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Best Materials to Burn in a Fire Pit

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A fire pit is a must-have for your backyard oasis. A fire pit is a simple addition that can add a lot of opportunity for fun in your backyard, but you do need to take some consideration as to the types of material you want to burn in it.

So, what are the best materials to burn in a fire pit? 

The best material to burn in your backyard fire pit is wood, including: 

  • Pinion wood
  • Alder
  • Oak
  • Hickory
  • Mesquite
  • Pecan
  • Fruit woods like apple and cherry

Do not ever burn pressure-treated wood in a fire pit or fireplace because it may contain harmful toxins

Although there are many different kinds of wood that you can burn in a fire pit, each wood has its own characteristics that you will want to consider when selecting the right wood for you. Continue reading to find out everything you need to know about the different kinds of wood you can use in your fire pit.

What Can You Burn in Your Fire Pit?

The best materials to burn in your fire pit will always be the old standby…wood.  And which wood depends on your needs at the time. Pinion wood will repel the mosquitos.  Apple, cherry, and pecan woods give off a pleasant scent when burned. While oak, hickory, and mesquite burn well and generate a lot of heat. If you’re cooking over your fire pit, you can use charcoal as well.

  • Pinion wood: This is a dense, slow-growing hardwood pine found in the mountains of the southwest United States.  Pinion wood is a natural mosquito repellant, and it has a smoky pine fragrance.
  • Alder: Alder is a deciduous hardwood tree that is commonly found along the west coast of North America. Alder is known for producing good quality charcoal.  

Make sure alder is seasoned before you attempt to burn it and don’t burn it when it is wet.  Wet alder smokes a lot and leaves behind a lot of ash. Seasoned alder firewood burns fast but creates a hot fire with decent coals.

  • Oak: Oak is a dense hardwood that has a higher energy content per cord and will release more heat per firebox load.  It will also produce long-lasting fires and coal beds. Oak trees grow well in temperate and tropical climates and are found in regions of Asia and North America. 
  • Hickory: Hickory is one of the most highly recommended woods for fire pits. It burns hotter than most other hardwoods including oak. It is one of the strongest woods native to the United States. 
  • Mesquite: Mesquite firewood burns clean and creates minimal sparks. It creates a hot fire with long-lasting coals. Mesquite trees primarily grow in the southwestern United States and parts of northern Mexico.
  • Pecan: Pecan wood is common to southern Illinois and Indiana, and much of the south between Kentucky and Texas. Pecan wood does not create as much heat as some other woods, but it does have a pleasant pecan nut and vanilla scent when burned.
  • Cherry Wood: Cherry wood gives off moderate heat, but it is also prone to sparking like some of the other woods on this list. It gives off a pleasant smell when burned.
  • Apple Wood: Apple wood is harder to light and keep burning than any other wood. However, if you do succeed, it burns slowly and for a good stretch of time. You will also be warmly rewarded with a sweet, smoky scent.

A Greener Alternative to Burning Wood in a Fire Pit: Wood Pellets 

If you are concerned that burning firewood for the sake of the environment, consider this invention by Brian Grady. Grady created “Fire Logs,” small log sized steel baskets that can handle temperatures as high as 1400 degrees Fahrenheit, that are designed to burn wood pellets. Fire Logs allow wood pellets to be burned in fire pits by giving them a way to burn while also promoting proper air flow.

These are small pellets made from compressed, kiln dried wood fibers, and they have several advantages over firewood. 

Tree-killing insects and diseases can lurk in or on firewood. These insects and diseases can’t move far on their own, but when people move firewood they can jump hundreds of miles. New infestations destroy our forests, property values, and cost huge sums of money to control.

-DontMoveFirewood.org

The biggest environmental and logistical advantage of kiln dried wood fibers is they are lightweight, and can legally and literally be moved anywhere, unlike regular firewood. Because these pellets are free of invasive pests, people can feel free to take wood pellets wherever they may need them. 

