Should You Put a Grate in a Fire Pit? Our Thoughts

Everyone loves a campfire, so who wouldn’t love their very own permanent firepit in their garden? While it has been millennia since man discovered fire we have established ever more efficient ways of getting flames burning. One of those is the installation of a grate in your traditional campfire to ensure easy lighting and efficient fuel burning.

A fire grate is a piece of flame-resistant metal designed to raise your fire fuel to allow air circulation or provide a cooking surface above your open flame. If cooking on your fire pit you will need a grate. It will also offer protection from the flames the pit produces.

What is a Fire Pit?

A fire pit is either a pit dug into the ground or encased in material (normally stone or steel) where fuel can be burned to create light, heat, and/or cook over.

A firepit can be used during hiking and camping trips in the wilds. However, they are increasingly becoming desirable focal points of home garden décor.

What is a Fire Pit Used For?

In its earliest form, the firepit was essential to early man. It provided light and heat in their cave dwellings. As humans evolved as a species, they discovered the use of fire to cook food.

Nowadays the firepit can still be used for the core reasons above. However, they also serve as a social focal point. During the global pandemic, many people undertook home renovation projects including building their own or installing prefabricated fire pits.

Having an outdoor heat source allows the opportunity to extend garden parties even when the sun goes down. With the increase in domestic fire pits, there has also been a massive rise in online videos around cooking over an open flame such as a fire pit.

What is a Grate?

If you are familiar with the world of fire pits then the use of a grate will not be a surprise. However, for those less accustomed to outdoor fires, we will break it down quickly.

Firstly, there are two types of grate that you may encounter when looking at options for your fire pit. A regular fire pit grate and a cooking grate. Both will be formed pieces of metal with a grill or mesh-like structure depending on usage.

What is a Grate Used For?

A cooking grate does exactly what it sounds like it will. This is a grate that is generally placed over the opening of the fire pit which will have a grill-style design similar to a BBQ rack. This allows foods to be cooked easily over the fire pit.

A regular fire grate is designed to enhance the efficiency of your fire pit by sitting in the base of the pit and providing an elevated platform to sit your fuel on. This is commonly wood or charcoal. Raising the fuel allows air to circulate underneath which makes the fire burn hotter.

The added benefit of a regular fire pit grate is that it helps keep your fire pit neat. As the fuel burns only the smallest bits pass through the grate to the floor of your pit. Any larger unburned material remains in the grate which can be easily lifted out once cooled.

A regular fire pit gate also has the potential to improve the appearance of your firepit by raising flames higher.

Commonly both cooking and regular grates are made of wrought iron. However, some charcoal burning grates may employ stainless steel. The key is to have hard-wearing metals that are resistant to rust.

What Should I Put in the Bottom of My Fire Pit?

While flames can be alluring, they can also be dangerous. The base of your firepit will get seriously hot when in full flow and it is wise to think about what type of flame-resistant base you may want to place at the bottom of your pit.

  • Dirt

If you go for the approach of digging your firepit into the ground, dirt will be the default base. This is easily accessible and needs no extra work but the challenge with having a dirt base is that if the ground becomes damp or wet it can and will hamper your fire.

  • Sand

An easy and cheap base for your fire pit comes in the form of sand. Sand does a fantastic job of absorbing super hot heat without combusting. It also is great at spreading the heat evenly, so you don’t end up with any single extremely hot points. This can be particularly relevant if you intend to use your fire pit for cooking

Sand is extremely absorbent too meaning it can cope with more moisture than dirt without becoming waterlogged. This means you may be able to get your fire started quicker even if the weather has been poor.

  • Stones

If you are going for more of an aesthetic appeal, a base of varying size stones and pebbles may be an option. This can be used atop a layer of sand or dirt as an additional layer. It is important though that these are stones gathered from beaches or specifically designed for firepits. Off cuts of porous materials such as concrete can absorb water and which could ultimately cause them to explode under the extreme heat of your firepit

  • Gravel

Again, for a pleasing finish, you can choose all manner of colored gravel chips. Very fine stones can be used as a protective layer for the ground underneath.

  • Lava rock 

A pricier alternative is lava rock. This is a volcanic rock that is heat resistant but still fosters extremely hot burning temperatures. They are extremely robust so although costly will last a considerable amount of time.

Lava rocks have a very rustic look as they come from the remanent of volcanic eruptions.

  • Fire glass

If you really want to push the boat out you can purchase fire glass. These are shiny glass-like pebbles that are cut so fine they appear like gravel, they come in a variety of colors but will not melt under heat like traditional glass.

How do you Start a Fire Pit with a Grate?

The good news is that the use of a regular fire pit grate should make the process of getting the flames going easier. This is because the grate lifts your main fuel and allows air to circulate underneath. Now, even if you have forgotten high school chemistry you will likely remember that fire needs oxygen to burn bright.

Once you have your grate in the bottom of your firepit you place your fuel (logs or charcoal) in the grate, in the gap underneath you place your firelighters or tinder such as twigs. Lighting your lighters underneath the grate allows the flame to lift up and “catch” with plenty of oxygen circulating to really get the fire burning.

How Big Should a Fire Pit Grate Be?

In theory, it can be as big as you like. However, the bigger the grate the more fuel you will need to burn.

For most domestic firepits we would suggest that 3′ wide for the pit would be sufficient. If you intend on some serious entertaining with multiple people around the pit you may want to stretch it to 6′ wide.

Your regular fire pit will be slightly narrower to sit inside while a cooking firepit will be slightly larger to span the opening and sit on the edges.

What is the Best Fire Pit Grate?

If you have now made the decision that you need a firepit, we have done some perusing on your behalf to gather some recommendations for the type of grate you may wish to purchase.

Best for a 3′ Domestic Firepit

This 27-inch firepit has stellar 5-star reviews on Amazon. The spider design in wrought iron is compatible with log-burning firepits and ensures they are cradled easily while allowing embers to fall easily through.

Best for a Charcoal Firepit

At a huge 29.5″ this is the grate of choice for a larger social charcoal burning firepit. Heavy-duty stainless steel means this grate will be durable for years to come. Available to buy on Amazon.

Best Cooking Grate

At 36″ wide this cooking grate available on Amazon will span the majority of firepits. The close mesh grill design has garnered it an average score of 4.5 stars plus on amazon. The stainless steel construction ensures it is sturdy, while the inbuilt handles allow you to move it and add more fuel if required. What is not to love?