Hickory and oak are both excellent firewood options but which is best for your fire? Each has its advantages and disadvantages, which we’ll look at in this comparison guide.
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Is oak or hickory the best firewood?
Oak and hickory are two of the best firewood varieties you can use in a fire, especially if you need plenty of heat. They also produce excellent coals and burn clean. Hickory is often tougher to split, more susceptible to bugs, and leaves more ashes to clean up. However, oak typically requires an extra year of seasoning, and it doesn’t give food the same intense flavor you get from hickory.
Heat output varies depending on the species of tree you get the wood from. Hickory usually provides more heat than oak, but they both keep your house warm on the coldest nights.
- Red or white oak are popular choices of firewood that produce less heat than common Shagbark hickory.
- Bitternut hickory rates 29.2 BTUs while Shagbark is a higher 30.6.
- Red oak produces 24.6 million BTUs per cord, white oak offers 29.1, and Gambel is 30.7.
Oak and hickory both emit low levels of smoke as they burn. It is essential to properly season the firewood before use. That means getting the moisture levels below 20%.
Once these firewoods are well seasoned, they burn clean. Whether at home or in the outdoors, you won’t get sore, red eyes from a smoky fire.
Compared to softwoods like pine and spruce, hardwoods can be challenging to split. Hickory is usually harder to split than oak, thanks to its stringy, tough wood fibers. There is conflicting advice about when to split hickory, but it’s best to season first, then split.
The process of splitting oak ranges from easy to difficult, depending on the species. White oak tends to have twisted fibers and knots, while red oak has straight grains and should be easy to split.
- Manhandling hickory logs is easier than oak as they have less moisture content.
- Mature shagbark hickory gets gravel and dirt embedded in it, making it hard on chainsaws.
Oak takes much longer to season than hickory, so keep this top of mind if you’re in a hurry for firewood. White oak is especially high in water content, so allow at least two years, preferably three. Red oak may only require 18 months, while hickory will need 12-18 months.
A stack of hickory is much more susceptible to bug infestations than oak. Holes made by boring insects create sawdust, which tends to end up in the house. Oak is more resistant to insect invasions.
Extra reading: Learn more about stacking firewood to get the best out of your wood.
Whether you choose hickory or oak, they’ll burn without giving off too much sparking or popping. When stoking the fire with a poker, some find that hickory sparks a lot. Overall, both wood types spark much less than most softwoods, with more sap and resin.
Hickory has an excellent fragrance, filling homes with a pleasant aroma that most love. The meat smoking and barbecue community strongly recommends hickory for adding a sweet, smoky flavor to food. You can also get our favorite types of wood for cooking here.
Oak also produces a lovely fragrance as it burns, although more subtle than hickory. White oak is superior to red based on scent. Some describe it as smelling like fresh-sawn wood, while others liken it to vanilla.
- Both types of wood give off a nice smell and can be used for cooking.
- Hickory adds a stronger flavor when smoking food.
- Producers of imitation smoke flavor have found hickory is one of the most popular options.
Oak and hickory are incredibly dense, making them hard to beat for coaling. A large log will burn through the night in a wood stove. Whatever firewood you choose, frequently adding more fuel to the fire won’t be needed.
Creosote is a black sludge deposited inside chimneys as the fire burns. Some firewood gives off a lot, meaning the chimney requires cleaning regularly.
Hickory and oak both produce minimal creosote. However, they need time to season for a cleaner-burning flame.
Hickory is not listed in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species or CITES Appendices. While some oak species are endangered, there are good red and white oak populations in the United States.
Oak and hickory are top-rated types of firewood that burn slow, hot, and clean. Picking the best option will come down to individual circumstances.
While hickory is the hotter burning option, oak is easier to split and is less likely to get wiped out by insects. Those who don’t mind the challenge of splitting and anyone with a hydraulic splitter may prefer hickory. If you choose hickory over oak, store it off the ground and away from dirt. A wood shed with a concrete or gravel base is recommended.
Newly bucked oak isn’t an option if you need firewood in around one year. It won’t have had time to properly season resulting in a smokier fire that gives off less heat.
Hickory is the winning choice for cooking over a flame. It can infuse delicious smoky flavor into meat, poultry, and seafood.
Comparison Summary Table
|Seasoning||12 months||24 months+|
|Sustainability||Not endangered||Red and white oak are not endangered|