A fire cage with food cooking above a live wood fire

What's the Best Wood for Cooking?

As you can imagine I get asked this all the time, and I’m going to start by saying this is a complex question that doesn’t have a single answer! There’s so much to consider when asking what wood to use for cooking:

What Wood is Safe to Cook With?

This is a simple question, and the answer is that most wood can be used safely to cook on in some way - but when it comes to your food coming into contact with either smoke or flames, you need to be absolutely sure you’re only ever using hardwoods.

Hardwoods come from trees that bear either a fruit or a nut and once properly dry, not only do they burn for much longer due to the higher density of the wood, but they also emit lovely clean smoke and beautiful smells to enjoy while you cook – and we all know that cooking outside is about the experience as much as the food.

Softwoods have been used historically in Scandinavian fire cooking, and in a pinch they can be used with the right knowledge, but as a home cook they really shouldn’t feature in your arsenal as anything but kindling – they emit more smoke and soot, they can spit and spark as they burn and often impart an acrid, bitter taste into your food.

What Wood Should I Use for Different Styles of Cooking?

There are loads of different ways to cook with wood, so I’ll cover as many as I can below.

Kettle/Ceramic BBQ - you’ll be using lumpwood charcoal as a heat source and wood purely to create smoke for flavour. Depending on the size of your BBQ you’ll either use standard smoking chunks or something a little bigger, like our 15cm logs or 20cm splits.

Offset/Vertical Smoker - traditional Texas BBQ uses wood only as a source for heat and smoke, but for ease a lot of home cooks will use a charcoal base and add wood for smoke. You’ll want logs you split yourself such as our oak logs, cherry logs or apple logs, lengths of pre-split wood that fit your firebox such as our 20cm oak splits or whisky staves, or very large chunks such as our 15cm logs.

Open fire cooking - you might be cooking on wood alone and will need to create heat zones for different parts and phases of your cook. You’ll want to consider the burning properties of the wood you use more so than the flavour profile of the smoke, but using a combination of different woods might give you the overall effect you’re aiming for – balancing a good fire for high heat cooking, lasting embers for a lower-heat zone, with the right smoke profile for your food.

Wood fired oven – wood ovens cook food in a number of different ways, including high heat with a roaring fire for pizza, medium-heat cooking on embers for joints of meat, and lower, latent-heat cooking for bread baking and much more. Just like cooking over open fire, the burning properties of the wood should influence your choice above anything else, and a combination of species might be better than one on its own.

Outdoor wood-burning stove – there are loads of cool options out there now such as Anevay stoves and OzPig, in which you can do almost anything from boiling a kettle or cooking in a frying pan, through to open fire cooking and smoking. Each of these uses typically falls within one of the applications listed above, but the size of the firebox might influence the wood you choose to buy.

What Flavour will Different Types of Wood Give Me? What Burning Properties do I Need?

Smoke flavour and burning properties really need to be considered together to make a rounded decision, so I’ll answer questions 3 and 4 together below so that you can make a choice that fits all of your requirements.

Certain hardwoods burn hot and fast, relatively speaking, others burn slower and create long-lasting embers, and some are great all-rounders. Some produce a strong smoke profile whereas others are very mild, so they pair well with different meats, and some you simply won’t like due to personal preference.

Below are all of the most sustainably accessible hardwoods in the UK, and a summary of their burning properties and smoke profile for cooking - make sure to swipe across all three slides!

What Wood will Give me the Best All Round Cooking Experience?

The answer to this question will come down to considering your personal preferences alongside the type of cooking you plan to do, with the burning and smoke properties listed above – we’re all different and we like different things!

As mentioned in the table above, my absolute favourite all-round cooking wood is beech because it combines the best-of-both-worlds with its burning properties – it burns with a clean, energetic flame but also creates long-lasting embers. Because my favourite styles of fire cooking are over open fire cooking and in a wood oven, the smoke profile is less important to me than the burning properties.

In terms of smoke profile, you can’t be the sweetness of a cherry or apple fire both in terms of the flavour imparted on your food, but also the ambience it creates while you cook – walking out the back door and smelling cherry smoke means I’m having a good day!

In terms of size, I use a lot of splits because I like having the exact product I need on hand, rather than having to worry about splitting logs down, and because splits suit a lot of the cooking styles that I prefer – it was a need for ready-to-use splits that gave me the idea to start out business! And of course, I use a lot of smoking wood chunks when I smoke in the Weber.

All of the above said, I’m obviously in the very lucky position that I have pretty easy access to a range of cooking woods and always like to keep a varied selection available!

Ultimately which wood you use is going to be down to what style of cooking you do as well as your personal preferences, and the best way to figure that out is to try a few until you find the ones you prefer. But if you ever have any questions or just want to chat wood, please get in touch – I love making wood fire simpler for our customers and helping you figure out what wood to use.

Happy cooking!


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