Seasoned wood always starts best. Wood that has been outdoors through summer and fall for at least 6 months makes great firewood. Properly stacked firewood does not necessarily need to be in a shelter and only the wettest of years will prevent proper seasoning. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.
Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20 percent. This lower moisture content is almost assured when split wood is exposed to daily drying conditions typical in summer and fall. You need to remember that storing the wood outdoors is perfectly fine when stacked and slightly off the ground. Using a tarp would help things but is not necessary if weather conditions are dry.
The key here is burning the driest wood you can find which is split to properly fit your stove or fireplace. There needs to be some space between firewood and the bottom, top and sides of the stove.
Start stoves or fireplaces with newspaper and dry, resin saturated coniferous kindling. When using this method, work the fire size upward by adding increasingly larger wood sizes until the largest split piece easily ignites. There are also commercial gas log fire starters and wax and composite wood starters.
Stoves burn best when the fire is hot, not popping and with minimum smoke. This type fire produces the most efficient heat and becomes a self-cleaning element in any wood-burning appliance. Remember that proper airflow is critical for maintaining proper burning. Proper airflow requires regular ash removal from your wood-burning stove. The ashes should be deposited into a metal container with a cover and stored outside.
I started this article by encouraging proper installation of wood stoves or fireplaces for best burning practices. A correctly used wood-burning appliance should have minimal smoke production inside the appliance but also have some ability to control air flow for heat preservation and coaling.
Seeing or smelling smoke in your house means you may also have a dangerous, toxic situation to deal with. This will be eliminated by proper installation and using the best burning practices I have described. If you burn wood in your home, even occasionally, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends you install a smoke alarm to alert you and your family in the event of a fire. To be effective, smoke alarms must be in the proper location and tested regularly. Batteries should be replaced regularly, too.