There’s more than one way to fuel a fire, but nothing engages the senses like wood. The right type of firewood will add an enticing aroma and complex flavor to food.

Keep reading if you’re ready to take your grilling and smoking to a new level. You’ll learn the best wood for cooking no matter what food is on the menu.

If you’re in a hurry, click here to skip down the page to the summary table.

What is the best firewood to cook with?

For best results cooking with flame, use dense hardwoods like hickory, mesquite, and oak. They add a delicious smoky taste and burn for a long time, meaning you won’t need to keep feeding the fire. Trees that bear fruit or nuts provide excellent cooking wood.

1. Hickory

Hickory adds mouth-watering flavor to any food and is exceptional paired with red meat, poultry, ribs, and pork shoulders. It gives food a hearty, savory kick that some describe as bacon-like.

People enjoy hickory so much that liquid smoke manufacturers often include hickory as a flavor variant.

This wood is extremely dense, meaning it can be challenging to split. Its wood fibers are tough and stringy, so ensure you have a decent maul or splitting axe if you’re doing the legwork yourself.

A large steak getting flame grilled over a fire of hickory wood
Hickory is delicious for cooking red meat.

2. Oak

Oak is a versatile type of wood that doesn’t have the intensity of hickory but offers more punch than apple. It creates excellent coals, which means it’ll burn long and hot without the need to add more wood.

Burn seasoned oak to enhance the flavor of any ingredient. Brisket, lamb, sausages, seafood, beef, and wood-fired pizza are all delicious with oak.

Poultry cooking in a smoker
Oak is versatile and works with any ingredient.

Some popular varieties include California Black Oak, White Oak, Coast live oak, and Valley Oak. Red oak compliments pork ribs and beef brisket. White oak is also an option, but its flavor is often harsher than the red species.  

Oak is a good choice for campfires. It’s readily available and burns clean without popping and sparking everywhere. You can also discover the best firewood for a campfire if you’re heading into the outdoors soon.

3. Mesquite

Mesquite is synonymous with Texan BBQ, but it’s a versatile wood that works with any cooking style. Try using mesquite with chicken, red meat, and vegetables. We promise you won’t be disappointed. 

Its intense flavor can overwhelm food, so use it in moderation. You may prefer to use a slow-burning wood like oak, then toss in some hickory chips to avoid overdoing it.

4. Walnut

The walnut tree provides edible nuts throughout its life and makes excellent wood for cooking food. This hardwood is easy to find in much of the U.S. and burns clean. Patio fireplace, BBQ, and firepit owners will appreciate that it doesn’t give off excessive smoke.

Walnut woodchips are a popular way of cooking with this wood if you don’t have any logs available. It imparts a bitterness that cuts through wild game like venison and rabbit. While rich, gamey cuts work well with walnut, you’ll also have success with any red meat. 

5. Ash

Ash is great firewood that produces good coals and has few sparks. White ash is one of the best varieties, with a heat output of 24.2 million BTUs, but it may be difficult to split.

The smoke from ash imparts a relatively mild flavor to food. It is best with fish, chicken, and pork. 

6. Apple

Apple is suitable for firepits, smokers, or a regular barbecue. It adds a mild taste to food with a slightly sweet, acidic undertone.

Make sure to add this wood early in the cooking process, cooking slow and low. This will give it time to infuse into whatever you’re cooking.

Applewood is ideally paired with pork, chicken, ribs, wildfowl, and vegetables.

7. Avocado

Avocado trees are abundant in some parts of the United States, like California. If you have access to this wood, use it for cooking pork, lamb, fish, chicken, or red meat. It adds medium-strong flavor to food as it burns.

A whole fish cooking on the grill with flames in the background
Avocado wood is excellent for cooking fish.

Keep in mind that avocado wood has a high oil content. That means it burns faster than other popular hardwoods. It may also give off acrid smoke, so ensure it is properly seasoned before use.

8. Alder

Alder is a popular option for cooking, especially in Scandinavia, where it is used to smoke fish. This wood gives food a delicate, slightly sweet flavor that most enjoy.

Use alder with fish, poultry, pork, and game birds that aren’t too heavy. We love this option for fire cooking, so give it a try if it’s easy to find where you live.

Whole poultry cooking over a campfire on a sunny day
Poultry and alder firewood make a great pair.

9. Pacific Madrone

Pacific madrone is a dense hardwood that’ll burn slow like oak. It may not be as easy to find in some states, but it’s indigenous to the coastal areas of Oregon, California, and Washington State.

The freshly split madrone is fruity and sweet. It gives off a reasonably intense smoky flavor that makes food pop. It isn’t as strong as mesquite, but some cooks still use it with another wood variety.

Try madrone with pork, chicken, and beef. But double-check it’s been sufficiently seasoned, or your firepit will have an unwanted layer of creosote at the end of the night.

