Where to source sustainable wood and charcoal in the UK
Open flame cooking requires fuel to make a fire, and the best fuel for that is wood or charcoal, however not all wood and charcoal is created equal. As conscientious consumers, we believe that every purchasing decision should factor in the environment and, where possible, choosing products that are sustainably produced or made to last. In many cases, wood and charcoal we can buy in the UK is imported in vast quantities often as a by-product of deforestation, causing a higher environmental impact than alternative, accessible sources. So, we've created a map showing a directory of suppliers of sustainable wood and charcoal in the UK to fuel your outdoor cooking habit!
Note: Apple users may experience some issues with a redirection notice when they click the link to the suppliers store. We are unable to resolve this issue, but the links are all safe to click through to.
(This list is by no means exhaustive - if you know somewhere that isn't on the map,
please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll add it to the map!)
Why choose sustainable fuel sources
In the UK we import over 90,000 tons of charcoal every year for cooking and heating homes because it is generally cheaper and more abundant abroad. Charcoal is a by-product of deforestation, so importing adds to the problem of deforestation in often tropical and subtropical (ancient) forests, thus impacting climate change and eroding biodiversity. Environmentally, importing charcoal generates a lot of CO2 emissions from transport, not to mention destroys biodiverse habitats for all sorts of animals. What's more, from a quality standpoint, imported charcoals are often doused with chemicals to improve the burning process (convenience sells, but generally at an environmental burden), but this efficiency gain can result in tainted flavours of the food you are cooking.
In a positive light, by buying from UK businesses that sustainably produce wood and charcoal from managed estates - usually from thinning woodlands in a process called "coppicing", or removing dead or diseased trees and replanting more - you are reducing the carbon footprint caused by import transportation, supporting local producers, and helping with the rewilding movement.
Should I use wood or charcoal for open flame cooking?
Either, or a combination! Wood is great for smoking meats or adding smokey flavours to grilled food. You get more flames off it from combustion for that signature “flame-kissed” food. Charcoal is made from wood which is stripped down to its most basic form: Carbon. In this process, wood is steadily burned to reduce it’s volatile compounds i.e. gases trapped in wood and organic matter. This results in a fuel source which burns at a stable temperature and requires less topping up than wood, making it more controllable and useful for cooking. A common type of charcoal you get is lumpwood charcoal, which tends to burn quicker and at a higher temperature, and is more responsive to oxygen meaning you can manipulate cooking temperatures more easily using ventilation. Softwood and hardwood charcoal briquettes are also common, which burn more slowly and take on the properties of softwood and hardwood respectively (see paragraph “Softwoods VS Hardwoods below).
What about sourcing wood when you're wild camping?
Sourcing sustainable wood or charcoal for a barbecue or campervan expedition makes practical sense, but what about when wild camping where you need to carry all your gear? Sure, you could use scavenged deadwood or driftwood if you’re out and about in the wild, but from a biodiversity standpoint this is removing a habitat for little families of bugs and critters to live in. More so, if everyone scavenged wood, beauty spots become ravaged (and eventually some numpty is going to start cutting down live trees by mistake because they feel entitled to a fire). Understandably, some wild camping makes it impractical to carry in your own wood when you're already carrying a heavy backpack for hours, but endeavours should be made where possible to BYOW (Bring Your Own Wood). By doing so, you're guaranteed to have firewood for a good campfire! So split up those logs among your backpacks and share the load if it's possible.
Why is dry wood the best wood for making a fire
For an effective fire, the best wood to use is wood that has a moisture content of 20% or less. Anything above that can be considered as "green" or live wood which will make a spitting and hissing noise while it struggles to burn, as well as generate a lot of smoke (which seems to follow you wherever you sit around a fire, funny that). Wood is brought to <20% moisture by a process called "seasoning" (not to be confused with seasoning your cookware) where wood is left out to air dry in a sheltered, ventilated area over a year or two depending on the wood density, which is what a lot of people living rurally do to stock up for heating homes in Winter. Alternatively, wood can be artificially dried in a kiln, which many suppliers do to guarantee quality and ensure you are getting the most in terms of cost-to-weight.
Softwoods VS Hardwoods
There are two main types of woods: Softwoods and Hardwoods. In general, Softwood comes from conifer, which usually remains evergreen (retains its leaves all year round), for example Cedar, Fir, Pine and Larch. Softwoods tend to grow quicker, and are therefore cheaper and less dense so it is more workable (making it popular for woodworking) and burns quicker and more easily. Hardwood comes from deciduous trees such as Oak, Ash, Beech or Sycamore which lose their leaves annually, and these tend to be slower growing, meaning the wood is usually denser and therefore a slower burn making it great to have at the heart of a fire, or for making a fire that requires less management and will have a more consistent temperature for cooking on.
How to know if wood or charocal is from a sustainable source
Wood and charcoal from sustainable sources is usually FSC or PEFC certified, and this is marked on the packaging. These organisations define standards of woodland management based on agreed principles for responsible forest stewardship that are supported by environmental, social, and economic stakeholders.
Buy locally sourced wood and charcoal which is FSC or PEFC compliant if you want to reduce your environmental impact and support local producers
Wood and charcoal are both great for cooking with. Charcoal tends to be more controllable for cooking with than wood, while wood can be used for "flame-kissed" food and adding smokey flavours
If you’re going wild camping, try to take your own wood with you to protect habitats for animals and preserve beauty spots
Hardwoods tend to have a more steady cooking temperature and burn for longer than softwoods because they are more dense, but are more difficult to get going