What is the best firewood?
The best firewood is, of course, the type that best suits your needs which can vary depending on whether you are cooking or using the wood for heat in a fireplace. There are many types of wood which are suitable either for the fireplace or for cooking. Here I will repeat some of the basic important principles that are important when choosing wood. After that is a detailed list of several common types of firewood and their characteristics.
“Seasoned” Firewood – Seasoned firewood is wood which has been left out to dry for an extended period of time. Wet wood, including green wood which has recently been cut from a tree, is more difficult to burn and burns with less heat. Avoid using wet wood and always use seasoned firewood if at all possible. All of the firewood in Dubai which we stock is kiln dried.
Energy Content – BTUs (British Thermal Units) – This is a measure of how much heat is given off by a certain amount of wood. The hardwoods have the highest BTU content and thus are considered the best firewood for high, intense heat. The highest of the high include rock elm, sugar maple, and red oak. Softwoods, like white pine, basswood, green ash, and white spruce, are much less dense and thus do not burn as long as much heat output.
Hardwood versus Softwood – Hardwoods are very dense. They pack more BTUs of potential heat energy per volume of firewood. Therefore they tend to be the best firewood types for heat and for cooking. However, they are more difficult to get ignited in the first place. Softwoods are less dense and also tend to be more resinous. This means they ignite much faster and thus can be good as a starter wood to get your fire going. However, they tend to give off less heat and burn faster.
Some examples of hardwoods
Best Firewood – Ash, red oak, white oak, beech, birch, hickory, hard maple, pecan, dogwood, almond, apple (incense-like perfume, nice scent); high heat, easy to burn, no heavy smoke, overall excellent
Good – Soft maple, cherry, walnut; medium heat, easy to burn, no heavy smoke.
Fair – elm, sycamore, gun, aspen, basswood, cottonwood, yellow poplar (bitter smoke); low to medium heat, can be a bit harder to burn, medium smoke, ok for kindling but not as much heat and more smoke.
Some examples of softwoods:
Good – southern yellow pine, spruce, fir, resinous so easy to burn, has medium heat but burns out quickly, and easy to burn but heavy smoke, ok if you want a quick warming fire or short fire that will burn out before you go to bed.
Good for kindling – eastern red cedar, medium heat, easy to burn, medium smoke, pop a lot and throws sparks, good for kindling.
Fair – cypress, medium heat, a bit harder to burn, medium smoke.
What Is The Best Firewood? Specific Types of Firewood
– The following is a list of many common types of firewood. Where possible I have mentioned its suitability for the cooking and/or as a smoking wood. Which woods are available to you will depend on several factors including your location and the season. We stock Ash, Acacia, Beech, Birch, Oak and Olive as these are the most popular in the UAE as well as the ones which travel the best.
- Alder firewood – Alder gives off little heat and burns quickly, however, good charcoal can be made from it. Has a delicate flavour with some sweetness. For smoking, its mild flavour can accent fish, pork, poultry and game birds nicely.
- Apple firewood – Perhaps the king of all cooking woods, this is definitely one of the best firewood types. However, it tends to be rarer as firewood because it is quite attractive and can be used in furniture making and other decorations. It has a heavenly sweet smell which is great for cooking and smoking. It burns hot without giving off much flame, making it ideal for firewood cooking in a fire pit. The flavour is mildly smoky with hints of fruity sweetness. Great with poultry and pork but will compliment just about anything. If you can find any, snatch it up!
- Acacia firewood – In the same family as mesquite, acacia has a similar flavour but is not as heavy and not as hot burning. A good cooking wood.
- Ash firewood – Excellent firewood. Tends to burn very well, even if a bit wet and green. Distinctive flavour goes well with fish and meats alike.
- Beech firewood – This has some good heat and flame but tends to give off a fair amount of sparks, making it less suitable for an indoor fireplace and cooking.
- Birch firewood – Birch gives off good heat but tends to be consumed pretty quickly. The flavour is good, similar to maple which compliments pork and poultry nicely.
- Cherry – Another of the best firewood types, this burns hot and with a low flame similar to apple. It has a mild fruity flavour excellent with almost anything, including poultry, pork and beef.
- Douglas fir – Slow burning with a lot of heat. Good firewood. Tends to be a bit resinous for cooking.
- Hawthorn – One of the best firewood types. Burns very hot and long. Excellent.
- Hickory firewood – Considered the “king of smoking woods”, hickory is a hard, high heat wood that gives off a strong sweet, almost bacony flavour which works beautifully to flavour pork, ham and beef. Great long lasting heat. Definitely one of the best firewood types.
- Juniper – This wood snaps and pops a lot. Like pine it is a natural insect repellent with a distinct aroma, smelling like a piney cedar chest. Not great for cooking. The berries, on the other hand, can be used for flavouring several types of dishes (they are the primary flavouring agent in Gin also).
- Maple – Smokey but with a mellow, slightly sweet aroma and flavour, this is a good fuelwood. Compliments pork, poultry and game birds nicely.
- Mesquite firewood – Another one of the most popular woods for cooking either as a primary fuel or as a smoking wood. Burns very hot with a smokey but richly flavoured smoke. Nice earthy flavour is good with just about anything including beef, fish, chicken and game.
- Mulberry – Like pear, this is similar in many ways to apple. Sweet smelling smoke is great for cooking.
- Oak firewood – Oak is one of the best firewood types. It requires a good deal of seasoning time (as much as 2 years) but then is a good slow burning wood with lots of heat and a small flame. If it is not fully seasoned the smoke can be very dense and bitter. The flavour is a heavy smokey flavour which is good with bold foods like ribs, red meat, pork and heavy game.
Well that’s it! So what is the best firewood? As you can see, that depends on the answer to the question, best firewood for what? While some are good for cooking, others are not. While some are good starter woods, others are not.
Happy grilling from all of us at Elite Horizon!
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