What Is the Best Firewood To Burn?

When it comes to burning wood in your wood stove, fireplace, or outdoor bonfire, what is the best firewood to burn?

Different types of firewood provide different levels of heat and have different burning characteristics such as smoke, sparks, and fragrance, so it’s important to choose the right species of trees for your firewood to match your needs.

Best firewood to burn

In this blog post, we will take a look at some of the most popular types of trees found in North America, to see how much heat a cord of wood generates as measured in BTUs (explained below) and fuel oil equivalents.

We have also provided 3 quick reference charts showing Good-Better-Best wood types to burn to help you understand what is the best firewood to burn for your next fire.

Let’s get into it! 

Burn hardwoods for the best results

The best firewood comes from hardwoods such as maple, oak, ash, birch, and most fruit trees, which will provide a hotter and longer burn time. These woods have the least pitch and sap and are usually easier to handle.

As a quick overview, there are two common ways to measure the heat energy from a cord of firewood;

  1. BTUs – the standard way to express heat energy available in any given material.
  2. The required gallons of fuel oil to equal the heat provided by a cord of wood.

In the three tables below, we have combined these two categories to keep things as simple as possible. Let’s start with the “Best” and work out way backwards.

BEST: 200 to 250 gallons of fuel per cord of firewood

Tree SpeciesWeight
(lbs./cord) Dry
Heat per Cord
(Million BTUs)
Ease of
Splitting
SparksFragrance
Apple388827.0MediumFewExcellent
Beech (American)376027.5DifficultFewGood
Birch (Yellow)299221.8MediumFewSlight
Hickory398428.5EasyModerateGood
Ironwood375026.8MediumFewSlight
Maple (Sugar)368025.5EasyFewExcellent
Red Oak352824.6MediumFewExcellent
White Ash395226.0MediumFewExcellent
White Oak347224.2MediumFewExcellent
Chart data supplied by Utah State University, Forestry Extension

BETTER: 150 to 200 gallons of fuel per cord of firewood

Tree SpeciesWeight
(lbs./cord) Dry
Heat per Cord
(Million BTUs)
Ease of
Splitting
SparksFragrance
Birch (White)299220.8MediumFewSlight
Cherry (Black)292820.4EasyModerateExcellent
Douglas fir297020.7EasyFewGood
Elm (American)287220.0DifficultFewGood
Maple (Red/Silver)275219.0MediumFewGood
Tamarack286521.8MediumFewGood
Chart data supplied by Utah State University, Forestry Extension

GOOD: 100 to 150 gallons of fuel per cord of firewood

Tree SpeciesWeight
(lbs./cord) Dry
Heat per Cord
(Million BTUs)
Ease of
Splitting
SparksFragrance
Alder254017.5EasyModerateSlight
Aspen216018.2EasyFewSlight
Cedar (Red)206018.2MediumManyExcellent
Cottonwood208015.8MediumModerateSlight
Hemlock270019.3EasyManyGood
Pine225015.9MediumManyGood
Redwood217016.5EasyFewSlight
Spruce (Sitka)224015.5EasyManySlight
Chart data supplied by Utah State University, Forestry Extension

How many BTUs you need to heat your home, cottage, cabin, garage, or any room!

The answer to “How many BTUs do I need to heat my home?” begins with a basic understanding of energy generation and the British Thermal Unit.

The amount of energy in a substance as measured in BTUs or British Thermal Units is the standard way to express heat energy available in any given material.

A typical 300 square foot room requires 7,000 BTUs to keep a comfortable temperature, while a 1,000 square foot area demands 18,000 BTUs.

To figure out how much heating you require, use this easy formula:

(temperature change required) x (cubic feet of space) x .133

= BTUs required per hour. 

A 1,000 square-foot workspace with an 8-foot ceiling height needs approximately 8,000 cubic feet of heating. If the temperature outside is 30°F and you want your room to be 70°F, the desired temperature change is 40°F. The two figures multiplied by .133 equals a required heat output of about 42,500.

BTUs per pound of firewood – another way to measure BTUs

All wood has about the same amount of BTUs per pound. Non-resinous wood has an average of 8000 to 8500 BTU per pound, while resinous wood has an average of 8600 to 9700 BTU per pound.

