How to cook on a fire pit: 6 top tips for creating delicious, rustic food outdoors

If you want to learn how to cook on a fire pit to elevate your alfresco dining, this advice is for you

grilled food on half moon grill grate on fire pit from FirepitsUK
(Image credit: FirepitsUK)

Learning how to cook on a fire pit is a wonderful way to use these on-trend features to their full potential. 

If you've already perused our fire pit ideas, you'll know they're a natural focal point for outdoor seating spaces, keeping everyone cozy and adding aesthetic value. So, wouldn't it be great to use them to whip up a delicious feast, too? That way, you won't need to splash out on a separate BBQ or gas grill, plus the smokey, chargrilled flavor you get from cooking over firewood is hard to beat.

And if you think your cooking choices are limited with this approach, think again. We've brought together some useful tips to help you get started – from the best wood to use to accessories you can add to make all sorts of culinary creations a possibility.

Try these 6 tips for how to cook on a fire pit

Whether you've invested in one of the best fire pits or have learned how to build a fire pit for your own DIY feature, this advice will help you utilize it for cooking tasty treats.

1. Set up your cooking station

First things first – you'll want to get prepared before you start cooking. Setting up in the very center of your outdoor living space is generally the most social patio fire pit idea. But, if it's particularly windy, you might want to move it to a more sheltered spot – ensuring it's not too close to anything flammable, of course – where smoke won't blow into everyone's face.

For a smooth cooking experience, you'll want to make sure you've got all your food prep sorted, too, whether that's marinating veggie kebabs or chopping your side salad. You'll need to light your fire around 45 minutes before you actually start cooking, say the experts at FirepitsUK (opens in new tab), which will allow the flames to die down and embers to form. So, final preparations can be done during this time, as long as someone is supervising the fire.

modern fire pit in garden with seating

This patio fire pit is perfect for a social setup

(Image credit: Maria Velychko/Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Use the right firewood

The fuel for your fire pit is very important for getting the best cooking results. FirepitsUK advises using dry wood, with a moisture content of less than 20%. It's much harder to get a decent, hot fire burning with damp wood, plus it will create lots of smoke. Keeping the timber in a sturdy log store will help ensure it is in good condition for use. 

In terms of the type of wood to use, some are much better than others. Hardwoods don't spit like softwoods, FirepitsUK explains. They recommend ash, oak (when seasoned for at least two years), and hazel, amongst others. Some of the firewoods they say to avoid are horse chestnut, larch, and spruce.

To get the fire started, you can use kindling and a natural firelighter which will prevent your food from having a chemical taint. 

You don't necessarily need a large fire for cooking. With bigger fire pits, it's often a good idea to separate the bowl into two areas: one for embers and one where you can keep adding small logs for consistent flames and to create more embers. Cooking over hot ashes will give a more consistent cook, while cooking over flames will give your food a chargrilled flavor, explains the team.

swing arm grill grate with food cooking over fire pit from FirepitsUK

This fire pit from FirepitsUK (opens in new tab) features a swing arm BBQ rack

(Image credit: FirepitsUK)

3. Add a simple grill grate

For easy cooking, all you need to do is add a grill grate over your fire pit. Check to see if your fire pit has a matching one available that fits neatly over the top. Otherwise, there are plenty available to buy online (try Amazon (opens in new tab)), including ones that are attached to a stake for pushing into the ground. For a social approach, you could alternatively supply guests with individual grill baskets so they can cook their own food.

Once you've got your grill in place, you can simply treat your fire pit like a BBQ – our guide on how to cook on a charcoal grill is full of useful info. From salmon steaks to sausages and baked potatoes wrapped in foil and pierced with a fork, there are all kinds of classic grilled goodies that are easy to make. But if you want to go a step further, accessories such as hot plates and kebab racks can come in useful.

As FirepitsUK explains, their kebab rack means the days of BBQ food sticking are over. 'They are particularly good for fish skewers,' they add.  A hot plate is ideal for creating an even, high heat, they continue – 'perfect for burgers.' You can also use them to sauté veggies, or even fry eggs.

cooking food on FirepitsUK half moon grill grate over fire pit

In this setup, the fire pit has been divided into two sections, with food grilling over the top of a half moon rack

(Image credit: FirepitsUK)

4. Cook up a one-pot wonder

Another approach for how to cook on a fire pit is to use a pot suspended above it. This traditional method is perfect for making comforting stews, chilis, and even porridge. And don't forget about mulled drinks too – mugs of hot apple juice or gently spiced wine always go down a treat at winter BBQs.

There are various stands and hooks that you can buy online for suspending your pot from. Alternatively, you can simply put a heavy-bottomed, cast iron pan straight on top of a grill grate.

cooking pot hanging over fire pit

Cook up curries, casseroles, and more over your fire pit

(Image credit: Peter Atkinson/Alamy Stock Photo)

5. Impress guests with meat cooked on a hanging hook

If you really want to impress with your outdoor cooking, then using a stand and a hook to grill a joint of meat suspended above the flames is definitely one way to go about it. It takes a good few hours – around three or four for a leg of lamb, for instance – but this labor of love can be well worth it and makes a great talking point for a BBQ party.

If trying this technique with a leg of lamb, brine it frequently to prevent it from burning, as suggests the experts at OverTheFireCooking (opens in new tab). They also recommend placing a skillet of vegetables beneath while the meat cooks – it'll catch all the drippings, giving them extra flavor.

cooking using grill from FirepitsUK

(Image credit: FirepitsUK)

6. Stay safe when cooking on your fire pit

Of course, safety is paramount when fires are involved. Avoid making your fire too big, otherwise it will be too hot to stand near while you cook. As FirepitsUK suggests, it's also worth investing in long-handled tools (without rubber) to protect your hands from the heat. Have these somewhere that's easily accessible in your outdoor grill station area. Always use BBQ gloves when handling hot grills and other accessories.

It's also a good idea to have a bucket of water to hand in case of any accidents. And of course, remember to keep an eye on the fire at all times, and don't allow children or pets around it without close supervision. Be aware of flying sparks, too, which can be a fire risk and potentially burn people close by.

kebab rack cooking on fire pit from FirepitsUK

Use BBQ gloves when handling hot grilling accessories

(Image credit: FirepitsUK)
Holly Crossley
Holly Crossley

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion. But, she loves all things digital too. She joined the team at Gardeningetc after working as a freelance content creator for a web agency, whilst studying for her M.Sc. in Marketing. Now she feels lucky enough to combine both digital and botanical worlds, every day.