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Best Burning Firewood for Your Fire Pit

Best Burning Firewood for Your Fire Pit

When building a fire in your fire pit, you want quick lighting, hot burning, long-lasting firewood, right?  

That doesn’t always happen though because sometimes we use wood for our fire pits that we have easy access to, even if it’s not a great option.

I know this and still, on occasion, use certain woods as firewood from trees I’ve cut up on my property, taken down by storms, or other reasons.  

If you’ve done some clearing and grubbing on your property, and you’ve split and stacked some wood, you’ll most likely tap that source like I have, whether it’s good, well-seasoned wood or not.

With that said though, the type and degree of seasoning with regard to burning can make all the difference in the world from a performance standpoint.  

If you are serious about your fire pit, you’ll need to know what the best burning firewood types are and what it takes to get them ready to burn.

So, what is the best burning firewood for fire pits? The following are among the best burning hardwood firewoods for fire pit use, based on heat output, burn time, seasoning time, and availability

Ash:  Commonly at the top of lists of best firewoods, ash is quick seasoning, burns very hot and is easy to work with if you are prepping your own wood for fire pit use.  White ash, specifically, is a common option for firewood.

Beech:  Very similar to ash in heat performance and longevity of burn.  A little slow to season due to the high moisture content in the wood.  Also, beech can be difficult to split and challenging to light at times.

Hickory:  Among the hottest burning of hardwoods, hickory is easy to find, seasons quickly, smells great when burning, and burns long.  Shagbark and Bitternut hickory are common options for firewood.

Maple:  Hard maples, like sugar maple, are easy to find and burn long and hot in a fire pit.

Oak:  This extremely dense hardwood has high availability and burns hot and long, but can be challenging to light.  White oak is a common option for fire pit firewood.

Most of these firewood options are generally available throughout North America and mainland Europe, as well as in the U.K. and Ireland.

A smaller combination of these firewood types can be found throughout South America, Asia, Australia, and North Africa.

What is Hardwood?

Hardwoods, in a “best burning firewood” context, are generally are heavier and denser and thus tend to burn hotter and longer, making them a desirable option for many over softwoods (ex. pines, birch, cedar, etc.) as the main fuel source in a fire pit.  

There are some exceptions to this on the softwood side, like firewood from yew trees, but generally, pound for pound, hardwoods are a better choice.  

Also, softwoods tend to have a higher moisture content, so seasoning often takes much longer.

For those looking for a more technical answer, the American Hardwood Information Center defines hardwoods as,

…deciduous trees that have broad leaves, produce a fruit or nut, and generally go dormant in the winter. North America’s forests grow hundreds of varieties that thrive in temperate climates, including oak, ash, cherry, maple, and poplar species. Each species can be crafted into durable, long-lasting furniture, cabinetry, flooring, and millwork, and each offers unique markings with variation in grain pattern, texture, and color.

American Hardwood Information Center

How Is Firewood Heat Output Measured and Why Should I Care?

A  common metric for the heat output of a particular type of firewood is the British Thermal Unit or BTU.  A BTU is essentially the measure of heat necessary to heat one pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.  

For the purposes of obtaining the best burning firewood for your fire pit, the higher the BTU number, the higher the amount of energy present for burning in each unit of wood you possess.  

A typical way to represent this amount of energy in firewood is the BTU value per cord of wood.  A cord of wood is a well-stacked pile of firewood measuring 4 feet high, 8 feet wide, and 4 feet deep (see firewood BTU chart below).  

Image of firewood BTU ratings for a sample of wood types
Firewood BTU ratings for my best burning firewood picks

Knowing this information will help you select a wood for firewood that gives you a better value for your chopping, stacking, and seasoning effort, or your hard-earned dollars if you choose to go with a  local supplier.

What is Seasoned Firewood?

Seasoned firewood is essentially firewood that has been split, stacked, and allowed to dry for a set period of time.  Naturally, each type of wood contains a certain amount of moisture that is particular to each. If not properly seasoned, firewood will not burn as effectively as its capable of when dried properly.

Each type of wood used for firewood has its own level of moisture content, usually measured as a percentage of the wood’s mass.  A wood’s moisture content (%) and density are primary determiners of proper seasoning time.

As I said before, hardwoods typically have a lower moisture content and higher density, thus their seasoning time is shorter than choices on the softwood side.  

In an effort to provide solid best burning firewood recommendations for your fire pit use, the hardwood options we’ve talked about so far, ash, beech, hickory, maple, and oak, all have generally short seasoning times of around 6-12 months, based on moisture content and density.

