Best Wood for Fire Pit Cooking

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If you’re a fan of grilling over an open fire pit, you know the importance of choosing the right firewood. It’s not just about finding wood that burns well; it’s about selecting the type that can infuse your food with a rich, smoky flavor.

Hardwoods like mesquite, cherry, and hickory are top choices, but don’t overlook fruit tree woods like cherry or applewood for lighter meats.

With 9 different wood choices below, we explore how each wood type impacts the flavor of your food to help you choose the best wood for fire pit cooking.

Key Takeaways

  • Hardwoods like mesquite, cherry, and hickory are preferred for cooking.
  • Fruit tree wood is used for lighter meats like chicken and seafood, while heavier red meats are better suited for heavier smoke.
  • The best types of firewood for cooking include applewood, alder, cherry, hickory, maple, mesquite, oak, pecan, and walnut.
  • Seasoning firewood for 6 months to 2 years makes it suitable for open-fire grilling.

Best Wood for Fire Pit Cooking

best wood to use when cooking over a fire pit

Choosing the right wood can significantly enhance your cooking experience when it comes to fire pit cooking.

You’ve got a variety of options such as Alder, known for its compatibility with smoking salmon; Hickory, popular for its hearty taste and long-lasting burn; and Applewood, lending a sweet, fruity flavor to your meats. Don’t overlook Maple and Oak, which are versatile choices, with Oak being a common go-to wood for cooking due to its robust smoke, and Maple offering a subtly sweet and smoky flavor.

Alder – Best for Salmon and Duck

Alder is your best choice for smoking salmon, and it’s also great for upland birds and puddle ducks, especially if you’re from the Northwest where it’s native. One of the benefits of using alder wood for smoking salmon is the subtle, sweet flavor it adds to the meat.

It’s a game-changer for those who savor a delicate smoke profile. When properly seasoned, alder wood gives off a clean, hot burn, perfect for fire pit cooking. To season it, keep it dry and allow it to sit for about 6 months to 2 years and store in a well-ventilated storage area to preserve the wood’s aromatic properties.

Hickory – Best for Red Meat, Pork and Venison

If you’re looking to add a hearty taste to your venison, hickory is a top-notch choice. Hickory is among the most popular woods for smoking all types of meat. One of the advantages of using hickory for fire pit cooking is its long-lasting burn. This means you can enjoy a longer grilling session without the need for constant wood replenishment.

Hickory also imparts a robust flavor that complements the natural taste of meat, particularly red meat and pork.

Whether you’re smoking, grilling, or open-fire cooking, hickory wood can enhance your culinary experience. Just remember to control your fire’s heat as hickory burns hot! Properly managing the flames is one of the crucial cooking techniques using hickory wood, otherwise you end up with charred food.

Applewood – Best for Chicken, Pork and Seafood

There’s nothing quite like the light, sweet, and fruity flavor that applewood imparts to your grilled fare, making it a delightful choice for enhancing delicate meats. As an ideal firewood for outdoor fire pit, applewood provides a subtle smoke that’s not too overpowering, perfect for chicken, pork, and especially seafood.

There are many applewood recipes online to choose. From applewood-smoked chicken to pork chops, the benefits of using applewood for grilling are endless. Not only does it offer a unique flavor, but it also burns at a steady rate, ensuring even cooking.

Maple – Best for Pork and Chicken

maple firewood fire pit

Maple might just become your new grilling favorite, with its subtly sweet smoke that’s perfect for enhancing both poultry and pork. One of the benefits of using maple wood for fire pit cooking is its mild, smoky sweetness which doesn’t overpower your food’s natural flavors.

This hardwood burns at a steady rate, producing a consistent heat that’s ideal for slow-cooking your favorite cuts. To get the most out of your maple firewood, ensure it’s properly seasoned. This process, which can take up to 2 years, reduces the wood’s moisture content, enhancing its burning efficiency and flavor contribution.

Store your seasoned maple in a ventilated, covered area off the ground. This way, you’ll always have a ready supply of quality firewood for your next grilling session.

