Best Woods to Burn in a Fire Pit (and Woods to Avoid)

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Finding the perfect balance between a roaring fire and environmental sustainability can be a bit of a challenge. Not all wood is created equal, especially when it comes to fueling your fire pit.

In this article, we delve into the heart of what makes certain types of wood ideal for burning, and how choosing the right wood can impact your fire pit experience and the environment. There are a few critical factors to consider, such as the wood’s BTU output – a measure of heat value – and the smoke produced, which can contribute to air pollution.

From hardwoods that burn hot and slow to softer woods that catch fire quickly but burn out faster, we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of each. So, let’s jump in and explore the best woods to burn in a fire pit.

How Heat Output of Burning Wood is Measured

best wood to burn in fire pit

When it comes to enjoying a fire pit, the type of wood you choose to burn is more critical than you might think. This isn’t just about which logs ignite the quickest or which provide the most visually pleasing flames.

It’s about the BTU (British Thermal Unit) value of the wood – a measure of heat energy. This is the measure of the heat it would take to heat one pound of water one degree. The higher the number, the hotter the wood will burn.

When dealing with firewood, you will see this metric written in BTU per cord of wood. Seasoned hardwoods like oak, hickory, and maple are top picks due to their high BTU values, meaning they produce a hotter, more efficient fire.

Before you begin to throw those logs onto the fire, you should have a working knowledge of how the heat is measured. This will allow you to not only choose the right wood but the right wood for the season too.

Here are some common woods you might look at and their BTU ratings:

Wood TypeBTU

Knowing this measurement and these common metrics will help you when you are purchasing wood for your pit.

Best Woods to Burn in a Fire Pit

Any wood will burn, but there are, as we have said, some types of wood that will be better suited to use in a fire pit. Below we look at categories of wood that are easily some of the best for this purpose:


This is by far the best option when looking for firewood for your pit. Hardwoods come from trees like oak, hickory, and birch. This type of wood burns longer and produces less smoke and residue. The thicker and denser the wood, the more BTUs it will produce, and the longer the fire will last.

Hardwoods are notoriously harder to get lit, so ideally, you will want to light your fire pit with softer woods. The good news is once you have it lit, you won’t have to revisit and tend to the fire as much as with other woods.

Oak: A High BTU Option

You’ll certainly feel cozy and warm on a crisp night with oak in your outdoor gathering, as this hardwood boasts high BTUs, meaning it delivers some serious heat!

When it comes to the oak BTU comparison with other wood types, oak often ranks at the top, providing a long-lasting, intense burn.

Oak fire pit benefits extend beyond heat, as it’s also known for its slow-burning properties and easy splitting. When sourcing oak firewood, reputable vendors are key to ensure seasoned, dry wood that will burn efficiently.

Oak fire pit maintenance is relatively easy, with regular ash removal necessary to maintain good air flow. When you fancy a bit of outdoor cooking, oak is a great option, providing a steady heat and a delicious smoky flavor to your meals.

Hickory: The Dense Choice

Looking for a firewood that’s dense and long-lasting? Hickory’s your guy! This hardwood is one of the top choices for a fire pit due to its high BTU output.

One of the key hickory benefits is that it burns hot and long, making it perfect for those chilly nights when you want the fire to last.

When using hickory firewood, remember to always burn it dry. Wet hickory wood can produce more smoke and spark a lot. So, just like with any wood, proper seasoning before burning is crucial.

Hickory wood availability varies depending on your location. It’s more common in the Eastern and Central United States. So, if you’re in these regions, take advantage of this excellent firewood choice for your fire pit!

Maple: A Sustainable Alternative

If you’re after a sustainable option, maple’s your ticket. Known for its broad availability and maple sustainability, this wood offers a plethora of benefits for your fire pit.

Let’s delve into the maple wood properties that make it a great choice. Unlike other wood types, maple ignites easily and burns cleanly, offering a pleasant sweet aroma that enhances the ambiance of your fire pit. The density of maple wood enables it to burn efficiently, providing a steady flame and emitting a considerable amount of heat – ideal for those chilly nights.

Furthermore, maple’s slow burn rate means less wood is needed, making it a cost-effective and eco-friendly option.

So, for maple fire pit advantages, think sustainability, efficiency, and a heartwarming aroma. It’s also a popular choice for fire pit cooking.

Select Softwoods

best burning wood for fire pit

Another option is a seasoned softwood. This is particularly good as fire pit kindling. Softwood firewood, due to its lower density and high resin content, lights up quickly and burns hotter initially. This can be an advantage when you’re looking for a quick, bright blaze.

Don’t underestimate the power of pine, it’s an excellent option for your heating needs. When comparing softwood and hardwood for firewood, pine is a standout. It’s easily accessible, burns hot, and offers a delightful aroma.

However, remember, proper seasoning is vital. Knowing how to properly season firewood ensures you get the most heat output. It’s as simple as splitting the wood and letting it dry out over the Summer.

When buying, emphasize the importance of local sourcing for firewood. This not only supports your local economy but also minimizes the risk of spreading pests and diseases.

As for tips for maximizing heat output from softwood in a fire pit, keep the fire well-fed and ensure good ventilation.

