A few weeks ago, I met a friend for dinner who was visiting from out-of-town. We hadn’t seen each other for about 10 years, so it was great to catch up. She is now living in the Florida Keys, but her wanderlust is the Midwest. She lived in Missouri for only a brief time, but wants to return. She shared that she misses the four seasons more than she thought she would.

I may be one of the few who really enjoys winter and even a good snow. I love the freshness, the beauty, and the excuse to build a good, crackling fire. Add a cup of hot cocoa and life does not get much better!

I’ve had many wonderful experiences around a fire. Whether you are enjoying fires inside the house, or outside around a campfire, you may want to be aware of some of the differences between the woods and the qualities they offer.

Most people know that if properly dried, hardwoods provide more heat because they are denser. Hardwoods that contain the highest energy content include Osage orange, hickory, locust, oak, ash, and hard maples. The rule of thumb is the slower growing the tree, the denser the wood. Less dense woods that have a lower energy content, and therefore a lower heat emission, include basswood, cottonwood, cedar, pine, silver maple, elm, and sycamore.

Heat is measured in BTUs, or British Thermal Units. This is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. The range of BTUs in woods is from 30.7 with Osage orange to 14.7 with basswood – roughly half of the heat value. Most foresters will recommend that Osage orange (or hedge apple, or hedge tree) burns so hot that you should only put one log in the fire at a time and mix it with other woods. I have also heard others say to never use it in a stove because it burns so hot, it can crack the stove.

Not only do hardwoods burn hotter, they also split easier and don’t spark or smoke as much, making them safer and more enjoyable. Nothing is worse than sitting around a campfire that is smoking so much you cannot even enjoy it.

We are lucky that we have the four seasons, and one of the best ways to enjoy autumn and winter, is in front of a fire. It’s also the best way to make some good memories! I hope you are able to enjoy some good fires this year with family, friends, or just a good book.

Lynn Youngblood is the Executive Director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City, Missouri. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net