Wood Burning vs Charcoal for Fire Pit Cooking

The Wood Burning vs Charcoal Debate

Which is better, a wood burning fire or a charcoal fire for an outdoor fire pit?  That depends upon personal preferences and how much you like to get down and dirty!  Here at the FirePit Company we have some staunch champions of wood only fires who heatedly try to convert the more laid-back supporters of charcoal. Having heard from both sides of the wood burning vs charcoal fire debate, I have summarised the advantages of wood fires and the advantages of charcoal fires so that you can decide for yourself which fuel to use in your fire pit.

Advantages of a Wood Burning Fire for Fit Pit Cooking

One of the biggest advantages of a wood burning fire in a fire pit is the greater ambience that a wood fire provides. Firstly there is the crackling and spitting of the burning wood, the darting flames and the smoky aroma. To add further to the ambience you can add pine cones, or different types of wood which create a different aroma and different flavour to the food that you bbq. A fire is really relaxing, watching the mesmerising flames, which a charcoal fire just cannot compete with in terms of ambience.

No matter how careful I am, when I build a charcoal fire in a fire pit I always end up with black hands and then I tend to smear the charcoal over everything I touch!  When building a wood burning fire in a fire pit, my hands may not be clean, but they will definitely not be as bad as they are when covered in charcoal. Charcoal fires can be far messier to prepare and maintain than wood fires.

Food cooked on a fire pit grill over wood fire coals obtains a smoky flavour which most people enjoy.

The smoke from the wood keeps the bugs away which is a great way of keeping back the hungry mozzies which can ruin the enjoyment of an outdoor fire pit.

There is a ritual to building a wood fire from collecting the kindling, building the tepee of sticks, lighting the newspaper to gently blowing on the fire etc that just cannot be duplicated with charcoal fire.

Advantages of a Charcoal Fire for Pit Fire Cooking

In general, I would have to say that charcoal fires are probably safer than wood burning fires. Charcoal fires do not have the same danger of sparks and burning debris flying around which could catch fire elsewhere. So, on a windy day I would say that a charcoal fire in a fire pit is more preferable.

It is generally easier and quicker to make a fire from charcoal than it is from wood, assuming that it is a traditional wood fire made starting with tinder and kindling.

Charcoal fires are easier to keep going but simply adding more charcoal. With wood burning fires you have to be a little more careful such as not putting on too large a log on flagging coals etc.

For some of us it is actually easier to source charcoal than wood for a fire. Charcoal is readily available at most bbq stores whilst wood is often not. Even if one does have access to wood, there is still the need for tinder and kindling which is often not that easy to source in the inner city areas.

Charcoal fire pit bbqs do not create much smoke whilst wood fires can create too much smoke which can create food with too much of a smoky flavour.

Finally, depending upon your situation and surroundings, an excessive amount of smoke from your fire pit wood fire might get you off-side with your neighbours.


After looking at the advantages of both, I believe that probably the best solution to wood burning vs charcoal fires for fire pit cooking is to cheat and use charcoal and still obtain a smoky wood flavour by adding chunks or chips of different types of hardwood.

Did you Know?

Did you know that charcoal is another form of wood, it is in fact half burnt wood. The process of creating charcoal involves burning wood slowly in a low oxygen environment. This process results in the melting and evaporating of certain components of the wood including methane, tar, water and hydrogen. The final result is charcoal which is pure carbon and ash.

Did you know that charcoal briquettes that are commonly used for bbqs are a form of more processed charcoal that removes the ash resulting in briquettes that burn more cleanly than raw charcoal.

wood burning vs charcoal


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