Pack the Fire, Not the Smoke: UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill Review

35 views 3:52 pm 0 Comments January 23, 2024

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UCO Smokeless Flatpack Firepit and Grill

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(Photo/Seiji Ishii)

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I’ve been testing several smokeless and artificial fire pits over the last few years. They often carry a common drawback: They’re bulky, heavy, and difficult to pack in the cramped confines of a car. But in late 2023, UCO released what it claims is a smokeless fire pit that folds flat for easy storage and strain-free carry.

UCO utilizes double-wall construction in its Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill. This type of construction creates super-heated air channels that exit the top of the firebox. This allows a “secondary burn” of any particulates in the updraft, torching much and maybe all of the smoke.

This method of creating a smokeless campfire experience has been made popular by Solo Stove and other backyard iterations of smokeless fire pits and grills.

I tested the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill on two frigid car camping trips and in my yard (which is a wildlife refuge) over 2 months. The small folded stature and low weight would be incredible if the double-wall design eradicated pesky smoke.

In short: UCO created a smokeless fire pit solution for car campers without storage space for larger and heavier models. I found the partial double-wall construction effective for minimizing smoke. The UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill provided a welcoming ambiance and warmth when fire bans nixed traditional fires. It also worked well as an old-fashioned grill.


UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill


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UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill studio image

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(Photo/UCO)

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Specs

  • Material
    Stainless steel
  • Weight
    14.9 lbs. (fire pit, grate, and bag)
  • Assembled dimensions
    15.2″ x 10.7″
  • Compacted dimensions
    15.2″ x 10.7″ x 2.2″

Pros

  • Incredibly small and light for a smokeless firepit

  • Partial double-wall system is effective for eliminating smoke

  • Some heat escapes the side panels, rare for an enclosed firepit

  • Peforated coal grate kept tinder and fuel fed with air

Cons

  • Not as robust as solid smokeless firepits


Seiji Ishii

UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill Construction

UCO Smokeless Firepit and stove schematic
How the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill works; (image/UCO)

UCO uses stainless steel to construct the firebox, which stands 5 inches off the ground on thick wire legs. The firebox can swallow standard 16-inch-long cordwood. It folds up accordion-style into a 2.2-inch-thick package that fits into an included nylon storage bag. The cooking grate fits neatly inside the folded firebox.

The entire packed system weighs 14.9 pounds. I easily carried the fire pit in one hand via a pair of loop handles on the portable storage bag. It trumped every other fire pit by a long shot for ease of packing. I could cram it into the back of my Subaru Outback Wilderness or in a campervan stuffed with cycling and climbing wares.

UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill double wall detail
The magic: this double-wall section of the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill. It superheated air to burn off particulates exiting the top of the firebox; (photo/Seiji Ishii)

The magic of the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill lies in the partial double walls of its front and back panels. The raised center section of these panels allows air to enter at the bottom of the firebox.

As the air warms, it flows upward, where the double walls section fans out to cover the entire width of the firepit. The superheated air then exits through perforations that span the width of the firebox opening. Theoretically, this blazing airstream completes the combustion of the solid particulates in smoke.

Coals and flames were also fed air through openings in the bottom coal plate, helping start the fire and supplying it with oxygen.

UCO also perforated the sides of the firebox to allow radiant heat to escape. Without such openings, most fire pits can only provide heat out of the top.

In the Field

UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill stored in bag
The UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill folds to fit in this portable bag. It fit behind the driver’s seat of my Subaru; (photo/Seiji Ishii)

Getting the Firepit Going

Deploying the portable UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill from its folded stature was a 15-second affair. I removed the grill from its bag and pushed the hinged side panels outward. Then, the bottom coal plate fell into place, and the firebox became dimensionally stable.

Lighting the proper tinder was easy as the openings in the coal plate allowed enough airflow to ignite even stubborn material. As stated, standard cordwood would fit, but I mostly stuck with smaller pieces of wood until the fire was roaring strongly.

UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill in folded format
The UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill is only 2.2 inches thick when folded; (photo/Seiji Ishii)

Is It Really Smokeless?

When the flames were established, and the fire pit had enough time to heat up thoroughly, the effectiveness of the double-wall system was apparent. Some patience was required, as I had to deal with smoke as I fed larger fuel into the firebox after the tinder ignited. But this is the same with every smokeless firepit I’ve tested to date.

Once the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill reached operating temperature, which took 5 to 15 minutes depending on the size and heat created by the fire, smoke output mostly ceased. Some smoke would escape at rare moments. But I thought most of that was when there was a damp section of wood, as rains were common during the test period.

As the flames naturally died down, as long as the fire produced modest heat, the system stayed hot enough to continue the largely smokeless experience.

UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill top view
The UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill accepted standard 16″ cordwood and deployed in 15 seconds; (photo/Seiji Ishii)

How Hot Did It Get?

The heat generated by the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill was impressive. Above the firebox, it was an inferno when the flames were just clearing the top. I had to keep my hands, arms, and feet a respectful distance above the concentrated vortex of heat energy.

The amount of heat radiating from the sides was a mere fraction of what emanated from the top. But it was still a welcome and palpable amount. All enclosed fire pits have this issue, but the holes in the side panels of the UCO Firepit did let some heat escape. And sitting close to it provided more heat than fire pits with solid walls could have delivered.

The perforated coal plate on the portable UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill kept tinder and fuel fed with oxygen; (photo/Seiji Ishii)

Cooking on the grate was best done over coals as the heat was hard to manage otherwise. Although the grate height was not adjustable and seemed far from the bottom of the firepit, it was plenty hot on the grate surface. The firebox concentrated and directed the radiant heat upward and protected against convective losses from breezes.

Once cooled, packing up was almost as quick as deployment. I removed the grate and then turned the firebox over to dump out the ashes. I folded the coal plate and pushed the hinged sides of the fire pit in, and the contraption collapsed flat. I again dumped any remaining ashes out. Lastly, I inserted the grill inside the firebox before returning it to the storage bag.

Conclusions on the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill

The cooking grate seemed far from the coals, but it got plenty hot; (photo/Seiji Ishii)

I was skeptical that such a small and light fire pit could be smokeless. All the other fire pits I’ve tested with the double-wall system were not in the same ballpark for ease of storage and transport. The highly portable UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill stood out for this reason.

Because it’s hinged and there are multiple separate stainless steel panels, it’s not as robust as the larger models, like the Solo Stove units.

But those behemoths take up a large portion of the back of my Subaru. I stored the UCO unit behind the driver’s seat. The portability was well worth the minimal amount of caution required to prevent the hinges or panels from getting damaged. I didn’t think it took kid gloves, which I certainly don’t exercise on any gear I’m testing. It just meant not treating the UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill carelessly.

The MSRP of $200 might seem high for what it visibly is in the store. But once a winter season rolled by with the folding UCO Smokeless Firepit and Grill residing behind my driver’s seat, I felt the price was fair. I could always have a fire at any time or any place, even with fire bans active — and I also used it on my porch and in my yard.

It’s hard to put a price on the memories made with my child and friends around this fire pit and others. But this is the only one that can live permanently in my car, at the ready.

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