Whether you're looking to roast some marshmallows over an open flame, serenade your neighbors with a sing-along, or just cozy up next to a roaring blaze, a fire pit is a terrific way to enjoy a crackling campfire right in your own backyard. But with so many fuel options out there, it's hard to know which is best to get your fire burning. From charcoal and wood to natural gas and propane, read on to figure out which is the right one to fuel your fire.
Wood-burning fire pits are the most common choice when it comes to backyards, largely because wood is the easiest, most readily available fuel. And if you're looking to enjoy your purchase without feeling like you're actually burning money, this is the most inexpensive fuel, with no monthly cost to maintain. Wood is best if you're looking to create a traditional bonfire-type flame and give off a great deal of heat for those looking to stay warm. There are some downsides that go along with using wood as fuel, however. Starting and maintaining a wood-burning fire takes some work, and smoke can sometimes be unpleasant. It's also important to monitor until all embers are completely extinguished, which will take longer than if you were burning gas or liquid propane.
If you're ready to get cooking, literally, a charcoal-burning model is the way to go. Charcoal fires give off an intense, even heat, with little to no flame, making it the perfect fuel if the primary purpose is cooking and grilling. Charcoal takes about 15 minutes to get up to temperature, much longer to get going than gas or propane, but burns hotter than other fuels, which is ideal for cooking and many believe it infuses food with more flavor. As a fuel, charcoal is inexpensive and readily available in either briquette or lump form - but keep in mind that these will need to be fed more during cooking to maintain temperature and require a lot of cleanup after the fact.
If quick and easy best describes your fire-building style, then natural gas is probably the best choice for you. Natural-gas models won't emit sparks or smoke, a hazard that accompanies wood-burning fires. These fires light quickly and easily with the flip of a switch, and provide instant heat and campfire ambiance with little to no maintenance required. But with ease comes cost, and natural gas is a more costly option. The fuel is connected directly to your home's gas line, and only a certified technician or your local gas company should perform installation. Natural gas fires also produce less heat than wood-burning fires and aren't ideal if you're planning to use it to roast marshmallows.
In terms of ease of use, propane models are similar to those that run on natural gas. Propane-fueled designs operate with a liquid tank and light up with the turn of a knob, creating a flame that will burn safely for hours. However, propane tanks will need to be refilled, an errand that can usually be done at the gas station or hardware store. It's a good idea to keep a backup propane tank on hand, just in case your flames decide to die down in the middle of your evening.