Unable to gather inside with friends during the pandemic, it was only a matter of time before those lucky enough to have space outdoors would move their social life outside. That was the blessing of summer. Then winter came, and many of us retreated back into isolation, not having a place to gather safely and warmly. Until, that is, something of a fire pit frenzy swept across our nation.
Sales of fire pits—a previously esoteric object mostly reserved for camping—started skyrocketing, with backorders and waiting lists becoming the norm, not the exception. Those of my friends with fire pits (clearly ahead of the curve) started inviting us over, and waxed poetic about their fire pits with the enthusiasm and detail normally reserved for something more along the lines of a new car or a trip to Tuscany. It didn’t take long for me to begin to understand why.
There’s something magical about gathering around these big bowls of fire that keep a frosty winter at bay. It’s comforting and primal and ritualistic (in the best sense of the word). It’s also fast becoming clear that these objects are no passing trend—they’ll likely remain a permanent fixture in our immediate landscape.
Still, for months, I kept putting off buying a fire pit, perhaps because it felt like a defeat—as if the mere purchase implied that the pandemic was here to stay and would now require a large, expensive piece of outdoor furniture that would be too heavy to ever even consider moving, let alone hauling to the dump. But my urge to invite close friends over was stronger, and I am now the proud (new) owner of a fire pit.
Even as I write this, I feel the cold of the outdoors pushing against my windows, demanding entry. Maybe it’s time to go outside and get warm? But before I do that, I’d like to share everything I’ve learned, because choosing the right fire pit proved no small matter. Here’s what you need to consider.
First is the question of location. If your fire pit is to be placed on stone, tile, sand or cement, away from anything flammable, the options are fairly limitless. However, if you’re locating it on grass, precautions need to be taken, such as putting down a slab of bluestone or spreading a bucket or two of sand down. Also, I wouldn’t recommend using a wood-burning firepit on a wooden deck, but people do use gas fire pits.
Fuel: Gas vs Wood-Burning
Which leads me to what is perhaps the most critical choice you’ll need to make: that of gas versus wood. I confess I had associated gas pits with my Los Angeles pals, who switch them on the moment the thermometer drops to say 70 degrees Fahrenheit. (I say this, of course, with huge affection.) It’s as easy as fetching a cardigan, they tell me, and arguably more fun. In other words, I assumed gas fire pits were more ornamental than functional. I was wrong.
Gas fire pits are simply very easy to use and don’t require a pallet of firewood. That said, they are odorless. I will admit that half the pleasure for me was the idea of smelling the wood as it burns, preferably while holding a s’more on a long stick and waiting for it to sport the perfect char. Imagine, say, the let-down of frying bacon with no bacon smell to taunt and tease the senses. But, then again, hauling firewood gets old pretty quickly. Plus, wood does require ample storage space.
Another critical consideration is portability. Some of the more substantial fire pits, such as the ones from Restoration Hardware and Williams Sonoma, are things of architectural intent, but weigh hundreds of pounds. Their placement needs to be well-considered before delivery, as you won’t be able to move these giants around, the way you might rearrange furniture to your liking. Thankfully, they also tend to be the most weather-resistant and can be buried in snow without incurring damage or rust. But be forewarned: they run upwards of three or four thousand dollars. Whereas, for example, the very portable and quite reasonable Solo Bonfire Stove weighs only twenty pounds and has the added benefit of producing very little smoke and a great deal of heat. It’s even light enough to carry over to a friend’s house or bring to the beach come summer.
And last, but hardly least, is the question of cooking. Steak, that is, not S’mores. Fire pits such as OFYR are, in fact, incredible grills that happen to also function as fire pits. The other appeal is, of course, that they serve a function across seasons, which somewhat justifies their considerable price tag. I started dreaming about the OFYR the moment I saw someone set their Le Creuset Dutch oven on the sturdy and wide wraparound plate to warm chili, while their friends mingled with cocktails. Because, ultimately, the whole point of a fire pit is to gather (safely) with friends and provide them with warmth and nourishment.
1. SOLO, $259 An absolute favorite of mine is this portable and inexpensive number that happens to also be remarkably simple to use. This is the best option for anyone who’d rather tuck their firepit in the shed or basement come spring. It’s also light enough to take on a camping trip.
2. Landmann Ball O' Fire, $173 For those seeking something substantial, but still moveable, this pit has a wraparound screen and so delivers heat from the sides as well as from the top—a gift to our otherwise forgotten freezing toes. For all these reasons, however, it should only be set on stone, ceramic or concrete.
3. OFYR Classic Concrete 100, $2,975 This is the choice for those of us who see fire and think cooking. But note that when the OFYR is set on the accompanying pedestal, the flames are high enough to be out of reach of most little kids and small dogs, but, unfortunately, too high to sit around on low deck chairs, such as Adirondack chairs. In other words, plan to stand if using an OFYR.
4. Havana Fire Bowl, $3,895 This beauty may be used with either natural or propane gas and comes with decorative rocks of black lava which, indeed, seem to lend credibility to the gas-powered flames.
5. IXTAPA Round Fire Table, $5,595 Handcrafted from glass-fiber-reinforced concrete, it looks like limestone and feels timeless. Buy this with the same forethought as you might buy a standout piece of furniture, due to its price and weight.