Lower-density softwoods have fewer BTUs than higher-density hardwoods. The table below shows the BTU content for some of the more common types of firewood.

For example, below are the BTUs per Pound for some types of wood:

  • Alder – 8000
  • Aspen – 8400
  • Beech – 8700
  • Birch – 8800
  • Cedar (red) – 8900
  • Cherry – 8300
  • Cottonwood – 8800
  • Douglas Fir – 8900
  • Elm – 8700
  • Hemlock – 8400
  • Hickory – 9300
  • Ironwood – 8800
  • Lodgepole Pine – 8400
  • Maple – 8700
  • Oak (red) – 8800
  • Oak (white) – 8800
  • Pine (white) – 8300
  • Spruce – 8400
  • Tamarack – 8900
  • Walnut – 8700
  • Witch Hazel – 8800

Hardwoods vs. Softwoods

Hardwood is denser than softwood because it is produced from deciduous trees that grow at a slower rate. The wood’s density has an impact on the firewood’s energy output. Four dense woods include that make good firewood include:

Oak

Oak is the best firewood to burn for a few reasons. First, it is one of the most common types of trees in North America. This means that it is easy to find and harvest. Second, oak provides a hot fire when burned.

Oak also has one of the highest BTU ratings of any type of wood on the market (up to 28 million BTUs). This makes it ideal for use in fireplaces and woodstoves. Finally, oak has a relatively low sap content. This means that it produces less smoke and residue when burned, making it cleaner and more efficient.

If you are looking for the best firewood to burn, look no further than oak. It is easy to find, provides plenty of heat, and burns clean. You can’t go wrong with this versatile and reliable hardwood.

Related Article: If you’re trying to decide on the ideal type of fireplace or wood stove, we have a comprehensive guide. Click here

Hickory

Hickory is a good hardwood choice for firewood because it is very dense and produces a lot of heat. A cord of Hickory firewood can generate up to 28 million BTUs, making it one of the best choices for heating your home.

Hickory is also a good wood to use for smoking meats, as it imparts a strong flavor. If you can find hickory firewood for sale, it is definitely worth the investment.

Birch

Birch is another good hardwood for firewood because it also burns hot and provides great heat. A cord of Birch firewood generates around 21 million BTUs, making it one of the best choices for firewood.

Ash

Ash, like many other hardwoods, has a long history of use in North America. It burns well even when green, making it an excellent wood for starting a fire. However, because it burns rapidly, you’ll need to keep a good size stack on hand.

Unfortunately, the North American ash is under threat from an invasive insect species (the emerald ash borer) that it has no defense against. As a result, ash numbers are declining throughout North America.

A cord of White Ash firewood generates around 24 million BTUs, whereas a cord of Green Ash generates around 20 million BTUs. But in either species, they are both terrific choices for firewood.

Softwood Firewood 

Softwood s tends to burn more quickly, making them the ideal choice for quick fires or starting a hardwood fire.

The best softwoods for burning are cedar, pine, fir, and spruce. Pine is the most popular because it’s easy to find and burns hot. Fir and spruce are also good choices because they’re long-burning.

Softwood is generally lighter and less dense than hardwood. Because of its low density, softwood takes only 6 to 12 months to season. Softwood is often less expensive to purchase, although it burns quickly and produces a higher flame temperature.

Softwood, like aspen, makes for excellent firewood since it burns easily. You may combine hardwoods with softwoods to better manage your fire. Softwood is ideal for use as scrap in the fireplace and thus can be mixed with your hardwood stack to have greater control over the fire you’re burning.

Cedar 

Because every cord of cedar wood generates 12-13 million BTUs of heat, it’s ideal for the first days of winter. Cedar wood provides less flame and more sustained heat than other softwoods.

It also has a pleasant scent that permeates throughout your living spaces or campsites. Keep in mind that cedar is one of the most expensive softwoods available.

Larch 

The hardest softwood is larch, and it has many of the characteristics of hardwoods. As the wood gets heavier, its burning time becomes longer. It generates hotter flames with less smoke and produces more heat energy per cord (21.8 million BTUs for each cord).

