When it comes to campfire cooking, Julia Child said it best.
It’s “the comfort of life’s essentials – food, fire, and friendships.”
Cooking a meal over a campfire makes the food taste better than if I were to cook the same meal inside a kitchen.
That’s if you know what to do, and it all starts with the type of wood to burn.
One of the worst things you can do during a campfire cookout is choosing the wrong type of wood.
We’ll go over the best types of wood to use, the ones that you should avoid, and what you’ll need to cook over a campfire.
Before I begin, check your campsite’s current regulations on open campfires during your stay. Check to see if a fire permit is required and if there isn’t a pit on-site. You’ll need to find an alternative solution.
Often times they will put restrictions in place during windy/high-alert fire weather conditions.
What Is The Best Wood For Fire Pit Cooking?
By now, you’ve probably invested in a campfire cooking kit, and you’re wondering what type of wood should be used for the cookout.
I used to buy a bundle of firewood at my local grocery store for our trips, and I immediately knew it wasn’t going to last long.
The bundle of firewood was lightweight, but I was in a pinch and had to grab what was available at the time.
And if you’re campfire cooking, the last thing you want to happen is to have your heat source dwindle down while cooking.
This is where density comes into play.
The best wood for fire pit cooking is any type of hardwood, such as oak, hickory, maple, and mesquite.
Hardwoods will burn hotter and last the longest (higher density), allowing enough cook time to fully prepare your campfire meals without frequently feeding new logs into the fire.
Tip: It’s best to have the fire started on one side of the fire pit so that you can have an area on the grill to place your pots and pans along the edge of the fire for indirect cooking.
Another way of using wood for cooking over a pit is to let the wood burn until they leave a bed of hot coals if you’re trying to reduce the amount of smoke when grilling.
If you’re unsure how much firewood to bring while camping, check out our guide here.
The Best Wood For Open-Fire Cooking
If I plan on grilling steaks directly over an open fire, the best woods to use would be a hardwood like oak, hickory, apple, cherry, etc.
I like to pair my wood type with the kinds of meat I’ll be grilling on an open fire.
Here’s what I use:
- Beef: Hickory, Oak
- Pork: Applewood, Hickory
- Chicken: Apple, Cherry, Oak
- Seafood: Cherry, Applewood
Ideally, you want to have the wood dry in order for it to catch on fire instead of smothering the flames out.
If it was raining and your logs ended up a little wet, you could leave a stack of wood near the firepit to dry up a bit before using.
Wood You Should NOT Burn In A Fire Pit
You should never use “green” firewood for your cooking.
Green firewood is any firewood that still has a lot of moisture in it and needs to be dried out to prevent all the bad smoke from imparting into your food.
The typical drying process usually takes 6 – 9 months.
Also, please please don’t use any type of wood that has been treated with any kind of chemical, wood that has been painted, or any type of wood that has been used for pallets. You read about this here.
What To Do Before Your Cook (Important)
I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but there’s one thing I ALWAYS do whenever I plan to cook over a public fire pit.
There are good campers, and then there are campers who don’t know any better or just suck.
First, I always rummage through the ash from the previous campers’ fires and try my best to clean out the pit completely.
Half the time, I’ll find melted plastic cups and utensils.
I clean that out.
I get my camping shovel and comb through as much as I can to find other toxic materials that can burn during our cookout, like batteries, cigarette butts, beer cans, etc.
That’s the way things go sometimes, so please do your due diligence if you don’t plan on taking your own portable fire pit (which I like to do now If I plan to cook).
Another thing, when starting the fire, don’t use anything like paper as a tinder that can make the embers fly into the air on windy days. There are many options that you can use for tinder instead of paper.