Hickory smoked food has a bold flavor that brings sweet and savory together and that compliments a wide variety of meats. Many people compare it to a combination of maple and mesquite. It’s sweet like maple yet still offers the distinct smokey flavor that so many people love. But what exactly does “hickory smoked” mean, and how to cook food using this otherwise popular method?
Overview of Hickory Smoked: What You Should Know
“Hickory smoked” refers to cooking food — typically chicken, pork, beef and wild game — over a hickory wood-burning fire. As it burns, hickory releases flavorful smoke that penetrates deep into the food to inject it with new flavor.
Hickory smoking is typically done when you cook food low and slow, giving large pieces of meat time to break down, stay juicy, and be extra tender. But you can also add great hickory flavor when grilling food at high temperatures for shorter amounts of time.
There are obviously many types of wood you can smoke or grill food over, but hickory is a very popular choice because of its bold flavors and unique properties.
Characteristics of Hickory Wood
Hickory wood comes from the hickory tree in the genus Carya. There are approximately 19 species of the hickory tree, about a dozen of which are native to the United States. Other species can be found in China, India, Mexico, Canada and the surrounding regions. Hickory trees are classified as deciduous, meaning they shed their leaves once a year during the fall season. When spring returns, they’ll regrow their leaves and repeat the cycle.
According to Wikipedia, hickory wood is used to make everything from wheel spokes and drumsticks to golf club shafts, walking sticks and furniture. Its prized among product manufacturing companies because of its combination of strength, durability, density and shock resistance. It’s not the strongest wood on the planet, nor is it the most durable. However, the combination of the aforementioned characteristics isn’t something that you’ll find in other types of wood; it’s a combination that’s entirely unique to hickory.
This makes it excellent for cooking – hickory firewood burns for a longer amount of time than other woods. This means that, even if you’re cooking something for hours and hours, your hickory firewood can continue providing great flavor! It has a gorgeous aroma as well, so don’t be surprised if neighbors come knocking at your door looking to share in the meal they smell!
Why Smoke Food With Hickory Food
It’s difficult to describe the flavor of hickory smoked food without trying it yourself. Most quality hardwoods can provide great flavor, but each variety has its own specific characteristics — and hickory is no exception. Hickory is one of the most bold flavors out there – you will definitely notice the flavor when you cook with it.
Hickory wood, like other hardwoods, is also easy to light and burns for a long time. Using nothing more than a fire starters offered here at Cutting Edge Firewood, you can easy light hickory wood to start smoking your favorite meats.
Choosing the Right Hickory Cooking Wood
If you’re thinking about smoking meats with hickory wood, you’ll need to choose the right type of hickory wood. Even if you have a hickory tree growing on your property, you can’t just cut it down and toss some pieces into a fire. All types of wood used for cooking must dried beforehand. Otherwise, their high moisture content will restrict their ability to burn. Fresh, green wood may still light, but it will produce a heavy soot-filled smoke that leaves your meat tasting bitter. Whether you use hickory or any other variety, make sure it’s dry before burning it.
There are two primary methods for drying green wood. Seasoning is the most common, where you simply allow the hickory to air dry over the course of months or years. This process helps reduce the moisture content of wood from 50% down to 20-30%, but it does have some downsides. Seasoning allows the wood to decompose, and can attract bugs, mold and fungus. Those do not provide tasty flavor and can even be unsafe.
The other method for drying wood is to put it through a kiln. This process places the wood inside an oven and cooks it, removing the moisture and killing the bugs and mold. Here at Cutting Edge, we go above and beyond with our kiln drying process. The wood spends 48 hours inside a 250 degree oven, which means it comes out super dry and super clean. The moisture content is between 5-10%, which means it will ignite quickly and provide clean smoke throughout your entire cook.
Tips on Smoking Delicious Meats With Hickory Wood
If you love the flavor of hickory but don’t want it to be overpowering, you can always try mixing hickory with another, milder type of wood, such as oak. Oak balances the flavor of hickory smoke nicely, and as a result, many backyard chefs prefer a combination of half hickory wood and half oak wood when smoking meats.
When it comes to the size of the wood, it really depends on what you’re cooking with. We offer three different sizes of hickory wood, and each is for a specific purpose:
- Cooking Logs (aka Cooking Sticks): These are 16″ long pieces of firewood for full sized smokers.
- Wood Chunks for Smoking: These are 2-3″ chunks and designed for ceramic grills like Kamado Joe, Big Green Egg, or Primos.
- Cooking Splits: These guys are 8″ long and skinny, perfect for offset smokers, vertical smokers, or oversized ceramic grills.
If you want to learn more about cooking with hickory and other types of wood, make sure you visit our Cooking with Wood University. It’s got recipes, videos, FAQs, and expert tips on making the best food possible when cooking over wood.
The best hickory smoked flavor comes from the best hickory firewood. Here is how Craig Tabor, Live Fire Chef and author, explained it:
“To finish with a high quality product, you have to start with one. Everything that goes into to dish is an ingredient, firewood included. That’s why I start with Cutting Edge Firewood.”
If you want the best, then you want Cutting Edge Firewood. Order our premium hickory cooking wood today! We offer complimentary shipping on all chunks and splits, and know that you will taste the difference! You can place an order on our shop page now, or choose our popular hickory items below.