Cooking Woods…. Everything you need to know

Looking to build a fire and don’t know what to build it with? Are you looking to smoke some meat and you don’t know what to use? Hey we are talking some good hardwood stuff, whether it be lump or real and we’re sharing some of our tips.


Gilling season is here, so let’s burn some wood. Let’s talk about the fuel, how are we going to get the fuel? How are we going to get the flavor? What type of wood is good for baking in a Dutch oven- what’s good for smoking?

Pro Tip: If you want to use briquettes this isn’t the blog for you. 

Briquettes are made from so many foreign materials that hold them together. I do not like them, I do not use them. They don’t give off a good heat and they don’t burn long. Ya’ll know me- I’m old-fashioned, and people often called me a “stick burner”


So let’s talk about what’s best to get that temperature up for baking, cooking and/or grilling. Hardwood will make a heartier coal, a hotter coal and will last a long time.  So for hardwoods you have mesquite, oak, hickory and pecan are some of the tops ones. Think of anything they may make furniture out of. Now Im not telling to you go and cut the legs off of your table.

I’ve even  had to burn a lot of cedar fence posts on ranches (burns hot quickly but ashes out) and even bois d’arc or also called hedge or osage orange (a very hard and hot wood that snaps a lot. Be extremely careful when burning).  I have even gathered up some cow chips / buffalo chips. Now don’t go and grab the fresh ones but some good dried patties will burn and they will make a coal. (I wouldn’t suggest using these for a smoking flavor)

For Dutch oven cooking you need a good hearty coal that will maintain some heat but you aren’t concerned about flavor since it’s not affecting the taste of your food. You don’t want to be re-firing that oven over and over to keep it going, hardwood will get the job done. Remember when you’re cooking something with a dutch oven you don’t need a flavoring you just need a good hot coal that will last. The same hardwoods mentioned above are great.


Gilling and Smoking Woods

Now let’s talk about gilling and smoking where you need that aroma and flavor from the smoke.

For beef and pork I like to mix mesquite and oak together, it’s a great combination. Anything with feathers or fins, I love using fruit woods.

I’m talking apple, cherry or peach woods.  These fruit woods pair very well with poultry or fish. If you’re just smoking some cheese or wanting some instant smoke this is where I would use the chips vs. the chunks.

Pro Tip: You may even want to soak some of these chips in water to get a longer smoking flavor out of it. 

Woods to stay away from when smoking are woods with a lot of sap or oils such as pine, eucalyptus, etc.


Wood Sizes

When using hardwood, I like to keep a few different widths and sizes on hand. To start a fire I’ll use a larger log and let it burn down for awhile to a good coal. I then like to keep some smaller stuff on hand that will burn up quicker into a coal just in case I start running low on coals I can add a few smaller pieces on that I know will burn down quicker than the big stuff.

Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Now I understand some of  you live places that you can’t just go cut some trees and hardwood isn’t readily available. This is where hardwood lump charcoal comes in.  Unlike briquettes, this is actual hardwood that has been burned down into a coal. You can buy this in a lot of grocery stores, Home Depot, outdoor stores, etc. I’ve used a variety of different brands but when you’re picking up a bag- shake it around a bit to make sure there aren’t a bunch of crumbs in it because you want a good sized coal.

Pro Tip: 1 sack of hardwood lump will fire up and typically cook two Dutch ovens. 

Starting the Fire

Now let’s talk about getting the fire going, hardwood or hardwood lump. I will either use a big propane torch or if you don’t have one of those you can use a charcoal chimney, using paper and get it started that way. Just remember to stack that wood so you get some good airflow going. You also need to consider what you are cooking, how much time you have before you start, how long will you need a good hot fire. Different woods make different coals, burn different time and put off different heats. Just experiment with different wood and find what works best for you.

Pro Tip: If I see you with lighter fluid in your hand, I’m gonna let “The Duke and the Beag” have a speaking to you. That stuff is not good for you. NEVER use lighter fluid to start your fire! 

Hope that helps you kick off your summer cooking season! And be sure to check out our video for more tips and tricks!