How to Turn Your Fire Pit into a Grilling Station

Cooking meat over a fire

A backyard fire pit is the ideal centerpiece for transforming a basic backyard into an adventurous outdoor space. Yet all those evenings spent poking the logs or toasting marshmallows can eventually get a little boring, leaving you to wonder what else you could use the firepit for. Whether you have another grill or not, your firepit is a great place for outdoor cooking. Depending on the style of the firepit, you can use it for charcoal or wood grilling, adding a smoky taste to anything you cook that’s hard to get from propane grills. Make sure your fire pit is safe and ready to use as a grilling station with these setup tips.

Choose a Screen, Tripod, or Frame

Tripod over a fire

The main tool you need to transform the backyard firepit into an easy-to-use grill is some kind of grate. Your options include a basic metal screen, a tripod that suspends the grate above the flames at any height, or a frame that uses a weighted base or an anchoring post to hold up the grate. Screens are the easiest and most affordable grilling option, but they only work for brick and stone firepits with raised and level sides to support the grate. Any kind of firepit, even just a small pit dug in the dirt, can work well with freestanding tripods and frames. Frames that rely on stakes that stab into the dirt won’t work well with paved firepit areas.

Find the Right Fuel

Hot charcoal

Both charcoal and wood will work well in most firepits. Charcoal burns best in larger bowl-shaped pits or those with vents in the bottom to add airflow around the sides. Wood offers a slightly smokier flavor than charcoal, but natural briquettes are also a good choice that shouldn’t damage the firepit if used as instructed by the manufacturer. It’s best not to use lighter fluid in a firepit, so buy a charcoal chimney for easier starting and more even heat distribution if you choose this fuel. For firewood, choose clean hardwoods like oak and cherry to ensure the resulting smoke is safe for the food.

Practice Your Fire-building Skills

Stack of firewood near a burning fire

Whether you choose firewood or charcoal, you should practice making a hot and evenly distributed fire before starting your first real attempt. While it’s relatively easy to make a basic fire in most firepits, it takes a little more practice to get the wood going quickly and generating large coals that are easy to arrange for a heating bed. The teepee style of fire building is recommended since the vertical sticks of wood will collapse and make a thick pile of coals to distribute for even heat. Within 20 minutes, the wood should be collapsing enough to start arranging the coals, and cooking should be able to begin within 30 to 45 minutes after starting the fire. Charcoal fires go a little faster, with most firepits ready to cook on after 20 to 30 minutes of preparation.

Start with Easy-to-cook Foods

Grilled meat and veggie kabobs

The heat of a fire is much more direct than what’s radiating off a small grill. It’s all too easy to burn your first few foods as you get used to the amount of heat coming off the fire. Some of the foods easiest to cook over a firepit include corn on the cob, potatoes, cuts of lean meat like chicken and pork, and shish kabobs on metal skewers. Make sure you have a set of durable and heat-resistant grilling tools with extra long handles. You can’t get as close to the grate when cooking over a firepit as you can with a standard grill, so you don’t want to risk burning yourself or dropping your perfectly cooked food while working with undersized equipment.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Burning paper

There are a few common mistakes many homeowners make when attempting to use their firepits for grilling and other types of cooking. Resist the urge to:

  • Build a roof over the firepit, which creates a fire risk and concentrates smoke. Try a free-standing hood instead.
  • Use wood features around the firepit. Metal is the most fire and weather-resistant material, making it long-lasting and safer.
  • Burn trash, such as colorful and glossy boxes, magazines, colored newsprint, or broken-down furniture. Even most lumber from building projects is unsafe for a firepit where you want to cook food later. Heavy metals in the ash and residues can be spread on the food if you cook using the same pit later.

Picking the Right Firepit for Grilling

Chairs around firepit

Most firepits can be used for grilling with the right tripod or framed grate, including just basic holes in the ground. However, freestanding brick or stone-edged firepits are among the easiest to grill on. The flat and level sides of these pits support a wide range of screens and grates, giving you plenty of choices for holding food of all kinds at the perfect height above the fire. Metal firepits are less versatile for grilling but still work well with tripod grates.

Use the right wood and build your fire pit with grilling in mind to make the experience as fun as possible. With the right features, a firepit can become a summertime family destination that’s as fun as going out to eat. Soon you’ll be collecting everything from long-handled tongs to s’mores spears to make the most of your backyard grilling station.

While do-it-yourself projects can be fun and fulfilling, there is always a potential for personal injury or property damage. We strongly suggest that any project beyond your abilities be left to licensed professionals such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Any action you take upon the information on this website is strictly at your own risk, and we assume no responsibility or liability for the contents of this article.