If you'd like to enjoy a roaring fire in the comfort of your patio, you have several options. "Fire pits," the most popular type, are essentially bowls for holding burning logs. Most are also equipped with legs and a screen to keep the embers contained. "Chimineas" are shaped like small pot-bellied stoves with a short chimney to direct smoke out of the way. As for "outdoor fireplaces" the term usually refers to a free-standing structure with a chimney, but some retailers apply it to any fire pit with legs.
Wood-burning fire pits are the most popular choice with the largest number of positive reviews. Our top pick, the Red Ember Bronze Crossweave Firebowl Fire Pit (Est. $150 and up) stands far above the rest earning more than 675 reviews at Hayneedle.com with an overall rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. Users overwhelmingly describe this squat bronze-toned steel bowl with its open-weave design as attractive, well built and easy to assemble. It is also very weather-resistant, though a few users complain that theirs rusted quickly -- sometimes in as little as one week. However, the seller claims that keeping the fire pit covered when not in use should prevent this problem. The Bronze Crossweave Firebowl comes with a cover for this purpose, as well as a spark screen and a poker.
A slightly less expensive option is the Landmann 28335 Big Sky Stars & Moons Fire Pit (Est. $120 ) , which was our best-reviewed model in 2008. It has grown from fewer than 20 reviews on Amazon.com to more than 150, with an overall rating of 4.5 stars out of 5. Owners say this fire pit looks great and is lots of fun to use. They also like its large capacity, which makes building a decent, long-lasting fire easier. On top of that, the included accessories (grill rack, spark guard and poker) make this model a real bargain. The most common complaint about this otherwise sturdy fire pit is that its clay-colored finish wears off quickly, leaving the pit vulnerable to rust. A protective cover is available but costs an extra $25.
Some outdoor fireplaces run on propane or natural gas rather than wood. Gas-powered fireplaces are easier to light than wood-burning models, and they produce less smoke and soot. However, they do tend to be quite a bit more expensive. The best-rated gas-burning fireplace is the Uniflame GAD860SP Slate and Marble Tile Gas Fire Pit (Est. $400 and up) . Users say the Uniflame GAD860SP is both beautiful to look at and convenient to use, with its electronic igniters and slide-out tray for the propane tank. Many owners also report it puts out a good amount of heat, although it really does not compare to a real patio heater. On the downside, many users find the Uniflame GAD860SP incredibly difficult to assemble. We also saw a few complaints that it produces too much smoke and soot, just as if it were burning real wood.