Smokeless Fire Pit: What To Know Before You Buy

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Do you love the camaraderie found around a campfire but hate the eye-stinging smoke? Then you need to check out this intro to smokeless fire pits!

There is something innately comforting about sitting around the glow of a campfire, telling stories and sharing food with friends and family. But what isn’t comforting is catching a face full of smoke. Chances are, you’ve experienced the constant shifting in campfire seating as everyone circles the fire pit trying to find a spot that’s not plagued by a stream of smoke.

If you’re tired of all that moving around, then you’re going to love smokeless fire pits. These cleverly-designed fire pits allow you to enjoy fires without the annoying smoke byproduct. We’ll be looking at “smokeless” fire pits designed to burn logs, as well as wood pellets or charcoal. Propane-fueled fire pits are inherently smoke-free, so they don’t quite fall in this category.

Read on for a complete overview of what smokeless fire pits are, how they work, and the pros and cons of buying one or making your own.

What Is a Smokeless Fire Pit?

Smoke occurs when a fire isn’t hot enough to fully combust the fuel, leading to burnt particulates raising in the hot air. Modern smokeless fire pits use secondary combustion to create extremely high temperatures, essentially burning off these particles before they can escape and drift into the eyes and clothes of anyone nearby.

“Smokeless” may be a bit of an exaggeration, as it’s almost impossible to eliminate all of a fire’s smoke, especially while the fire is first being lit. So instead of “smokeless” think “less smoke.” Still, a well-designed smokeless fire pit produces so little smoke that it virtually eliminates the eye-burning clouds that come off a normal campfire.

Today, you can buy smokeless fire pits that are self-contained, portable devices, or smokeless fire pit inserts that are meant to be built into a stationary, permanent fire ring.

How Do Smokeless Fire Pits Work?

The basic concept of smokeless fire pits dates back at least to the 1600s when the Dakota people crafted sunken fire pits. That additional airflow allowed them to cook and enjoy a fire’s heat while producing much less smoke.

Modern versions of the smokeless fire pit use the same concept, but achieve it with a double-walled fire ring. The outer wall has holes at the bottom, while the inner wall is ringed with holes near its top. When the fire pit is lit, air is drawn in through the outer wall and heats up as it contacts the inner wall. This heated air rises between the walls, expanding and eventually pushing out through holes along the top of the inner wall. That movement acts like natural bellows, fanning the flames with a stream of preheated oxygen. This “secondary combustion” burns so hot that the smoke particles are immolated (destroyed) before escaping the fire pit.

Pros and Cons of Smokeless Fire Pits

Pros

  • Less smoke. Just as advertised, they produce significantly less smoke than a traditional fire pit.
  • Easier fire starting. The design of most smokeless fire pits allows for strong ventilation, making it relatively easy to get the flames dancing in the first place.

Cons

  • Less radiant heat. The super-heated fire sends more heat up than out, so while the temperature is much higher, you’ll need to crowd in a little closer to feel that warmth.
  • Price. If you opt for a store-bought smokeless fire pit, you’ll pay significantly more than you would for a similarly-sized traditional fire pit. That said, the improved, smoke-free experience is a strong value, and you can always go the DIY route to save money.

How To Choose a Smokeless Fire Pit

There’s no shortage of options when looking for the right smokeless fire pit. The key is to identify the balance of cost, fuel type and portability that you’re looking for.

Cost

The biggest factor in cost is size. The larger a fire pit’s diameter, the larger the ticket price. Expect to pay a minimum of $70 for a solo backpacker unit, while some high-end smokeless fire pits run thousands of dollars. But if you’re looking for a simple fire pit that will accommodate a group of four to five people, $300 to $600 is a reasonable budget.

Fuel Type

A smokeless fire pit burns solid fuel, such as wood logs, charcoal, or wood pellets. Many models can burn multiple fuels, but their air flow and clean out is normally optimized for one specific type of fuel. You’ll have a minimum of headaches if you stick with the fuel the manufacturer recommends.

Remember: If you’re open to a gas-fed fire pit, which runs on natural or propane gas, all of your options will be smokeless, because they don’t produce the smoke-creating byproducts the way wood and charcoal do.

Portability

Looking for a mobile fire pit? You’ll certainly want to consider weight, but you’ll also want to look at the carrying convenience (such as whether it has handles) and the ease of clean-out (you don’t want to hike around with an ash-filled fire pit in your backpack).

The ‘X’ Factor

Often the right fire pit choice is driven by a particular style you’re drawn to or a specific usage you have in mind. If you want to do a lot of grilling, look for a model that has lots of cooking accessories. If you want a fire pit with a distinctive, modern look, aesthetics are a major factor. Or, maybe you know that you’ll be keeping the fire pit on a wooden deck, so you need a model that comes with an integrated or optional stand to keep the heat safely elevated. Whatever your particular X factor, keep it in mind as you compare models.

Can You Make a DIY Smokeless Fire Pit?

You absolutely can DIY a smokeless fire pit! While making a portable DIY smokeless fire pit is a little tricky, building a stationary smokeless fire pit for your backyard makes for a great beginner-level project. Simply use a hole saw or step bit to drill vent holes into a pre-made fire ring, and you’ve got the inner wall. While the exact steps will depend on your desired layout, the fundamentals of the smokeless design are relatively easy to achieve. Best of all, it’s extremely affordable. If you’re converting a traditional DIY fire pit into a smokeless super-burner, the total cost should be less than $100.

Dan Stout
Ohio-based freelance writer and author Dan Stout is a former residential remodeler, commercial site supervisor and maintenance manager. He’s worked on nearly all aspects of building and DIY including project planning and permitting, plumbing, basic electric, drywall, carpentry, tiling, painting and more. He also publishes noir fantasy thrillers, including The Carter Series, from Penguin imprint DAW Books.