Apple: a very dense hardwood firewood
alternative that burns hot and long…if you can find it

Some Great Fire Pit Firewood Alternatives

If you have any trouble finding any of the options mentioned (you probably won’t) or are looking for some alternatives, the following will firewood choices will not let you down.  

Black locust, a heavy, very dense wood, is a solid alternative firewood choice as it burns very hot (29.3 BTUs per 4,200 lb cord)  and seasons in about a year.

However, black locust is very localized in the southeastern part of the U.S. with a few exceptions, so it may not be available in your area.  I left it off the original list above for this reason.

Another decent alternative firewood option is apple.  Apple is extremely dense, burns hot (26.5 BTUs per 4,140 lb cord) with a smaller flame, and smells great when used in a fire pit.  Like black locust, availability can be a limiting factor.

Conclusion: Best Burning Firewood

The list of best burning firewood I recommended in this post is certainly not all-inclusive, as there is a huge variety of wood choices available for fire pit use.  

My goal for this post was to narrow that variety of choices down to a small list of five firewood options that met a very specific set of criteria; hardwoods with high heat output, burn time, relatively short seasoning time, and general availability.

Each one of these choices, ash, beech, hickory, maple and oak, all meet my “best burning firewood” criteria.  While they all share these criteria in common, they are all unique in their own right and if you are able, experiment with each of them to find your preference.  

For more on the subject of making sure you have great performing firewood, check out my article How to Stack Firewood for Your Fire Pit.

Also, to find firewood for sale in your area, check out the Backyard Toasty firewood seller directory here. It only covers the U.S. for now, but we will be adding other countries very soon.

Thanks for reading!


Related Questions

What is the best way to stack firewood for my fire pit?

There are a wide variety of ways to stack your firewood safely, keep it out of the way, and dry it and preserve it until you are ready to use it in your fire pit.

The key to a successful firewood stack is keeping it off the ground, protected from ground moisture. You can accomplish this by constructing a simple platform using pressure treated 4 x 4s or cinder blocks for supports, and 2 x 12s for the decking where the firewood pile will rest.

If you want to get creative with your firewood stacking, consider storing your fire pit wood in a Holz Hausen (YouTube video) configuration.  I like this option because, if properly done, it looks great and provides a very stable firewood stack structure that is resistant to tipping.

If you are interested in commercially available firewood storage racks, stay away from the variety of flimsy, low-end options that will fail eventually, dumping your firewood on the ground and presenting a potentially dangerous situation if someone is nearby when it happens.

If you choose to buy a rack in the end, spend a little extra for a rack that will last and not strain under a load of even the smallest of firewood stacks.

Woodhaven brand firewood stacking racks (click to see them on Amazon) are a solid option, that are extremely reasonable price-wise, particularly for their durability and the peace of mind you get from that.  

These racks come ranging from 5 to 16 feet in width, depending on your needs.  Each comes with a cover that goes over the top of the firewood stack to protect it from direct rain.

You can shop their line through their site or other suppliers like Amazon. If assembled properly, they should be the last firewood rack you buy, unless that is, you plan to expand the amount of firewood you keep on hand.

What is the best wood for fire pit kindling?

Cedar is a great option for kindling as it burns hot and fast, perfect for getting your main firewood stack going.  Due to the fact that it burns quickly, cedar is not recommended as the main fire pit fuel source.  Just use it to get the fire started.

Softwoods, in general, are better as kindling due to their quick-burning nature, so consider the range, particularly with regard to availability.  If you are able, see what’s on your property and start collecting a kindling stash there before you go out and buy overpriced kindling from a local supplier.

How much does a cord of firewood cost?

The price of a cord of firewood is dependent on a variety of factors that include your location, the type of firewood you are buying, whether it’s seasoned or not, yes or no on delivery fees, is stacking included, the time of year, etc.  

With that said, a cord of seasoned hickory firewood in my area, purchased in the dead of winter, costs about $450 with tax, and that does not include stacking.  This is in Northern Virginia, near Washington D.C, so it may be somewhat on the high side compared to most locations in the country.  

If you live in a high-cost area, I would expect something in this range. If you live in a more reasonable area from a cost perspective, your price could be as low as half this number.

Negotiate on stacking fees, shooting for free, at least on your first load. Some people like stacking, some people don’t or can’t do it.  Figure out what you are willing to pay to get it done if that is the best option for you.  

“Mom and Pop” firewood suppliers will generally be more willing to negotiate than suppliers whose firewood sales are only a part of a larger business, such as landscapers, farms, etc.
Image of a backyard fire pit