Bio-archaeological studies can contribute significantly to understanding the economic interactions between cities and their hinterland. In Pompeii, where research has often been intramurally focussed, analysis of biological remains is often confined to bones and macro-botanicals consumed as foodstuffs. Charcoal, if collected, often remains unexamined, and yet this material is key to understanding the fuel economy of a city. This study has two goals: first, to describe an efficient method for charcoal sampling and analysis in a dense urban environment using only dry-sieved charcoals above 5 mm; and, second, in doing so, to demonstrate the dependent relationship between Pompeii and its hinterland for the provision of fuel in a case study from the House of the Vestals. A pilot study of 25 contexts from six ‘rooms’ and 750 charcoal fragments was followed by an extended study of 62 contexts over 14 rooms (a total of 1579 charcoal fragments). The extended results identified only two further (minor) taxa (represented by only three fragments). The most important wood identified was beech (Fagus sylvatica), which constituted 50–75 per cent of the fuel supply, depending on the time period. Beech grows preferentially above about 900 m in central and southern Italy. Pompeii lies at 30 m altitude with the nearest mountain areas at least 15 km away. The study suggests that a methodology that relies on collection of charcoal from routine dry sieving (5 mm grid), in soils where this is possible, can provide robust results in a cost effective manner in an urban setting.