Oak and hickory are very dense woods, popular because they burn long and hot. The flames are low and tend to be smoky, and you get a lot out of one log.
Birch is lightweight and produces romantic fires with large arches. It catches quickly, almost like newspaper, but doesn’t generate lots of heat. Best for creating atmosphere—and the logs, some of which have variegated black-and-white bark, can be pretty in the basket next to the fireplace.
Maple is heavier than birch but lighter than oak, and its heat output is also a happy medium. Smells nice as it burns.
Cherry is expensive and “undoubtedly a favorite,” says Rubin, for its sweet aroma and warm red color. (It’s popular for restaurant ovens and barbecuing, too.)
Ash, straight-grained and light in color, plays it neutral, burning clean and (despite its name) leaving very little charcoal in the fireplace grate.
Stay away from softwoods like Pine, which are resinous and will glob up your flue with creosote, raising the risk of a chimney fire. And make a point of buying kiln-dried firewood, which will burn more consistently and won’t contain bugs.