Off-Grid Homekeeping: Woodstove Cooking Part II: Firewood

The internet is full of advice on firewood and many people are certainly more expert than I on the subject. What follows is simply our experiences in using wood heat exclusively for 15 years and cooking with for a short time. As with all things homestead related the key in reading this and any other information is not to try to find out “what” to think, but to learn “how” to think. No book ever written can teach you how to run your homestead. I advise anyone I talk to to read a lot both new and old stuff, quit when you start finding yourself reading the same thing over and over (sometimes even verbatim), disregard half of what you read, seek out and talk to truly experienced homesteaders (not 2-year instant internet experts) and start working with what you’ve got. You will make mistakes, you will find that some of what you read was helpful and some was junk, but most importantly you’ll figure out your own best way which is how you learn “how” to think.

Back to firewood. Each homestead is different with different woods available and different climate challenges. Here on the southern plains the availability of wood is often an issue but our heating needs are, with a few days exception each year, dramatically less than our northern brethren. We are blessed here On Big Turtle Creek to live in the Crosstimbers of central Oklahoma and Texas and are able to choose from a variety of woods including oak, pecan, walnut, elm, hackberry, box elder, cedar and an occasional cottonwood.

Both internet and print sources abound that will break down wood characteristics by BTU (basically heat or energy produced per unit), splitting ease, coaling and various other qualities. Study those, but don’t automatically disregard a readily available wood just because it doesn’t seem to stack up well on the charts. Try burning every wood you have access to and see what works for you. We have found the following characteristics in the wood available to us, some of which we might not have even tried if we had relied solely on what we read. We have found that some stoves “like” certain woods more than others.  We often hear and definitely agree, “Any wood is better than no wood.” The key to good firewood is that it’s dry. You’ll freeze to death trying to burn green wood no matter what species and that’s a fact.

 

Oak

  • Hard, heavy dense wood
  • Takes quite a while to dry out after cutting
  • Burns long and hot but takes a bit to get going
  • Larger pieces can be hard to split by hand
  • Good for long cooking of roasts and stews and for night logs
  • Our second choice for smoking meat.

Elm

  • Doesn’t split
  • Burns hot but not as long as oak
  • When dry gets going quickly
  • Smaller pieces are good for stovetop cooking
  • Larger pieces are perfectly adequate for long cooking and roasting
  • Used historically for flooring
  • Makes a good splitting stump for other woods
  • Our most available (as deadfall) and used wood

Pecan

  • We save pecan for smoking hams

Ash Leaf Maple or Box Elder

  • Soft light wood that’s super easy to split
  • Makes good kindling but not as good as cedar
  • Good for taking the chill off and burning on days that aren’t cold, just coolish.

Cottonwood

  • Splits
  • Burns hot and fast when dry but lasts long enough for baking despite being much less dense than elm or oak
  • Cottonwood was used historically on the plains for log cabins

Cedar

  • The very best kindling as far as we’re concerned
  • Splits easily (a child can learn to split wood using cedar)
  • Lights on the morning coals in minutes burning hot enough to catch any other dry woo
  • Smells really nice when smoldering.

Hackberry

  • We really haven’t used it enough to give an opinion other than it smells odd when burning

Walnut

  • Again, we haven’t used it.  We’re fortunate that our walnut trees are alive and bearing lovely nuts.

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