10. Almond

Almond isn’t always easy to get hold of, but if you have orchards nearby, you may be in luck. It seasons fast, produces good coals, and won’t leave a lot of ash to clean up. 

Most people find almond wood gives a mild taste to food. It is ideal for shrimp, pork, and chicken. While it’ll cook anything, you may discover almond is too mild for wild game and red meat.

11. Maple

Maple gives off a pleasant aroma and is ideal for grilling food. It is great for turkey and pork. Barbecue enthusiasts will find the smoke adds a slightly sweet, subtle taste to food.

Maple is often less expensive than popular firewood like oak and hickory. But it gives off less heat, so consider a secondary wood variety if you need heat in winter.

12. Chestnut

Chestnut gives off a mild nutty, sweet flavor that works well with most ingredients. It is especially good with heavy game and rich red meat.

Salmon, lamb, and pork also get taken to a new level when smoked or grilled with chestnut wood. Pizza oven enthusiasts will also enjoy cooking with this wood.

13. Beech

Beech is a cousin of oak and is highly recommended for cooking. It has a milder flavor than oak or hickory, but it offers delicious, well-balanced flavor to anything it cooks.

Experienced European sausage makers often use beech wood to smoke their meat. The woodchips are ideal in smokehouses and barbecue smoke boxes for hams, bacon, and pork.

Salami and ham in a smokehouse getting smoked by beech wood
Beech is popular in Europe for smoking meat.

Beech is suitable for pit roasting, cold smoking, hot smoking, grilling, and braising. Some will find it too heavy for fish, but it’ll work mixed with other wood.

Did you know? Some major beer brewers like Budweiser use beech wood as a lagering aid in their beers. It helps to circulate the yeast through the beer.

14. Pear

Like most fruit trees, pear is a useful hardwood that people use to grill and smoke with. Once well-seasoned, it burns long and clean, with very little smoke.

Pear has a lighter smoke than apple, but its aroma transmits a mellow, nutty taste. Use it with your favorite meats, poultry, vegetables, or seafood.

15. Cedar

Many types of cedar are highly resinous and give off pungent smoke and creosote when burning. However, western red cedar grilling planks are readily available in stores and are excellent for cooking.

Red cedar is highly aromatic and gives off a strong, spicy smoke flavor. Use this wood to cook salmon, beef, pork, and lamb.     

A large smoker with a wood stack in the background
Western red cedar chips are perfect for smoking food.

Commonly asked questions

What wood burns the hottest for cooking?

If you’re looking for hot-burning wood that will keep burning long enough to cook with, consider hardwoods like oak, beech, Osage orange, black locust, or hickory.

Is all wood safe to cook with?

While most firewood can be used for cooking, avoid resinous softwoods like spruce and eastern white pine. They burn too quickly and give off high levels of creosote.

What is the best wood for cooking steaks?

Any hardwood will make good fuel for cooking steaks, but hickory, oak, mesquite, chestnut, and red cedar all pair deliciously with red meat.

Summary table

Type of WoodComments
HickoryIntense flavor, perfect with red meat, poultry, ribs, and pork shoulders.
OakPopular, versatile wood that is good with Brisket, lamb, sausages, seafood, beef, and wood-fired pizza.
MesquiteStrong flavor so use in moderation. Works well with chicken, red meat, and vegetables.
WalnutA bitterness that cuts through wild game like venison, you’ll also have success with any red meat. 
AshMild flavor that’s good with best with fish, chicken, and pork.
AppleMild taste to food with a slightly sweet, acidic undertone. Ideally paired with pork, chicken, ribs, wildfowl, and vegetables.
AvocadoMedium-strong flavor pairs with use it for cooking pork, lamb, fish, chicken, or red meat.
AlderDelicate, slightly sweet flavor. Use with fish, poultry, pork, and game birds that aren’t too heavy.
Pacific MadroneFairly intense smoky flavor that makes food pop. Isn’t as strong as mesquite. Try with pork, chicken, and beef.
AlmondCan be hard to find. Ideal with shrimp, pork, and chicken.
MapleSlightly sweet, subtle taste. Great for turkey and pork.
ChestnutMild nutty, sweet flavor that works well with most ingredients. Especially good with heavy game, rich red meat, salmon, lamb, and pork
BeechSausage makers often use beech to smoke meat. Ideal in smokehouses and barbecue smoke boxes for hams, bacon, and pork.
PearLighter smoke than apple, but its aroma transmits a mellow, nutty taste. Good with meats, poultry, vegetables, or seafood.
CedarOnly use western red cedar. Strong, spicy smoke flavor. Best with salmon, beef, pork, and lamb.

Summing up

The best firewood for cooking often comes down to personal preference. You’ll also find that wood produces different aromas depending on factors like tree location and seasoning time. However, the options on this list are all popular cooking woods that most people enjoy.

Wood like hickory, oak, and mesquite are excellent choices for grilling, smoking, and pit roasting. For something different, try apple, pecan, cherry, or beech.

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