Summer’s here, and if you’re like us you’re craving that authentic wood-fired cooking experience. You want the roaring hot flames, the tantalizing smoky aroma and the satisfaction of watching your friends and family enjoy your wood-fired creations. If you want to make this dream a reality, then you need gourmet-quality cooking wood.
“Easier said than done,” you say. “I’m not even sure where to buy premium cooking wood. There are so many companies to choose from, and how can I tell if they’re any good?”
Have no fear, friend. In this post, we’ll provide you with a litmus test for identifying the cooking wood provider worthy of your hard-earned money.
Who are we to provide this guidance, you ask? Good question.
At Lumberjacks, we know a thing or two about what makes good cooking wood. We’ve supplied top restaurants and wood-fired chefs with premium firewood for over 25 years. You can learn more about our cooking wood at the link below.
Now that we’ve made your acquaintance, here are the seven questions you need to ask when determining where to buy cooking wood:
1. What Type of Wood Do You Harvest?
The first hurdle a cooking wood provider needs to clear is intentional wood selection. A trustworthy firewood company won’t try to sell you any old wood they find lying around. Instead, the best providers source their wood from responsible harvesters who plant a tree for every tree they cut down to protect our forests.
But beyond eco-friendly harvesting, a great firewood provider will also get the best types of wood for cooking from these harvesters. We’re talking about hardwood species like apple, cherry, hickory and oak.
Why only hardwood species and not softwood? Hardwood species have several characteristics that make them superior to softwood for cooking:
- Greater density for hotter, slower burns
- Less sap content for cleaner smoke without the bitter taste
- Fewer pops and sparks for safer cooking
- Better flavor options to choose from
Many hardwood species are well known for the incredible flavors they produce in food. Oak is probably the most popular for its subtle, smoky flavor, which pairs well with almost any food. Hickory is also well known for its eye-popping flavor that works great when smoking meat. You also can’t go wrong with fruitwoods like apple and cherry for adding a hint of sweetness to whatever you’re cooking.
So, make sure your wood provider has some responsibly harvested hardwood on hand before buying cooking wood.
2. How Do You Dry Your Cooking Wood?
Of all the questions in this list, this one might be the most important to ask a firewood vendor. The care (or lack of care) the company puts into drying its wood will make or break your wood-fired cooking experience. Bottom line: if they really care about the quality of their wood, they will take the time to kiln-dry it. Nothing less than kiln-dried cooking wood will do, and here’s why:
There are three methods for how companies produce their firewood: green, seasoning and kiln drying. As we will see, green and seasoned wood don’t perform nearly as well as kiln-dried wood for cooking.
The Problems with Green Wood
Green wood is freshly chopped firewood that has not been allowed to dry. This wood typically has a moisture content of over 60%, which is far too wet for effective burning. Green wood is difficult to ignite and doesn’t burn nearly hot enough for thorough cooking. Furthermore, it generates a lot of dirty smoke and creosote, which gives food a musty, bitter taste and can contaminate it with dangerous chemicals.
The Problems with Seasoned Wood
A step up from green wood is seasoned wood. Cooking wood vendors season wood by splitting it and stacking it in a well-ventilated area to air dry for multiple months. As a result, seasoned wood is much less moist than green wood, making it easier to light and hotter to burn for cooking.
Nevertheless, seasoned wood also comes with some significant drawbacks for cooking. The wood often contains insects, mold, pesticides and fungi, which pollute food with chemicals and carcinogens. Seasoned wood also inevitably decays as it sits out and dries for months on end. As a result, the wood loses density and does not burn nearly as hot or long as it could.
Why Kiln-Dried Wood is Best for Cooking
Kiln drying eliminates the many problems associated with green and seasoned wood. The process works like this: split wood is placed in a massive dry kiln. The temperature inside the kiln gets up to over 260°F, and a controlled stream of air flows through the wood. This process gets the wood down to a suitable moisture level for burning in only 48 hours.
Not only does kiln drying eliminate the problem of excess moisture, but it also purifies the wood of all insects, mold, pesticides and fungi. Therefore, the wood comes out of the kiln much safer to cook over than its green or seasoned counterparts.
Plus, because kiln drying only takes two days, the wood does not decay and loses density as it dries. Instead, it comes out ready for the hottest, longest and cleanest burns right away!
For all these reasons, you need to make sure you purchase kiln-dried cooking wood.
3. What is the Moisture Content of the Wood?
Of course, it’s one thing for a company to say it produces kiln-dried wood. Proving that the wood is kiln-dried is much more important. The best indicator of authentic kiln-dried wood is a moisture content well below 20%. Seasoned wood, on the other hand, will usually have a moisture content somewhere between 20-30%.
