What’s the best firewood to burn?
Oh man, the best "wood to burn" question. Okay, here we go.
So first of all, the best wood to burn depends on your desired goal or outcome. Are you just enjoying a fire on a rainy day while watching Netflix? Are you trying to heat your home with a wood-burning stove? Are you smoking the best Texas-style brisket you’ll ever eat? Are you cuddling up by a campfire in a sleeping bag? There are many variables to consider and there is no way I can capture all scenarios… so for simplicity's sake, I am just going to assume that we are talking about the best wood to burn in your indoor fireplace or outdoor firepit. Sound good? Cool. Let’s go.
Before we declare a winner, let’s clarify a few terms I will use in this article. Now, this is my most comprehensive breakdown of firewood ever so we will cover a lot of terms here but it will all be worth it in the end, I promise.
🌳There are two types of trees that are commonly used to create firewood: conifers (also known as softwoods) and deciduous (also known as hardwood) trees. A conifer is a type of plant that bears woody cones. Deciduous trees are trees that shed their leaves in the fall when the leaves are fully mature/fully grown. I have listed common conifer and deciduous trees below for your reference.
🥵 The quality of firewood is measured by its heating value using units like the British thermal units (BTUs) per cord or in kilowatt-hours per kilogram. Hardwoods weigh more and give off more heat than softwoods of the same volume but pound-for-pound a softwood could have the same heating value as a hardwood.
💦 There are broadly two ways to describe the amount of water in your firewood: green (or wet) wood and dry. Within dry, there are two sub-categories of dry wood we will discuss: air-dried (also known as “seasoning”) and kiln-dried, which is a form of heat treatment. I will refer to air-drying as “seasoning” and air-dried wood as “seasoned wood” because they are the more common terms. If you aren’t familiar with the term seasoned wood, it basically means that the wood was left outside (often uncovered) for up to two years so it has seen a bunch of “seasons”. Kiln-drying is a form of heat treating but not all heat treating is kiln-drying. So for simplicity, we are going to talk about kiln-dried wood which is just firewood that has been put in a big oven called a kiln.
🪵There are two types of firewood in any fire: logs and kindling. I will touch on both here. Although they are both firewood, generally speaking logs are bigger than kindling (or at least they should be). And by bigger, I mean that logs are taller, wider, and longer than kindling.
🪓 Finally, I am going to be referring to firewood that is manufactured or produced by cutting up tree trunks into 16-24” segments and then split with a log splitter or axe. This can be done manually in your own backyard or totally automated with a firewood processor that has a log in-feed, clamp, operator joystick, hydraulic circular saw, and laser-measured cuts.
Okay, let’s get started…. (Pun intended)
🔥 What is the best firewood to burn?
The first type of firewood I want to talk about is kindling. I suggest using something like fatwood which is pinewood that is impregnated (a fancy way of saying saturated) with resin. This stuff gets fires going indoors and outdoors but should be used in moderation indoors because it is a softwood so it does give off some soot. This is a product you will need to buy. If you don’t want to buy fatwood, then I would suggest cracking your own kindling from one of the less dense hardwoods (like poplar). There is a great tool out there, which I have made a few videos about, called The Kindling Cracker that you can get on Amazon or you can just use an axe or hatchet to crack down your own kindling.
The next type of firewood, and arguably the most important type, I want to talk about is logs. Since we have already clarified a lot of terms above I will jump right into the good stuff.
🍁 Tree Type: I recommend using hardwoods for logs. You can vary the density of the hardwoods depending on your needs. Are you trying to get the fire going? Then you can start with lighter woods like poplar. Are you trying to have a long, steady burn? Then you can throw on dense logs with great heating values like oak and hickory. In case you were thinking, but wait I love burning softwoods! I will say this. There is one advantage to softwoods in that they light fast and burn well (which is why softwoods make great kindling!). There are two major disadvantages to softwoods for me that are just non-starters. The first is that softwoods put off a lot of creosote (or soot) which is bad for the environment and your chimney. The second is that softwoods, like pine, will send up little white ash snowflakes that will rain down on you while you sit around your fire pit. They don’t burn you (or at least I haven’t been burned by one) but who wants to get rained on by ashes while sitting around a fire?
💦 Moisture Level: I recommend using very dry logs. For a fire to burn effectively and cleanly the logs need to be dry. That means that there is less than 25% water and ideally less than 20%. Dry logs burn hotter, cleaner, and “greener” than wet wood. If the fire doesn’t have to waste energy evaporating excess moisture then you get a complete combustion which means a cleaner burn. I recommend buying kiln-dried wood (which happens to be the only firewood that we sell right now) because it basically guarantees that the log moisture content will fall between 10 and 20%. There is nothing wrong with seasoned wood, it is just much harder to quality control the seasoning process because it is inherently ambiguous. With kiln-dried wood, there is a state-regulated heat treatment process that produces consistently dry wood every time. The added benefit of heat treated wood is that the heating process kills pests so you’re not bringing any nasty critters into your home or you local eco-system.
If you are burning seasoned wood, you can figure out if your firewood is dry and ready to burn (before trying to light it) using a few visual checks and tools. In order to tell if your wood is seasoned properly it will have radial cracks, it will be gray in color, the bark will chip off easily, it will splinter easily, and it will have a delicate woody aroma. You can also just probe it with a $30 moisture meter that you can get off Amazon and you will know pretty quickly.
🪓 Size: I recommend using logs that are roughly 3” in diameter and 16” inches in length. The best way to get this type of log consistently is to buy wood that has been produced using a fully automated firewood processor. This length pretty much guarantees that the logs will fit in your fireplace and fire pit. Of course, there are exceptions, but I would be willing to bet that 99% of modern fireplaces and wood-burning stoves will work great with logs of this size. I’ve burned logs of this size in smokeless fire pits, my big green egg, wood fire insert fireplaces, stone masonry fireplaces, and even homemade pizza ovens. We’ve had 1,000s of customers use logs of this size in their home fireplaces and fire pits, restaurant wood-fired grills, Texas-offset smokers, box smokers, and pizza ovens. This size is also perfect because it will keep your fire going slowly if you are just adding logs sparingly or you can throw 4 or 5 on at a time and your fire won’t get smothered (granted you allow for space and air between logs).
🏆 And the winner is:
If I had to pick just one favorite it would be super dry oak measuring in around 15% moisture and 3” in width, 3” in height, and 16” in length. Firewood logs like this are likely kiln-dried and produced on an automated firewood processor (just like the wood we sell).
If I could pick multiple favorites, I would recommend a mix of oak, maple, chestnut, gum, and poplar. These are common hardwoods in the mid-Atlantic but your local mix of hardwoods might vary. A mix of hardwood is great because it offers logs with different densities and heating values depending on your needs.
I hope this was helpful and I hope you learned a little bit more about firewood than you knew before you started. Keep burning that wood!
Keep the fire alive,
Conifers (also known as softwoods: A conifer is a type of plant that bears woody cones.
- Douglas Fir
Deciduous trees (also known as hardwoods): are trees that shed their leaves once a year, usually during the season of autumn, when their leaves are mature, or fully grown
- Apple Trees
- Fig Trees
- Ginko Biloba
- Bald Cypress
- Beech trees
- Ash Trees
- Elm Tree
- Sweet Cherry
- Weeping willow
- Yellow poplar
Guide to Conifers: 11 Types of Conifers Seen Across the US
32 Types of Deciduous Trees: List of Deciduous Trees With Pictures