Smokeless fire pits have arrived, and they’re lighting up the pleasure centers in outdoor enthusiasts’ brains everywhere. A campfire that draws smoke away from the eyes, thereby making the outdoor sesh more enjoyable? Count us in.
The traditional campfire has always been key for grilling, roasting, and spit-firing in the wild. So how do smokeless pits fare when it comes to cooking? We tested a few to find out.
Smokeless pits provide a useful stand-in for campfires when it comes to cooking, but with some big differences. After the smoke from her traditional fire pit began to irritate her neighbors, Erica Wides, chef, cooking teacher, and food-media host, purchased a Breeo X Series 19 with the adjustable grate and sear plate add-ons. She says the smokeless pit is surprisingly versatile for cooking, mostly because it gets incredibly hot compared to the traditional campfire. “I’ve cooked roasted potatoes and vegetables wrapped in foil in the coals,” she says. “It gets so hot that stuff cooks really fast.” She has also made unexpected foods using the grate: paella, apple crisp, popcorn, and even stews. “I found a 14-inch cast-iron skillet buried in the woods, dug it up, reseasoned it, and use it on the Breeo because it’s too big for my cabin’s stove,” she says. Wides has also used the sear plate to cook sausages and—as the name recommends—sear food.
The Breeo isn’t an anomaly: all smokeless fire pits tend to get very hot very quickly (according to their websites, Blue Sky’s fire pits can reach 1,200 degrees, and Solo stoves can heat up to 1,000). The extreme heat, Wides concedes, does take some getting used to. “Things cook fast,” she says. “You can bake whole potatoes in, like, 15 minutes. It’s a little tricky to get stuff in and out of the flames because of the heat, so you need some good tools: long tongs, a long-handled scoop, or a shovel-like tool.” The smokeless aspect can also be a trade-off: you may not get the supersaturated smoke flavor you get from a campfire grill. Still, not everyone prefers that strong flavor, and the high heat that comes from smokeless pits is an efficient, effective way to cook.
No matter which brand you commit to, the advice remains constant: experiment a little with high-heat cooking, equip yourself with the right tools, and embrace the campfire ethos (minus the smoke, of course).
Three of the four major companies producing smokeless fire pits—Solo, Breeo, and Blue Sky—offer cooktop accessories. Solo, one of the original smokeless brands (from $200 for the Ranger), sells a series of griddle tops (from $150) and cast-iron grill tops (from $150) specifically designed for their fire pits.
The Breeo X Series (from $349, for the X Series 19) is a subset of Breeo’s popular smokeless pits and can be customized to fit your cooking needs. For an extra $140, you can add on the adjustable Breeo Outpost Grill, which attaches to the top of the pit. There’s also a carbon-steel griddle attachment (from $170); a kettle hook (from $80), which can dangle a cast-iron pot above the flames; and the option to build the stove with a wider sear-plate rim for $80.
Blue Sky’s Mammoth Smokeless Patio Fire Pit ($599) uses pellets or standard firewood and can accommodate the company’s 24-inch Swing Away Grill ($90). The grill grates sit directly on top of the fire pit and can easily be pushed aside when you feel like returning to recreation. (You can use the Swing Away Grill separately—say, stake it into the sand over a beach bonfire.)
Inspired by Erica Wides’s smokeless cooking, I got myself a smokeless fire pit: the Blue Sky Mammoth, with the Awing Away Grill. And then I got to experimenting.
Socarrat is the crispy layer that forms at the bottom of the paella pan—a sheet of rice that is not quite burned but far past soft. It occurred to me that a high-heat, smokeless grill was the perfect place to experiment with a meat-based paella. (Stick with land meat—the high heat might overcook seafood.)
- 12 boneless chicken thighs
- salt and pepper
- 4 links fresh chorizo
- 8 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups white wine
- 2 teaspoons saffron threads
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 cup diced red bell peppers
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
- 2 pounds short-grained rice, like arborio
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup frozen green peas
- ½ cup sliced green olives
- Build a medium-hot fire in your fire pit. (You should be able to hold your hand about five inches above the top of the pit for four to five seconds.) Add the grills.
- Season the chicken thighs liberally with salt and pepper. Place the seasoned chicken thighs and the chorizo links directly onto the grills and sear, three minutes per side. Remove from grills and set aside. When they’re cool enough to touch, slice the meat diagonally into chunks.
- In a large stockpot, combine the chicken stock and wine and bloom the saffron threads. Set aside.
- Place a large paella pan on the grill and add the olive oil. When the oil is rippling but not smoking, add the onion, bell pepper, and smoked paprika, stirring frequently until the onion is translucent. Salt the vegetables liberally, and immediately add the garlic, stirring constantly for 30 seconds.
- Add the rice, stirring to coat. Stir in the tomato paste until well incorporated. Add enough of the liquid so that it rises a quarter inch above the rice. Place the chicken and chorizo back into the mixture and bring to a simmer, moving the pan around on the grill so that it stays below a boil. Continue to add the liquid (or water if you run out) so that the pan never dries out.
- Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring the rice constantly until it is just past firm and no longer opaque in the center and the chicken is cooked through. The rice should be creamy. Remove from the grill and stir in the peas. Season the paella to taste and top with the sliced green olives. Serve hot.