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5 Tips for Using Your Fire Pit as a Grill

Five key things to consider when cooking over your fire pit.

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Fire pits can double as wood-fired grills too.
Brian Bennett/CNET

Fire pits are an excellent way to relax and enjoy the outdoors. Many models though aren't just for show. Besides providing the comfort of heat and light, they can also help you prepare a hearty meal. Some pits are designed to double as wood-fired grills right out of the box, while others can be converted to backyard cooktops by adding extra equipment.

And once you set up your fire pit for these extra duties, you'll wonder why you didn't do it sooner. I know I did. No matter if you're grilling meat, fish, poultry or seafood, I've found that everything cooked over a wood fire tastes better. So if you've been contemplating whether you should use your fire pit as a grill -- or even how to do it -- this guide is for you.

Some Breeo fire pits have dedicated sear plates.

Breeo

Examine your pit

Even the most ornamental wood-burning fire pit can serve as a backyard grill. Of course it has to have the right equipment or design elements to do this. Typically, that comes in the form of a grill grate attachment. 

Some pits also have built-in cooking surfaces. Breeo products that come with circular steel searing plates are a good example. And if your pit lacks a cooking grate, there are numerous aftermarket products that let you make this upgrade.

Other fire pit makers like Solo Stove sell cooking kit add-ons. Each package is tailor-made for a specific model in the company's fire pit lineup. Breeo also hawks a grill grate upgrade called the Outpost. It too comes in several sizes made to match particular sizes of Breeo fire pits. You can use the Outpost as a stand-alone grill, too, if you mount it over a traditional campfire.

However, those who own gas fire pits are out of luck. They're primarily meant for enhancing the decor of your outdoor space and perhaps providing a bit of warmth. I don't recommend cooking over them. Any food, grease or other drippings that fall onto the flames below will at best create a mess. The worst-case scenario is this foreign debris will damage your pit's gas burner system. 

Grill gloves come in handy

Whenever you're dealing with fire and dangerously hot objects, safety gear is a must. One essential tool to have on hand is a pair of heat-resistant gloves. 

They're useful for both tending the fire and manipulating hot grates and other metal surfaces. I recommend you use high-density fabric gloves designed to withstand intense heat for these tasks. 

Use the right fuel

You might be tempted to use any type of fuel in your fire pit. This could be anything from damp leaves and branches to even lighter fluid. That's a terrible idea, especially when cooking. Moisture will cause excess smoke which then adds acrid, foul flavors to your food.

The same goes for chemical accelerants and softer wood with a high sap content. Stick with dry hardwoods such as oak and hickory. Avoid soft woods like pine, fir, spruce and cedar. 

Give your fire plenty of kindling and time to fully ignite.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Start the fire early

One rookie mistake is to start your fire too late. I still commit this offense more often than I'd like to admit. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to build the fire, start it and grow the flames in your pit. That includes removing old ashes and stacking fresh wood. 

Don't get stuck without plenty of kindling on hand either. In my experience, you can never have enough smaller pieces of wood at the ready. Invest in a handheld wood splitter. Better yet, get the Kindle Cracker. I bought this gadget myself and can personally vouch for it. It works particularly well when securely mounted to a heavy base like a tree stump.

fire pit

Cook food over hot coals, not a raging inferno.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Cook over the coals

Cooking successfully over open flame is all about timing. Wait until all the large logs in your pit have fully caught fire. Also key is to hold off until the fire dies down a little. It's fine to have some flame, but ideally you want to cook over hot coals, not a raging inferno. 

Grease and other meat drippings will cause flames to ebb and flow. That's a good thing though, since these tiny flare-ups impart outstandingly delicious flavors to food above.