy now before they sell out.

  • $1599
  • Pottery Barn