Another advantage of wood pellets is they come in a dry package and they light on fire very quickly. You could argue that they are easier to use than conventional firewood too, though the 40 pound bags that the pellets are typically sold in may or may not be easier to haul around than logs for some people. 

How to Use Fire Logs: 

  1. Unpack the 3 fire logs by pulling logs out from one another. 
  1. Fill each empty fire log with pellets, do not worry about small amounts that fall through or about filling the logs all the way to the top. 
  1. Set the Fire Logs on the stands that are a part of your Repose Fire Log Package, in a pattern that will allow for air flow around the Logs.
  1. Use either a fire starter or a balled-up clump of newspapers placed under the Logs to ignite the fire. Light whenever ready, a longer fireplace lighter is recommended for this step in order to prevent reaching to far under the source of the fire. 
  1. Let the fire start burning. The wood pellets, as mentioned earlier, should start burning very quickly. 
  1. It can also be useful to have a metal rod or thick piece of stick in order to move the fire logs one they have caught fire. You can also resort to burning just one or two at a time and add the reserved log when the fire burns down. Your chosen metal rod or limb tool can be used to remove logs from the fire and set them aside to cool. Then you can refill a burnt out fire log and add it back onto the fire to prolong the fire’s time spent ablaze.
  1. It is best to always allow a fire to burn down naturally but be sure to allow a little extra time for the Fire Logs to cool off. Remember that the Fire Logs can withstand 1400 degrees Fahrenheit, so a fire log may be very hot even though it may not look like it. Though luckily Fire Logs cool very quickly. 
  1. Another advantage of pellets is once in Fire Logs, they burn completely, leaving little ash and no coals to pose unattended fire hazards. Traditional campfires leave behind large coals that can take hours and hours to cool down, even up to a full day. 
  1. Remaining ash from the Logs can be shook out of the bottom and they can be used again with minimal cleaning or stacked for storage. Fire Logs will take on a darker, soot like color after being used frequently. This is not bad for the logs or the burning of the wood pellets placed inside of them. However, they can be cleaned with soap and water to remove “soot.” 

Another Greener Alternative to Burning Wood in a Fire Pit: Wood Bricks

Also made of kiln-dried wood, wood bricks are super condensed, recycled wood chips and sawdust. They produce more heat than logs and are consistently a lower moisture, cleaner burning and high quality product. A couple of the most popular brands of wood bricks are BioBricks and BTU Bricks.

Wood Bricks, also similarly to pellets, are much lighter than firewood. A single pound of bricks is equal to 1.7 pounds of regular firewood in terms of heat production. This amazing efficiency would give you 70% more space in a room of your house for the same amount of heating fuel, so if saving your fuel source in bulk is something you like to do, consider this product. Wood Bricks can also easily be brought camping. 

“Cord wood is in big pieces, little pieces, wet pieces and dry pieces, and frankly, not all of it burns at the same temperature nor releases the same amount of heat.”

-Tom Engel on Cord Wood Inefficiency: Biomass Magazine Interview

Wood Bricks are, in summary, easier to deal with than regular logs, far more environmentally sound, free of the presence of chemicals and insects, safe for camping, produce more heat than most firewood, burn very efficiently and have less moisture than most firewood. 

Finally, Wood Bricks are even easier to deal with than wood pellets because it is much harder to create a mess and you can use wood bricks for any fire pit with no hassle at all. Wood bricks are also a bit more versatile than wood pellets as bricks can be used over a conventional wood stove while pellets cannot. 

Pellets need pellet specific stoves to burn and heat a house. These are considered frustrating by many people because they incur electrical costs and require a high degree of maintenance. Ash pans must be frequently emptied and cleaned as well as the vents and exhausts of the stove. For this reason and the added step of burning wood pellets over a fire pit, wood bricks seem like a better alternative. 

If you are interested in learning more about purchasing wood bricks, here is more information on them. If you are curious about pricing or potentially trying out some wood bricks, here are a few purchasing options for wood bricks on Amazon. 

