Eucalyptus Can Replace Oak for BBQ and Heating Wood

Oaks ’n’ Folks – Volume 13, Issue 2- August, 1998

The uses of oaks by the construction, furniture, mining, and firewood industries in California have changed considerably over the years. The clearing of oaks to accommodate buildings and roads, or to expand the cultivation of agricultural crops or grazing also has changed for various reasons. In most instances, the practice of cutting oaks has been greatly reduced. Also, natural reproduction of native oaks in California has been reduced, so that continued non-use of the trees is desirable. To this end, eucalyptus can replace much of the oak wood used for barbecue and heating wood.

One of the largest uses of California oaks today is for barbecuing meat. The “professionals” of barbecuing generally agree that the oak wood imparts a desirable flavor to the meat. A number of people who use oak to barbecue meat now are using broken pallets or other “trash wood” and wood of tree species other than oaks such as eucalyptus to provide abed of hot coals. They add a layer of oak wood on top of the coals to provide the desired smoke and flavor.

Another present-day use of oak is for house heating. To reduce the consumption of oak wood for heating, a change can be made to another wood that is fast-growing, yet, when well-seasoned, produces as many BTUs per unit volume as oak. (BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, a measure of the energy given off when a substance is burned.) That wood is from the eucalyptus species that are best adapted to wood production in certain climatic areas. Groves of eucalyptus have been planted in various parts of the world, principally for the production of wood pulp to make fine, bond-type paper. Existing groves of eucalyptus could supply some of the products that have been supplied by the oaks in California, and thereby conserve oak trees and habitat. Contrasted with the growth of California oaks, blue- and red-gum eucalyptus can grow as much as one foot per month on the Central Coast, depending on the site and cultural practices. When they reach the desired diameter for fuel wood,they can be more easily and cheaply harvested compared to oaks, using inexpensive harvesting machinery.

James H. Gunther
Nipomo, California

prepared and edited by Richard B. Standiford