Relaxing and staring at fire is a primordial pleasure, but one that's often isolated to camping trips. It also inevitably leads to burger and hot dog cravings. While your average campfire -- a flaming stack of logs surrounded by rocks or rusty metal -- can be a challenge to cook on, BioLite's new FirePit provides a best-of-both-worlds solution. It's a portable grill station that doubles as a warming and hypnotic flame source, opening up opportunities beyond the campsite.
The product is an 20-pound fire pit with folding legs and perforated "X-Ray Mesh" sides for heat distribution and flame visibility. There's also a Bluetooth-controllable fan attachment that helps expedite and regulate combustion, which is excellent for getting charcoal to red-hot ember status quickly. BioLite is introducing the $200 device on Kickstarter today with a May 2018 ship date, but I recently had a chance to check out one of the prototypes and eat a few tasty burgers along the way.
One of the most notable things about this BioLite product is the omission of a thermoelectric generator, something that's become a staple for the company's product line. It was left off for the sake of affordability and also probably contributes to its relatively lightweight build. Don't worry, it's still a viable off-the-grid product if you consider the solar-panel-emblazoned carrying case which is being sold as an optional $60 accessory. Whether or not you opt to charge by the sun, it's still a handy way to carry the FirePit around, so the case is worth considering. It's also free if you pre-order on Kickstarter.
Charging with the solar case alone would probably require a few days of sitting in the sun, but the FirePit is being positioned as more of a home, beach or car-camping type of product and when the 10,400mAh battery is fully charged you can get from 5 to 30 hours of fan time depending on what speed setting you use. You can also charge up devices from the battery's USB port or connect one of BioLite's gooseneck FlexLights for improved visibility. Just like the smaller CampStove and CookStove, this battery and fan unit is easily removable, so you can take it inside when you want to charge it.
The BioLite app (Android / iOS), which was originally developed to control the BaseLantern XL, will now also include FirePit controls. You'll be able to adjust the fan speed and monitor exactly how long the battery is expected to last. It supports Bluetooth LE, so you should be able to power on/off remotely using the app, but with the increased temperature shielding, expected range should be about 30 feet. It's easy to adjust fan speed from the FirePit's control panel, but why interrupt your reverie by getting up.
The fan drives airflow through three vented metal tubes: two running along the top and one centered at the bottom. The 51 "air jet" openings help to create convection and, when burning wood, also help keep smoke to a minimum. A higher fan setting keeps flames relatively low with heat distributed to the sides (for cozying up to) while a lower setting interfere's less with the flames, letting them reach higher. Controlling that airflow also helped our charcoal get up to temp quickly, so we could get cooking faster.
The interior has a fuel rack that can be hung close to the cooking surface, which is ideal for hibachi-style grilling, and lowered to accommodate cord wood. (Pro tip: use the remaining briquettes as starter.) With the addition of an air injection system to this fire pit setup, there's less need for crouching and nursing flames beyond the initial lighting, plus it emits far less smoke than standard campsite fires.
I was able to carry the FirePit around with cord wood in it for several blocks and didn't feel like it was too much effort. However, for longer distances, you'll want to drive this around or use a cart. Cleaning out the ash once cooled is also easy. There's a small trap door on the bottom at one end. If there's an ash bucket, you could easily just sit this on top and brush it out. Burger grease and any other potential goop from cooking didn't seem to cause a mess and most likely just burned off once we transitioned from charcoal grilling to fire pit mode.
If you're considering a casual grill, the BioLite FirePit is a great option to expand your possibilities from grilling to flames and chilling. Keep in mind though, it's only an 18-inch high cooking surface. While there's a minimum amount of tech involved here, the app-controlled fan helps get things up to temp quickly and lets you sculpt the flame output to some degree. The X-Ray Mesh exterior is great for a combination of safety and visibility, while the overall package is easy to lug about. The price for the BioLite FirePit is $200 and while we don't know the exact retail launch date, Kickstarter orders are expected to ship in May 2018. If you pick one up now through the campaign, you can even score a free solar carrying case.