Material to Avoid Burning in Your Fire Pit

For the safety of yourself and your home, be careful about the materials you burn in your fire pit. Most fire pits are designed to burn only wood or gas. Keep this in mind when selecting materials to burn and in knowing if backyard fire pits are legal.

You should never burn the following materials in a fire pit:

  • Pressure Treated Wood: Pressure-treated wood is treated with a variety of different chemicals, some more harmful than others. Burning this wood in your fire pit is not a good idea.
  • Plastics: When plastic is burned, it releases toxic chemicals and fumes into the air.  Toxins are bad for you and the environment. Additionally, burning plastic creates some nasty odors.
  • Accelerants: Accelerants, like gas or other flammable liquids, are too unpredictable and can cause explosions. Learn to start your fire using dry kindling instead.
  • Magazines: Do not burn magazines, junk mail, or wrapping paper. The ink printed on the paper can release toxic fumes when burned. You don’t want to be breathing that stuff into your lungs.
  • Green Wood: You should avoid burning wood that has been freshly cut because it still has a lot of moisture in it. It will not burn well, if at all, and it will smoke a lot.

What About a Gas Fire Pit?

A gas fire pit should only use gas as its fuel. You should never burn wood in a gas fire pit because it can cause damage to the fire pit.

Lava rocks, glass beads and certain stones can add a nice look to your gas fire pit. Lava rock and glass beads also do a good job of breaking up and distributing the fire.

It is unsafe to use any glass, rock, or stone that is not explicitly meant for use in a fire pit. When rocks, glass, or stones are heated to high temperatures, they can explode, creating a dangerous situation.

These materials can also hold heat long after you extinguish the fire in the fire pit. Be sure to use care around the stone after the fire is put out.

What About a Chimenea?

Chimeneas are Mexican style heaters that were originally used for providing warmth in the home and indoor cooking.  Chimeneas are now sometimes used to heat outdoor areas.

They are more comparable to an outdoor fireplace as they only have one opening from which you can access the fire instead of the 360-degree access provided by fire pits.

There are three basic types of chimenea: a fire clay chimenea, cast iron or a steel and cast iron. They can each burn different types of materials.

  • A fire clay chimenea should only burn dry wood. 
  • A cast-iron chimenea can burn wood, charcoal, and coal.
  • A steel chimenea burn wood, charcoal, and coal.  

Should I Use a Chiminea or a Fire Pit?

Chiminea and fire pits will both provide heat on a chilly autumn evening, but they also provide different experiences. There are safety issues, space issues, and different preferences you must take into account.

Safety

Both the chiminea and a fire pit involve fire, which means there is always an inherent risk in their use. A chiminea’s fire is more contained than a fire pit, which makes it a better choice for use around children and pets. A chiminea is also better used on a deck as well.

If you primarily entertain adults and enjoy having that campfire atmosphere, then the fire pit is definitely the way to go as most adults know how to be careful around a fire pit. Here’s our top fire pits.

Size Matters

Chiminea’s come in a variety of sizes and can be easier to fit into small spaces. If you don’t have a lot of space to work with or want to host on a patio, then a chiminea will probably work best for you.

Smoke

If you or a visitor has a sensitivity to smoke, a fire pit could irritate them, although sitting upwind of the smoke usually helps with this. A chiminea works similar to a chimney, so the smoke is directed upward and away instead of being dispersed around where you are sitting. Smokeless fire pits like the solostove are also a good choice for less smoke in you have smoke sensitivities.

Before You Use a Fire Pit

Before you use a fire pit, you must check the city or county requirements where you live to get the proper specifications and regulations concerning burn bans.

Some areas do not allow the use of fire pits in residential areas, and others have special regulations you must follow. Read our Are Backyard Fire pits legal to find out how to know if your fire pit is allowed in your area.

For safety, place your fire pit well away from your house, low hanging trees, or other structures. If you are putting the pit into the ground, call your local utility service to make sure that you don’t hit any underground utility lines.

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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