BY Christopher Gardner—The BioLite FirePit+ from BioLIte Energy ($299.95) strives to be an attractive and convenient fire pit that also can be a portable grill. The fire pit, with its detachable battery/blower unit but without the lid, still comes in just under 20 pounds, so the original package is certainly portable in terms of weight. But how well does it hold up to double-duty as a portable fire place?
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The FirePit+ starts as the pit-slash-grill with its power unit, and you can easily make due with that if your ambition is a meal for two and a cozy fire afterward. For another $59.95 you can buy a good-looking carrying case to assist in the portability and to keep remnant ash out of the trunk or cargo hold of your vehicle as you return from a trip to the park. The case will hold pit, battery, and even the grill lid (also purchased separately for $79.95). It can hold some utensils as well, but–rather like the whole FirePit+ concept–I found the carrying case useful but somewhat awkward. Having used the FirePit+ for a little while now, I have enjoyed many of the positives of the product, but there are also a couple of challenges about it too. Portability, it seems, is more than about being light-weight or having an optional carrying bag.
BioLite’s patented Airflow Technology
The distinguishing feature of the BioLite FirePit+ is Bluetooth-enabled and has an app-controllable set of blowers that can stoke wood fires and glowing coals while also dispersing smoke. According to BioLite, you can do everything manually via the button located on the side of the USB-rechargeable powerpack. You can control the flame intensity and monitor real time battery & power usage stats when using the BiolIte app. I borrowed coals from a neighbor for my first grilling foray, and these briquets clearly were not of the low smoke/soot brand-name variety. The “patented airflow technology”, which runs on a removable and rechargeable battery, has three settings that will do their work for up to 30 hours on the low setting, and about 7 hours on high. Keep the blowers off while igniting the fire though, or, like me, you’ll waste a couple of matches that get blown out in the vortex. Once kindled, the fans helped speed the process along and kept even the billowing sooty smoke of cheap charcoal from settling around our staging area. The airflow system really came through to keep our experience notably smoke-free, and it helped create some nice convection once I placed the lid over the grilling meat. I can’t claim to be an expert griller, but the air circulation helps give meat over charcoal an even heat to avoid drying it out.
Cooking with the FirePit+
The four legs fold under the body, and once you bolt the handles on the two ends, the pit can be moved easily from garage to deck or poolside as desired.The FirePit+ griddle ($59.95) works nicely for morning meals like eggs and bacon, and/or pancakes. It could be the better way to cook a burger as well, as I found myself struggling to flip the burgers without splattering grease all over the inside of the FirePit+. Though such splatter is part of the process, I’m sure I would want to lug around the griddle with the FirePit+ because the idea is to use the product, then pack it into carrying case and/or camper to move as needed. Cleaning the removable griddle is far easier than cleaning the grill and wiping out the pit.
Using the FirePit+ as a traditional fire pit
When I used it as a traditional fire pit, the air system showed its value again. It can be controlled by the power button on the battery pack, and the light indicators make clear what setting you are on. As is often the case with BioLite products, you can use a traditional USB-out connection to charge a phone, smartwatch etc. (but not close to the heat!), but that option will shorten the time for airflow, of course. Convection helped stir kindling into a roaring wood fire quickly with similar smoke dispersal. It also helped aesthetically by keeping the flames dancing around the glowing logs, which can be enjoyed through the beautifully machine-perforated (or “X-Ray mesh”) metal body. I’m not a physicist, but my senses tell me that the blower unit also helps ensure the efficient and a fuller burning of every log or briquet to get the most of your fuel and limit waste. Inevitably there are some embers and bits that need clean-up, and we’ll get to that. The blower can be controlled through a smartphone via Bluetooth and the BioLite App, which is an unavoidable submission to our times, I suppose, but it is a feature that distracts more than it adds. Playing with fire is both a metaphor for danger and a means for some primitively seductive environmental and social interaction. Touching a screen is about as soulless as it gets. Besides, we are enjoying a hand- and heart-warming fire pit. If you’re far enough away to find the Bluetooth reach helpful, you’re too far away to bother using the FirePit+ in the first place.
