Which is the right wood to use in a wood-fired oven?

Image of a brick pizza oven with fire

Have you only ever cooked in a pizza oven that takes pellets? Or one that requires strips of wood as the fuel source? If you’ve upgraded to a real wood-fired oven like a Valoriani—the most renowned in Italy (we also do pizza oven kits)—you may be wondering which wood to use.

You’re probably being faced with an array of options – beech, oak, ash, even olive – but which do you need for your grown-up ‘pizza oven’ – a pukka wood-fired oven, as our celebrity chef customer, Jamie Oliver, might say?

That will probably depend on how far you’ve progressed along your pizza oven-owning journey. If you started with a pellet oven but have simply moved up to one of the popular metal pizza oven options, you’ll still probably only be able to use smaller pieces of wood, which the manufacturer will no doubt specify as having to be oak.

Logs may now be your choice if you’ve moved up to a more representative pizza oven – something vaguely resembling an oven Italians might use. 

If you’re at the top of the tree and using a Valoriani oven, you may wish to demonstrate your true love of food by using food-safe logs that are restaurant-standard and in keeping with those that some of our Orchard Ovens restaurant customers use.

The right wood for a wood-fired oven

Whichever log you go for, what is vital – and far more critical than the species of wood you choose – is that you select what is now known as Ready to Burn wood.  This was previously known as kiln-dried or ‘seasoned’ wood, but now, if bought in a bag or box in smaller quantities, it has to carry the Ready to Burn logo on the packaging.   It is illegal to sell wood in smaller quantities that are not Ready to Burn, so don’t be tempted to buy logs from a farm gate unless you buy in bulk and season it for a considerable period.

Why you should never use ‘green’ wood

Similarly, do not use wood collected from your garden that is still freshly cut or fallen—otherwise known as ‘green’. This wood is full of water, which means that trying to light it is very problematic. Even if you do, it will smoke terribly, produce a really poor level of heat, damage your oven, and possibly also land you in hot water with local environmental health officers. 

Do not even be tempted to use fairly innocent-looking twigs as kindling. Buy proper, ready-to-burn kindling and stay on the right side of the law. Burning this wood is kinder to the environment, minimising emissions and burning wood in a carbon-neutral way. 

Nasty pollutants arise when people burn the wrong wood. It would be best never to use MDF or timber sourced from house renovation projects in your oven—or anywhere else in a fire—as these are packed with chemicals, nasty glues, and other substances.

What is Ready to Burn Wood?

Ready-to-burn wood is a Government (DEFRA) approved fuel with a moisture content of less than 20%. This means that it combusts as wood should when used in an oven. Once lit, it should neither fizz nor spit, and it will burn in the best possible way, producing the right amount of heat for your use when cooking. It should also be free of any sap that can release creosote that damages your oven or other appliances.

Using Ready to Burn wood in your DEFRA-approved Valoriani wood-fired oven means your emissions are perfectly legal, even in a Smoke Control Area.

Now, which species of wood should you select?


Kiln-dried alder wood is readily available as a ready-to-burn choice and can be bought in larger quantities if you are going to be regularly using the oven. It generates woodsmoke that is fragrant and can transmit a smoky and nutty flavour to the food being cooked. It works particularly well with fish, seafood, and meat. 

Oak logs

Oak produces a high heat output and a long burn, making it ideal for a wood-fired oven in which you may wish to cook pizza and require a very high temperature to do so. The flavour it produces is delicate, and you can mix and match it very easily with a fruit wood if you wish to add a soupçon of something different to flavour your food. This could be cherry, perhaps, or apple.

Ash logs

Ash logs may be another choice.  Although not as traditional as oak, ash will burn hot and have the mild neutrality you may want for cooking food.  It is also relatively easy to light and will help produce a nice bed of embers, which you can utilise to your culinary advantage.

Beech logs

Many Italian families use beech as their wood-fired oven’s fuel. However, you must make sure that beech is Ready to Burn, or else you could encounter problems such as spitting and smoking, as well as those that might result from burning an ‘illegal’ wood source. If you use ready-to-burn beech, it will give you a great heat output and maintain temperature well while producing little ash.

Olive logs

Ready-to-burn olives may be harder to source but can give you the aroma of the Mediterranean right in your own back garden. Kiln-dried olives are often super-dense, which delivers a long burn and good heat.

Compressed beech

Italian pizza chefs often opt to use a compressed beech log, which provides an optimised burn and is free from additives or chemicals. This type of 100% natural log is entirely food safe, which is why many eateries prefer to use it. You, too, could use this type of log in your Valoriani oven if you wish. 

Some manufacturers even produce compressed beech logs that can be broken into smaller chunks, so you don’t waste wood if you don’t cook too much at once.

Silver birch logs

You may be offered silver birch logs for your oven.  Do not be tempted to use this wood. It is considered poisonous or carcinogenic when used for culinary purposes, so it should not be used when cooking.  Use it only on your wood burner.

Experiment with your wood-fired oven wood choice

The key to wood use is experimenting and seeing which wood suits you best. As long as you remember the golden rule of buying only ready-to-burn wood, you should be able to try different woods in your full-sized wood-fired oven and see if any are preferable for your usage. 

Here at Valoriani UK, our Anglo-Italian family members typically burn Alder, but maybe you would like something different.  Just use a bit of trial and error, as making mistakes and learning from them is part of the joy of being a wood-fired oven owner.

For any help or advice, call us on 07743847647.