Pine 

Pinewoods are created from a wide range of pine trees, each with its burning characteristics. The majority of pinewoods generate 15-21 million BTUs per cord. You can quickly and easily light up this softwood to use as firewood at your campsite.

Conifers like pine trees are readily available in North America and as such is one of the lowest-priced softwoods.

The main disadvantage of pine is that it causes food to blacken, clings to it, and affects the flavor when used to cook. It’s also quite hazardous to your health. If you’re going to be cooking with wood, minimize usage as much as feasible.

If you only have access to pine, try burning it completely before using it for cooking.

Spruce 

The best way to describe spruce is “fir on steroids.” Like fir, it’s a long-burning wood that produces moderate flames and heat (15.0 million BTUs per cord). Spruce is one of the best woods to use in a wood stove since it burns so evenly.

The main downside of spruce is that it can be hard to find. It’s not as commonly used as other softwoods, so your best bet is to check with a local sawmill or firewood dealer.

FAQs

What wood burns the hottest?

The wood that burns the hottest is larch. Larch is a one of the dense hardwoods that produces hot flames. It also burns for a long time, making it ideal for use in a wood stove. Oak is also a good choice for its long burning time and moderate flames and heat.

However, pine is the most commonly used type of firewood because it is easy to find and burns hot. Soft wood like aspen also make for excellent firewood since they burn easily. You may combine hardwoods with softer woods to better manage your fire.

What are some of the best woods to use for smoking meats?

Some of the best woods to use for smoking meats are hickory, mesquite, and apple. These woods all provide a distinct flavor that can enhance the taste of your meats.

Hickory is the strongest of these woods, so it is best used sparingly. Mesquite is a good choice for beef, while apple is best for pork. You can experiment with different woods to find the flavor that you like best.

What are some of the best woods to use for cooking?

Some of the best woods to use for cooking are oak, cherry, pecan, and hard maple. These woods all provide a distinct flavor that can enhance the taste of your food. Oak is a strong wood that imparts a bold flavor, so it should be used sparingly.

Cherry is a good choice for poultry and pork, while pecan and maple are best for beef. You can experiment with different woods to find the flavor that you like best.

What is the best wood to use for a campfire or fire pit?

The best kind of wood to use for a campfire is oak. Oak is a hardwood that burns slowly and evenly, providing long-lasting flames. It also produces little smoke, so it is less likely to irritate your eyes or lungs.

However, oak is not as readily available as other types of firewood, so you may need to mix it in with other woods such as pine, or birch.

Keep in mind that wood from trees that have high resin content, like pine, can cause more problems when burned. Resin is flammable and can cause a fire to flare up and get out of control quickly.

Softwoods such as pine can also produce more sparks and embers than other types of wood, which can be a problem if you’re trying to avoid starting a wildfire!

What is the worst firewood for a fireplace or a wood stove?

The best firewood is going to be dry, seasoned hardwood. The next best thing is softwood that has been allowed to dry for at least six months. The worst type of wood to burn is green wood, or unseasoned wood that has not had a chance to cure properly.

Always avoid wet wood with high water content – even hardwood trees, as these provide less heat.

When it comes to the best firewood for burning, there are a few different factors that you need to take into account. The most important factor is the moisture content of the wood. The lower the moisture content, the better.

Seasoned hardwood should have a low moisture content of 20% or less. Softwood can have a moisture content of up to 30%, but it will burn less efficiently, produce more smoke, and not provide good heat output. Note: To check the moisture level of green firewood, purchase an inexpensive moisture meter.

Try to plan your firewood requirements at least one year in advance to ensure you have seasoned firewood for your next cold season.

How many homes burn firewood to heat their homes?

According to a study conducted by the US Census, 2% of Americans heat their primary residences with wood, which does not take into account the hundreds of vacation homes and cabins across the country.

As you could guess, wood use for home heating is evident in states where winter temperatures are lowest, such as northern New England, the Upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest.

In Summary

In conclusion, hardwoods are the best choice for firewood than softwoods because they create more heat and less smoke.

Additionally, the three reference tables included in this post can help you select the best type of hardwood for your needs.



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Greg Jones

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