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How to get the most out of your fire pit



Fire pits are good for more than roasting marshmallows and sitting nicely.

Brian Bennett / CNET

Fire pits are a great way to relax at home. If you’ve never started one up, there are some important things to consider in order to make sure you maximize your outdoor fun and keep everyone around you safe.

Before giving your backyard this upgrade, check out this guide. I̵

7;ll go over what you need to know to safely enjoy your personal bonfire. I will also suggest some ways you might not have thought of using it.

Safety comes first

Any open flame is potentially dangerous. Therefore, check with your local fire department before purchasing a home fire pit. Confirm that home campfires are allowed in your area. If your home is part of a homeowners association, it should be able to provide specific guidance.

If fires are allowed, follow these general guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Essentially, they ask to have a water bucket, garden hose, or fire extinguisher handy before lighting them. You should also keep a close eye on children and pets around the fire and don’t let them get too close.

Choose a suitable place

The NFPA also recommends placing fires at least 25 feet from any construction or combustible material. In addition to buildings, this also includes overhanging tree branches, grass, shrubs and bushes, as well as leaves and sticks.

Also choose a flat area. Also avoid dry and windy conditions, as a brisk wind can quickly blow your fire and stray embers around your yard. Also, don’t forget to respect your neighbors. Choose a spot that is not extremely close to or directly upwind of their property.

Split hardwood logs are the standard fuel for fire places.

Brian Bennett / CNET

Use the correct fuel

The preferred fuel for most fire pits are hardwood logs that have been kiln dried. Examples include hickory, maple, birch and oak. For my fire pit tests, I use Simple Simon Premium Hardwood. However, you can buy wood from many suppliers. Home improvement stores, such as Do-it-yourself shop and Lowes are handy suppliers.

There are specialty stores that also ship firewood across the country, such as Firewood.com. If only luxury wood will do, check out Cutting Edge. Based in Georgia, Cutting Edge claims its “premium ultra-kiln dried firewood” burns longer and produces less smoke. Starting at $ 49 per box however, this wood better be excellent.

Also consider wood from a local dealer. Often times these mommy-and-pop outfits offer the best deals out there.

Another way to go is to embrace your inner lumberjack. By that I mean chopping your own firewood from a fallen tree on your property. However, this path requires planning ahead. Freshly cut wood takes about six months to harden naturally. And of course there is much more physical work involved.

Use hardwood logs, a firelighter and kindling wood to get your fire pit rolling.

Brian Bennett / CNET

How to start your fire

Starting a campfire isn’t rocket science, but it does require some technique. Assuming you have a good quality fire pit, you need three items to be successful. These are split hardwood trunks, some kindling and a fire starter. Start by arranging your logs in teepee or pyramid shape (point facing the sky). If your logs are too long, stack them in a rectangle. They should touch, but with enough space for air flow.

Then place your kindling in the base of the wooden teepee. Small fallen tree branches from your yard’s waste pile work well for this. Then settle in a fire starter in the kindling. Wax firelighters work, just like the pressed cardboard variety. You can also use newspaper, cardboard scraps, or paper towels in no time.

Finally, light the fire starter with a match or grill lighter. A good fire pit with well-constructed fuel should ignite completely within 5 to 10 minutes. You should also stay away from liquid accelerators such as light liquid. They are dangerous and add harmful chemicals, flavors and smells to your wood.

Turning your fire pit into a grill can be as simple as dropping grates on it.

Brian Bennett / CNET

More than just s’mores

S’mores are great and kids love them, but fire pits can cook other things too. I don’t just mean hot dogs on skewers, although that’s definitely a classic. If your fire pit is physically compatible, consider upgrading it with a grill grate.

There’s the DIY route of just dropping a repurposed barbecue grill over your pit. You can buy aftermarket extensions to. Some fire pit companies sell accessories designed to match specific products in their range. Either way, the end goal is the same. With a rack you can cook almost any dish that you normally grill or heat on the stove. Think vegetables, burgers, poultry and so on. Just keep in mind that cooking oils and meat drippings will create more mess to clean up.

Shut down

Unlike a charcoal grill, a fire pit lacks adjustable vents. This makes extinguishing the fire safely a slow process. Powerful fire pit makers such as Solo Stove and Tiki instruct you to wait for the fire to extinguish naturally. Only in an emergency should you extinguish the fire with water. Doing so will immediately generate steam and hot dirt. And even if the remaining coals appear to be extinguished, wait at least 12 hours before throwing them away.


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