Can You Use Coal on a Fire Pit
Tips & Tricks

Can You Use Coal on a Fire Pit?

There is a perceived misconception that fire pits can only be used with wood unless they are designed to be used with propane. However, most people do not know that the advantages of using coal in a fire pit far outweigh using wood. Especially if you are not a fan of the smoke generated by burning wood.

Using Smokeless coal in a fire pit is a game-changer. Keep reading to learn how to use coal in your fire pit.

Can you put coal on a fire pit?

Yes. Coal can be used as a fuel on most fire pits that can be used to burn wood, given that the technology and mode of use are similar. In addition, these fire pits can handle the use of coal, wood, and kindling together.

One exception would be the fire pits close to the house (e.g., on the patio) or in an urban setting. Traditional coal is a non-starter. The smoke and soot would be too much to handle.

Even with charcoal or smokeless coal, sustained high heat over a long time requires being watchful, lest something gets knocked out of the grates and creates a fire hazard close to the house.

Some of the more modern fire pits used to accommodate alternative fuels such as propane or natural gas (for example, those featuring a fuel line that feeds into the fire pit itself) are not suitable for the use of coal (regular, smokeless, or charcoal). In addition, the sustained high heat and ash produced are likely to prolonged use to damage the lines.

Is coal or wood better for a fire pit?

It is generally easier and quicker to make a fire from charcoal than wood, assuming that it is a traditional wood fire made starting with tinder and kindling. Charcoal fires are easier to keep going with intermittent charcoal addition.

Plain wood chunks burn a little faster than charcoal, but you’ll get a better smokey flavor because the wood is still intact. So, in the end, burning coal in a fire pit is a better option if you are looking to build a stronger, smokeless, longer burning fire.

How to start a fire in a fire pit with coal

Before you light up, make sure that your fire pit is set up somewhere safe with nothing overhanging it that is flammable. You should also check the surrounding area for any potential risks.

  • Clean your fireplace as old ash and cinders will restrict airflow.
  • Spread your charcoals equally throughout the pit, and then choose your method of lighting them.
  • Use dry, unfinished paper such as newsprint instead of glossy magazine paper.
  • The paper should cover your grate but plenty of space to allow airflow.
  • If you find your paper doesn’t burn well, stuff a loose sheet under the grate and light it.
  • Layer small pieces of wood (kindling) alternately such that you form a “raft.”
  • The raft supports the coal and ignites it as it burns.
  • Criss-cross the wood so that it is in some way a structure and cohesive. When your paper is gone, you want the wood to hold its position rather than fall apart.
  • Choose a mixture of thick and thin wood kindling. The thin pieces will burn easily and produce heat, while the thick pieces will sustain your fire and ignite the coal.
  • Then place a pile of coal on top of your wood-raft.
  • Choose pieces that are roughly the same volume as a golf ball.
  • Extremely small pieces will result in a charcoal drop restricting airflow. Large pieces will take too long to ignite.
  • You can either add a few fire starters, tucking 2 or 3 under the coals, or squirt an appropriate amount of liquid and light with a long match.
  • Ensure to use a recommended lighter fuel and to use it cautiously.

Note: Some types of charcoal have lighter fluid incorporated. In this case, you can use matches to light it.

  • If the coals need some help getting going, you can use a small amount of additional lighter fluid or some kindling like a newspaper.
  • Ensure the fire-front is removed for maximum airflow, ignite the paper underneath and in multiple places.
  • Then leave it for 30 min.

Here are a few more popular methods of lighting your fire pit.

Lighter Fluid

Easily found in grocery stores, lighter fluids are easy, if albeit messy, way to start your charcoal fire. Just squirt an appropriate amount of liquid and light with a long match. Wait till there are glowing embers and not just a fire. Only use the recommended lighter fuel and not kerosene or gasoline. Make sure to NEVER squirt lighter fluid on an already lit charcoal fire pit.

Match Lighter

Some types of charcoal already have lighter fluid incorporated. Only use matches to light this charcoal. However, it may need some help in getting the embers to glow. A small amount of lighter fluid may be necessary or some kindling like a newspaper.

Electric Charcoal Starter

This requires an electrical outlet to be nearby and needs to be plugged in to start the fire. The starter has a metal loop placed on top of the charcoal, then covered completely with more charcoal. It may take approximately 8 – 12 minutes for the charcoal to heat. Once the embers are glowing, the starter may be removed.

Charcoal Chimney Starter

This looks like a pitcher but is made of aluminized steel. It can be purchased online and works by placing newspaper and charcoal into the chimney starter. Light the newspaper in several places and wait for the charcoal to start heating up. Once the embers glow, dump the burning charcoal into the charcoal grate.

Charcoal Fire Pit Precautions

No matter what kind of fire pit you have, there are still some safety precautions to follow;

  • Never leave your fire pit unattended.
  • Build your fire pit a minimum of ten feet away from any structure or low-hanging trees.
  • Check the weather forecast and make sure it isn’t windy before you light up.
  • Windy or not, it’s better to screen your fire pit. This will result in fewer flying embers when starting a fire, especially during the summer.
  • Make sure to douse the fire properly. Ashes can sometimes flare up again.
  • Ensure the smoke isn’t blowing heavily towards your neighbor’s home. There may be individuals suffering from COPD or asthma who could get affected by the smoke.
  • Check with your city authorities to make sure that you’re following rules, especially when using natural gas.
  • Make sure that children aren’t left alone playing by the fire pit.
  • Position your lounge chairs, if they’re movable, in a way that makes it easier for people to move around without tripping or getting too close to the fire.

Note: It is better to use coal in a metal fire pit.

Can you use coal on an open fire?

Yes. Charcoal is easier to use and less messy than coal and produces a clean flame with high heat. Another advantage is that heat can be controlled better than wood.

Additionally, charcoal fire will not flare up or down much, making charcoal useful for outdoor cooking. For all these reasons, charcoal is a good fuel for fire pits.

How to add coal to a fire

Once your fire is lit, poke it gently to release ash and break up coals that may have stuck together through tar production. Next, arrange your cinders around the edge, and add more coal around the periphery of the fire you have started.

Check this too: How to Install a Pellet Stove in a Garage

Do not throw a bucket of coal on top of the fire. Instead, add bits of coal along the fire edges or in the middle. This is because coal needs time to warm up. If you smother the fire with cold coal, you’ll kill the lovely heat, and it will take longer to burn up. So instead, pile it up around the edges; when it starts burning, poke and rake it into the center gradually.

Poke the fire periodically for ash falls through the firebars. Your approach should be to lift the burning coals. And ensure all the ash is removed from under the fire bars before adding coal to a fire.