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What is Hickory Smoking?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Hickory smoking refers to smoking food over hickory logs or chips which create an aromatic and flavorful smoke to infuse the food. Hickory smoked foods are particularly popular in the American South, where hickory is a fairly common wood. Both hot and cold smoking techniques are appropriate for hickory smoking, and the hickory may be mixed with other woods to create a unique flavor. Hickory is also one of the major traditional smoking woods, and it is generally very easy to find logs and chips for the purpose of hickory smoking.

When foods are hickory smoked, they tend to have a rich, faintly sweet flavor from the hickory wood. Hams are often hickory smoked, since the flavor pairs well with pork and with the sugar frequently used in ham curing. A common offering in many places across the South is a hickory smoked ham with a honey or maple glaze. Hickory may be mixed with woods like apple, walnut, oak, ash, cherry, and maple, among others.

Smoking is a time-honored technique used to cure and flavor meat. In hot smoking, the meat is kept in a warm chamber directly over a small fire or charcoal pit. The fire is fed with aromatic woods which may be soaked so that they will generate more smoke, instead of burning cleanly. The heat helps to cure the meat by cooking it, while the smoking yields a distinct flavor. As the meat cooks, it absorbs all of the ambient flavors and odors, which is why cooks carefully select woods for smoking.

Another smoking technique, cold smoking, involves flavoring salt-cured meat in a low-heat process which may take days. The goal is to infuse the meat with flavor, but not necessarily to cure it, since the temperatures are too low for a proper cure. To cold smoke foods, cooks generate smoke in another chamber and then pipe it to the meat, so that the temperature in the smoker does not rise too high. Hickory smoking is often used to flavor cold smoked bacon.

Many people like to integrate smoking into their barbecue, to create more flavorful finished meats. Hickory chips can be scattered onto a barbecue fire to generate smoke, or hickory logs can be burned at the beginning when the coals for a barbecue are produced. Some cooks prefer to cheat with the addition of liquid smoke, a flavored concentrate which can be used to add a smoky feel to barbecued foods. Hickory smoking during a barbecue will also make the ambient air smell nice, which is an added bonus in opinion of some cooks.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon350223 — On Oct 03, 2013

@brasshopper: There is a video of a guy who swears by using hickory nuts for smoking.

By anon264582 — On Apr 28, 2012

@Cbeason: The meat absorbs most of the smoke flavor when raw, so smoke it from the start, adding chunks as necessary to create a slow, constant blue smoke throughout your cook cycle at 225 degrees, 1 hour per pound.

I would use hickory, along with a generous handful of apple wood chips (soaked for 30-45 minutes beforehand in hot water). When you add more hickory, add a handful of apple wood chips in with it. Bon appetit!

By cbeason — On Mar 26, 2010

Is it best to smoke the pork in the beginning or wait until it has cooked for a while?

By brasshopper — On Nov 23, 2008

I smoke pork butt with chunks of hickory from trees that grow on my property. Can I safely use the hickory nuts for smoking? Are they more intense? Is there a market for unshelled hickory nuts?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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