Cedar: Aromatic and Efficient

If you’re after an aromatic and efficient firewood, cedar might just be your top pick. This softwood firewood option brings a few unique advantages to your fire pit.

Aside from the fantastic aroma that fills the air as it burns, cedar firewood benefits include a high heat output and long burn time. While it may not pack the same punch as some hardwoods, it holds its own and even outshines the benefits of burning pine.

However, like all softwoods, safety tips for using softwoods should be observed. Due to its resin content, it can pop and spark more than hardwoods. Use a spark screen to protect yourself and your surroundings. Nonetheless, the advantages of aromatic firewood like cedar make it a worthy choice.

Note: Freshly cut cedar can contain up to 50% water, and wet wood doesn’t burn efficiently.

Choose Seasoned Woods

Seasoned wood may be the best-kept secret when it comes to getting the best fires. In order to be deemed seasoned, the wood has to have been cut and set for a little while. This makes it not as fresh and dries the wood out a bit. The moisture inside comes from the fresh sap.

Once it has set for a bit, the sap hardens and makes the wood easier to ignite. You can tell if a log of wood is seasoned if you can easily pull the bark off of the cut log. The color will fade as well, and the wood will begin to crack. Typically a good seasoning of the wood takes anywhere from six months, up to 2 years.

Best Woods to Burn in a Fire Pit

Woods to Avoid for a Fire Pit

Just like there are ideal woods that can be used in your pit, there are good woods to avoid. These are not the best woods to burn in a fire pit. Here are a few of the categories to steer clear of:


Greenwoods are woods that are newly cut. The moisture in these will make starting a fire with them darn near impossible. If you can get them, the wood will smoke a lot and will take a lot to keep the fire going.

Driftwood/Construction Wood

Both of these words should never be used in fire pits. Driftwood typically soaks in saltwater and therefore is moisture dense. On top of that, other chemicals present in the water can often be released when burned. The same goes for construction woods, as many of these are cured with chemical compounds to preserve them. Burning either of these woods could lead to dangerous impacts on your health, thanks to the release of those chemicals.

Vined Woods

Typically, woods from plants that have vines or flowers are not safe to burn. Not because the wood won’t ignite but because many of them are from poisonous plants. Some of these can include poison ivy, poison oak, sumac, or oleander. Igniting these woods with intense flames can cause the poison to become airborne. The smoke that the fire then produces becomes toxic, and there may be health issues that arise from inhaling them.

Frequently Asked Questions

split hardwood for a fire pit

What is the average BTU output of commonly used fire pit woods?

Hardwood typically has higher BTU ratings than softwood, contributing to better wood burning efficiency. For instance, oak and maple have average BTU outputs of around 24 million and 20 million per cord, respectively.

Are there any types of wood that are more environmentally friendly to burn?

Yes, eco-friendly charcoal, recycled firelogs, and smokeless fuels are more environmentally friendly. They produce less smoke improving air quality. Also, wood from sustainable forestry practices is a better choice for our environment.

What are some tips for safely storing and drying firewood?

To prevent wood pests, store firewood outside until needed. Stack it properly, ensuring good air flow for seasoning. Be mindful of indoor storage risks like pests and mold. After burning, pour the ash in your garden when cooled.

How does the moisture content of wood affect its BTU output?

Moisture detection is vital in wood selection. High moisture content lowers BTU measurements, reducing fire efficiency. Drying techniques, like air circulation and covered storage, can help lower moisture and enhance your fire’s BTU output.

Can the type of wood I burn in my fire pit affect its longevity or maintenance needs?

Yes, the wood varieties you burn can influence your fire pit’s longevity and require different maintenance techniques. Hardwoods, for instance, can enhance fire pit durability, while softwoods might lead to more frequent cleanings.

The Safety Considerations of Burning Wood

Burning wood in your fire pit can have an impact on air quality, releasing a mix of gases and fine particles. This can pose health risks, especially to vulnerable groups like children, older adults, and those with heart or lung disease.

Proper wood storage is key – dry, seasoned wood reduces particle pollution. Ensure you’re in line with local burning regulations, as non-compliance can lead to fines and even increase brush fire risks.

Lastly, don’t forget about alternative fuel options. Switching to natural gas or propane can significantly reduce harmful air pollutants. Your cozy fire can be both enjoyable and environmentally friendly!

Final Thoughts

Sitting around a fire pit can be a relaxing way to end your night or spend the weekend, but you don’t want to have to be tending the flames all night. Nor do you want to be inhaling large amounts of smoke or other toxins. This is why understanding the best woods to burn in a fire pit is so important.

By far, the best choice is a mixture of softwoods with hardwood. Starting with softwoods as kindling and then throwing a few hardwood blocks on the flame will have you with a nice warm fire that doesn’t take much to keep going. It also allows you to spend the night doing what you came to the pit to do: relaxing, sharing good conversation or curling up with a good book.

Scroll to Top
Special offer for our visitors

Get your Fire Pits Free Guide

We will never send you spam. By signing up for this you agree with our privacy policy and to receive regular updates via email in regards to industry news and promotions