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We’ve got to have the best of everything these days. While your fire might not be something you’ll be able to brag about to your neighbor or enter into a contest, a good fire will certainly be a lot more enjoyable. It will burn without a lot of smoke, and won’t be a high maintenance hassle. So don’t pour your hot cocoa just yet—take a few moments to start the perfect fire.

For starters, you’ll need to get ready to build your fire by taking care of a couple things:

You cannot control much in life, but you can build a fire to perfection. Start with your annual cleaning and inspection.

You cannot control much in life, but you can build a fire to perfection. Start with your annual cleaning and inspection.

Clean up your mess. Your mother taught you well, and now’s the time to act on it. Keep your fireplace clean by removing ash after fires, and make sure you’re starting the season right with a clean chimney. If you didn’t schedule your annual sweeping this past spring, get it done before you light that fire. The CSIA recommends annual cleaning and inspection to prevent chimney fires.

Open the damper. This one might be a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget. If the damper is closed, the only place smoke has to go is back into the home.

Deal with drafts. Santa’s the only thing that should be coming down your chimney. If you notice a downdraft when you’ve opened the fireplace doors and the damper, you’re probably going to have a problem with negative air pressure. You’ll either need to open a window or door, or else check around the house for any appliances that might be taking air from the house. If you have doors on your fireplace, try leaving them open for about half an hour to help the firebox warm up. (This will help the smoke go the proper direction: up.)

Use only dry, seasoned wood. Make sure your logs aren’t green or damp. Hardwoods, such as oak, burn best. These create hot fires that burn clean and reduce toxic gases such as carbon monoxide.

Now it’s time to build the fire.

First, you’ll need some kindling firewood. You probably don’t need to be told that sticking a match next to a log won’t result in much of anything. Stack your kindling in criss-cross layers to get the best results. About 4-5 layers should do the trick. Next, you’ll want to insert your firestarter into the center of the kindling. This can be either balled up newspaper, compressed sawdust, or some other type of tinder. Using starter logs such as Duraflame isn’t a good idea—they only create faster creosote buildup.

Now you’re ready to light your fire. Light your tinder from the top—this gives the kindling more flame-time to catch fire. Once you’ve successfully lit the fire and the kindling is burning, add a couple of logs, being careful not to place them where they will smother the kindling fire. You might need to help it along by stoking the fire under the log. Using your poker, lift the log gently and carefully to allow some oxygen to feed the fire.

Add more logs as your fire begins to burn evenly. Now, sit back and relax. And don’t forget to pour that cup of hot cocoa.