BioLite’s design philosophy
Design details on any of the BioLite products I’ve had the pleasure of using are first rate. The company clearly prides itself on the extra care of getting some little things just right, and the FirePit+ offers a few of these touches as well. You can put the fuel grate down toward the floor of the device for wood logs right on the bottom blower. You can hang the grate up closer to the removable grill so that the coals don’t get the direct impact of the draft, and are kept closer to the grilling surface for a nice sear with a bit less charcoal. That grill slides almost too easily in and out of place for cleaning, and on top of it you can use the aforementioned iron griddle. The carrying case seems durable as well as convenient, and BIoLite has a FirePit FireMat that both protects a deck or campsite underbrush from the heat or sausage splatter and radiates some heat back up toward the food ($49.95).
A portable fire pit, with minor caveats
For these many praises, I also have a couple of concerns with the BioLite FirePit, which should be expected of a device attempting to do so much while striving to be compact enough to be carried to various terrains and situations. It is not easy to clean out the pit, though my expectations of cleanliness are probably unfairly high. The lower grate that holds the fuel looks like it might lift out and bring with it the remnant debris of a previous fire. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lift out without turning it vertically, which dumps that debris right into the pit anyway. BioLite helps by having a small if flimsy trap door at the bottom of the pit, so the problem with the grate is minor, but I found placing a sheet of aluminum under the bottom blower tube helped protect the floor of the device and made clean-up a bit easier still. Surely if you want the FIrePit+ to be truly portable, then you would want a simpler and more assured way to keep the ash away from vehicle, trunk, garage, friend’s deck…?
Though the accessories feel sturdy and work well, one can start to feel nickel-and-dimed (well, dollared-and-multi-dollared) trying to utilize the FirePit+ to its full potential. One doesn’t need the FireMat or FirePoker ($24.95), for example, but buying the unit, then paying another $80 for its lid to help with the cooking seemed a financial blow that would need a number of fireside beers to salve. Moreover, though the lid has a helpful vent, the handles can get hot enough that you’ll probably want protection to lift the top to check the kebabs.
And that gets us close to what seems to me a conceptual challenge for the FirePit+.
As a fire pit, it really is portable, looks great, and the airflow technology turns a modest amount of wood into a lively yet contained fire. The four legs fold under the body, and once you bolt the handles on the two ends, the pit can be moved easily from garage to deck or poolside as desired. Grilling for two, maybe two and a small child, can be done with that gear as well, so it works well for overland camping if your cooking ambitions are modest. Add a griddle and lid, and the concept of “portability” is getting stretched. The carry bag helps, but the end pockets don’t close at all, and the top is held down with two straps held only by S-hooks that are bound to leave gaps in the cover. Tongs, a spatula, utensils (or BioLite’s Prep & Grill Toolkit for $49.95) can easily slip out, pushing “portability” to the limit unless you have more patience than I (which is likely). Put a different way, the nice cooking options make it a burdensome thing to carry around much because it’s rather large and unwieldy. One should note that BioLite has the truly portable CampStove Complete Cook Kit for the hardy hikers and backpackers, and it seems a marvel of compact design. The FirePit+ is a bit small as a work-a-day grill at home, but if you want a convenient and contained fire pit, then it is a fantastic buy.
I have sung the praises of some of BioLite’s lighting products, and again for the company’s mission “to provide 20 million people with access to clean energy and to avoid 3 million tons of CO2e by the year 2025.” The FirePit+ seems a bit more challenging in terms of finding one’s sweet spot of desired use and required efforts to do so. I really love its ability to create communal warmth and a veritably smokeless fire in its portable pit. I’m less keen to use it as a grill, though, if I need to feed more than myself and my wife, or if we are feeling ambitious with our menu, just because there’s a lot to bring and set up and clean up for the cooking surface I’ll get. Nevertheless, if the desire is a decent grill to take to the cabin that then could be the fire pit as the stars stroll across the sky, then the BioLite FirePit+ certainly makes the lugging worthwhile.
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