Oak – Best for Red Meat and Smoking Meats

Oak is a versatile hardwood that is commonly used in wood-burning fire pits. It’s your go-to firewood for cooking, not because it has a distinct flavor, but because it produces a generous amount of smoke that imparts a rich, hearty flavor to your grilled foods.

Stack the oak, cover it, and let it dry for about six months to two years. This process helps lower the moisture content below 40%, making it perfect for grilling. Using seasoned oak not only gives your meats a delectable flavor but also ensures a consistent, hot burn for your fire pit.

Mesquite – Best for Pork, Beef and Lamb

This rugged, desert tree produces dense and wiry wood, making it perfect for fire pit cooking. Mesquite wood burns hot and fast, so it’s crucial to master your mesquite grilling techniques. The result? A heavy, smoky bite that works wonders with red meat and pork.

Mesquite has a more intense flavor than hickory, even though both provide a robust, hearty smoke. Mesquite is more bold and can be overpowering for some, so if it’s your first time burning, use it sparingly.

Cherry – Best for Poultry and Pork

Cherry, on the other hand, is an absolute delight when it comes to grilling. It’s a hardwood, versatile and suitable for fire pit cooking. One of the unique aspects of cherry wood is its flavor profile. Unlike the heavy smoke of mesquite, cherry imparts a milder, sweeter, and somewhat fruity flavor. It’s ideal for pairing with different types of meat, particularly poultry and pork.

However, that’s not to say you can’t experiment with other meats. Grilling with cherry wood over an open fire can enhance the taste of your steak or wild game, giving it a unique, mouth-watering aroma. The key is to understand the flavors you’re aiming for and to adjust the quantity of cherry wood accordingly. It’s all about exploring and mastering the art of open fire grilling.

Pecan – Excellent All Rounder for a Variety of Meats

Pecan wood is a unique and flavorful option for fire pit cooking. It’s known for imparting a sweet and nutty taste to your meats, creating delicious flavor combinations that’ll have your guests asking for seconds.

The beauty of pecan wood is its versatility. It pairs wonderfully with a variety of meats, from delicate poultry to robust red meats. Try it with your next chicken dish or when you’re grilling steaks. Remember to store your pecan wood properly to preserve its distinctive aroma and flavor.

Walnut – Best for Beef and Pork

If you’re after a unique and robust flavor, walnut’s your guy for your grilling escapades. Walnut wood offers a rich, smoky flavor that pairs perfectly with heavier meats like beef and pork, a benefit you’ll definitely appreciate during your fire pit cooking sessions.

Prefer to Cook With Pellets? Check Out Our List of Best Wood Pellets for Cooking Here.

Frequently Asked Questions

hardwood for fire pit cooking

How does the type of wood used for grilling affect the flavor of the food?

The type of wood you use for grilling significantly influences the flavor of your food. Wood smoke infusion imparts unique tastes, from the robust flavor of hickory to the sweet notes of applewood. Experiment with grilling techniques to find your favorite.

Can you use any type of firewood for open fire grilling?

Not all firewood is suitable for open fire grilling. Hard woods like mesquite, hickory, and cherry are preferred. Wood sourcing is important for flavor and fire safety. Avoid soft woods due to increased smoke and resin.

What is the difference between seasoned firewood and kiln dried wood?

Seasoned firewood is left to dry naturally over time, reducing its moisture content. Kiln dried wood undergoes a high heat kiln drying process which quickly evaporates water and kills off pests and fungus.

How long does it take for firewood to dry or season before it’s suitable for grilling?

With proper drying techniques, firewood usually takes 6 months to 2 years to season. The moisture levels need to be below 40% to make it suitable for grilling. It’s worth the wait for perfect BBQs.

What is the best wood for cooking vegetables?

Fruit bearing woods are the best for cooking vegetables on your fire pit. These are woods such as maple, apple, cherry and peach. They pair well with onions, peppers, and corn for a light smoky taste.


So, you’ve got the lowdown on the best woods for fire pit cooking. Remember, hardwoods like applewood, oak, or hickory can really ramp up the flavor. Always ensure your wood is well-seasoned and dry before use. And most importantly, store your firewood properly to keep it in top-notch condition. Happy grilling!

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