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Wood Pellets vs. Logs: Which Fuel Should You Burn?

December 6th, 2023 | 5 min. read

By Louis Greubel

On the left is a rack loaded with firewood. On the right is a pair of hands holding a handful of wood heating pellets. A

There are a lot of wood fuel options out there, but most wood burning appliances accommodate either wood pellets or wood logs. And even among those two types of fuel, there are several varieties to choose from.

You’re probably at least decently familiar with firewood, especially if you own a fireplace, a fire pit, a wood stove, or a wood furnace. Pellets, on the other hand, may be less familiar.

So which one should you use, and in which appliances? Can some appliances accommodate both? And what kind of burn time can you expect out of each fuel?

At HY-C, we make appliances that utilize both fuels, and we even produce our own pellet fuel. And we want to answer any and all questions you may have about pellets and logs.

By the end of this comprehensive guide, you’ll understand the differences between wood pellets and firewood logs. You’ll know what varieties of each fuel are available, which appliances accommodate each fuel, how much smoke each one puts out, and much more.

More importantly, you’ll know whether your wood burning appliance should use wood pellets or logs so you end up with the best wood burning experience possible.

Wood Pellets vs. Logs: Varieties

A close-up of a pile of wood pellets

Pellets

Wood pellets are used for two purposes: heating and barbecuing. Barbecuing pellets are made to be burned in wood smokers or grills to season meat, enhancing its flavor. Common types of wood pellets used for flavoring include:

  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Hickory
  • Maple
  • Mesquite
  • Pecan

Heating pellets, on the other hand, consist either of hardwood pellets or softwood pellets. Hardwood pellets are denser and tend to burn for a longer time as a result. Softwood pellets, by contrast, burn hotter, putting out more BTUs (British thermal units).

Logs

There are several types of firewood, and if you asked ten wood burning experts the best species of wood to burn, you may get ten different answers. Very generally, though, common varieties of firewood species found throughout the United States include:

  • Oak
  • Black locust
  • Maple
  • Ash
  • Walnut
  • Elm
  • Birch

Like pellets, firewood can be broken out into hardwood and softwood. Hardwood logs are more dense than softwood logs. Most experts agree that hardwood is better wood to burn, as it burns longer and hotter than softwood. Hardwood entails a higher price as a result, though.

Wood Pellets vs. Logs: Appliances

A person reaching into a smokeless fire pit filled with pellets with a long lighter to light a fire

Pellets

There are quite a few appliances made to burn wood pellets.

Pellet grills allow you to cook meat using wood pellets as fuel instead of charcoal. These grills utilize barbecuing pellets (instead of heating pellets) to flavor food. They’re designed to burn pellets only; they’re not compatible with firewood.

You’re probably familiar with wood burning stoves, but there are also pellet stoves on the market designed to burn wood pellets rather than logs. These stoves radiate heat into the room in which they’re set up, providing warmth during the fall and winter months.

Most wood burning furnaces on the market are designed to burn logs, but there are some pellet furnaces out there. These furnaces tend to burn more cleanly and efficiently than their log-burning counterparts, but they are often much more expensive.

Finally, there are pellet fire pits engineered to burn wood pellets (though most models can also burn logs with no issue). These pellet fire pits are smokeless, leaning on both the pellet fuel and the fire pit’s airflow system to eliminate smoke byproducts.

 

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Logs

There’s certainly no shortage of appliances that burn logs.

Fireplaces are one of the most common. Whether homeowners use them for warmth or just ambiance, fireplaces have been around for hundreds of years. Most fireplaces feature a grate that holds the wood as it burns, allowing air to flow underneath the logs to keep the fire lit.

Another tried-and-true home heating appliance, wood stoves have been around for centuries, too. They predate their pellet counterparts, but they work the same way, radiating heat into whichever room in which they’re installed.

While smokeless pellet fire pits are catching on in popularity, they’re yet to overshadow the classic wood fire pit. Many backyards across the country feature either a homemade or store-bought fire pit to provide some extra warmth during fall and winter outdoor gatherings.

Finally, wood burning furnaces act as a viable central heating alternative in place of a gas or electric furnace. Firewood burns continuously in the firebox while a distribution blower pushes warm air from the furnace, into the air ducts, and throughout the rest of the home.

 

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Wood Pellets vs. Logs: Smoke Output

A Flame Genie Inferno smokeless firepit burning wood pellets on a patio

Pellets

Have you ever wondered why fire produces smoke? The answer is moisture content. Trees survive and thrive on water, and when they’re cut into firewood, logs retain much of that moisture. A log can contain 50% or more of its weight in water. That results in a lot of smoke.

Pellets are made of compressed sawdust, so they contain much less moisture than logs. Wood pellets typically have moisture levels of just 5% to 10%. This means that when they’re burned, they tend to produce very little — if any — smoke.

Logs

Do logs give off more smoke than pellets?

The answer is, “It depends.” Even wood that appears dry can have a high moisture content, which will result in a lot of smoke (you can use a moisture meter to test the moisture content of a piece of firewood).

Ideally, firewood should have a moisture content below 20%. Seasoning freshly cut firewood involves splitting it, stacking it, covering it, and storing it. In order to achieve that twenty-percent-or-lower threshold, firewood needs to sit for about 6 to 12 months before use.

Getting your logs’ moisture content down won’t necessarily eliminate smoke entirely. But low moisture will help to mitigate smoke, making for a better burning experience.

Wood Pellets vs. Logs: Burn Time

Ashen firewood burning up in a fire

Pellets

Wood pellets — even dense hardwood pellets — tend to burn up quickly. If you fill a pellet fire pit with about ten pounds of pellets, those pellets will burn for perhaps 15 or 20 minutes before you need to add more to the fire.

Using pellets, you’ll end up with a smoke-free experience and a very efficient fire, but you will have to babysit it quite a bit, adding more fuel relatively often. Be sure to add more pellets slowly, as too many at once will snuff the fire out.

Logs

You’ll get much longer burn times out of firewood compared to pellets. If you start a fire in a fire pit with four logs, you may need to add a new log every 30 to 40 minutes to keep the fire going (that time will vary depending on which species of wood you use and its moisture content).

Using firewood, you’ll likely wind up with more smoke than with pellet fuel. But you won’t have to keep as close an eye on the fire, freeing you up to do other things.

Should You Use Wood Pellets or Logs?

Choosing the right wood fuel can be confusing. Given the differences between pellets and logs, the different types of pellets and logs available, and different species of wood, it can be hard to keep it all straight.

You may be wondering at this point, “Which fuel should I use?”

To answer that question, start with your appliance. A pellet grill is made specifically for pellets, while a wood burning furnace is made just for logs. Fire pits can often accommodate either, so that’s left to your discretion.

After deciding whether you need pellets or logs, choose between hardwood (if you want a longer burn) or softwood (if you’re looking for a hotter burn).

And whatever fuel type you decide to use, always be sure to follow good fire safety habits. Keep a watchful eye on your fire and keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case things get out of control. This way, you’ll enjoy the comfort of the fire while keeping your home — and everything in it — safe.

 

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Louis Greubel

Louis earned a bachelor's degree in English with a focus in rhetoric and composition from St. Louis University in 2017. He has worked in marketing as a content writer for over 5 years. Currently, he oversees the HY-C Learning Center, helping HY-C subject matter experts to share their decades of home solution products experience with homeowners and sales partners across the country.