How to Check Your Wood’s Moisture
You can test the moisture content of a company’s firewood with a moisture meter. A moisture meter is a handy little gadget you can purchase online or at most hardware stores. To test the wood, simply insert the two prongs at the end of the moisture meter into a log and watch the reading on the digital screen.
Why Moisture Needs to Be Below 20%
Now, we know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if it really makes that much of a difference if cooking wood is below or above 20% moisture. We admire your healthy skepticism, but yes, it does make a huge difference.
The more water a piece of wood contains, the less efficient the flames it produces will be. At over 20% moisture, flames must work extra hard to get going and stay going. This leads to less heat, shorter burns and a lot more smoke. While a lot more smoke may sound good for smoking, the smoke from seasoned wood is often dirty and contaminates the food.
Below the 20% threshold, fire has a much easier time consuming the cooking wood. Because of this, kiln-dried wood burns both hotter and longer than seasoned wood, making the wood incredibly versatile for cooking. The exceptionally hot flames are great to grill over, and because it burns for a long time, kiln-dried wood is also great for extended meat smoking.
Best of all, because it’s a controlled process, kiln drying always produces cooking wood at a moisture level below 20%. So, you can rely on it whenever you want to do some wood-fired cooking. The results of seasoning aren’t nearly as predictable or reliable.
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4. Is Your Cooking Wood the Right Size for My Needs?
You should also take size into consideration when deciding where to buy cooking wood. How big is your grill, smoker or oven? Restaurant chefs or serious wood-fired hobbyists with large wood-burning appliances will do well with full-sized cooking wood. These large split pieces are typically between 12-18 inches long (at Lumberjacks we cut ours to 16 inches).
But where do you buy wood for smaller appliances like the solo stove or Ooni portable pizza oven? Do you really have to go through the hassle of chopping up large wood to fit in smaller ovens? The good news is you don’t! Instead, you can buy tiny wood for tiny ovens from quality cooking wood providers like our friends at Hot Box Cooking Wood.
At Hot Box, they produce 6-inch and 8-inch pieces of kiln-dried oak wood that fit snuggly in smaller smokers and portable pizza ovens.
Therefore, by factoring in the size you need, you can make your wood-fired cooking experience all the easier and more enjoyable!
5. Can I Visit Your Location and See the Wood?
Another essential factor to consider when deciding where to buy smoking wood is transparency. The company should have a brick-and-mortar location and be perfectly fine with you paying them a visit. You should be able to hold the wood, test the moisture and ask someone from the business any questions you have.
The more helpful and forthcoming the company is, the better. If anything feels shady, that’s a red flag, and you might want to consider taking your business elsewhere.
6. What Types of Customer Reviews Do You Receive?
You’ll also want to take the time to read past customer reviews. Check out the vendor’s profiles on Facebook, Google and Yelp, if it has them.
Pay special attention to any reviews that describe how the wood performed, and don’t necessarily let bad reviews deter you. A few bad reviews aren’t the worst thing in the world. What’s more important is if and how the company responds to those reviews. The best cooking wood providers will offer a professional response to bad reviews and make a clear effort to make things right.
Still, online reviews can feel a bit impersonal. You can get more personal and receive more meaningful feedback by asking your friends and family if they’ve used the cooking wood provider you’re considering. It’s always helpful to get recommendations from people you trust.
7. Can I Rely on Your Company for Convenient Delivery?
What good is gourmet-quality cooking wood if you have no way of accessing it? Therefore, it’s also essential to find out about a company’s delivery process. Here are some important things to note when evaluating a company:
Start by finding out where the vendor is located and its delivery radius. The more centrally located and the wider the radius, the better. For example, at Lumberjacks we have locations in Woodstock, IL, and Lake in the Hills, IL, and we deliver throughout Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.
Next, find out how long it will take to deliver to you. Depending on how far away you are, you may be able to receive your wood within a day. Make sure the company is upfront about estimated delivery times and follows through on its promises.
Still Not Sure Where to Buy Cooking Wood?
Whether you’re wondering where to buy hickory wood for smoking or wood for your pizza oven, let these questions be your guide. Look for a reputable vendor that delivers kiln-dried hardwood with less than 20% moisture in your area. Anything less is not worth your money.
Of course, other questions may pop up and give you pause. If you’re still uncertain about where to buy cooking wood, we’d be happy to answer any questions you have.
Please call us at 815-337-1451 to ask any follow-up questions or order cooking wood. You can also read our comprehensive guide to cooking with wood below.