Hickory Wood

Hickory Wood


Hickory is the most commonly used hardwood for BBQ and smoking. It is often called the ‘King’ of BBQ wood. Hickory is closely related to Oklahoma, Eastern North Carolina, and Texas BBQ. It produces a heavy but sweet smoke making it ideal for bacon. Since it is so strong, some mix hickory wood with other woods, or use hickory at different stages of smoking rather than use it the entire time. Hickory makes a great all-around smoking wood for anything, and is especially good for cured meats.

If you are wanting an all-American wood for smoking and barbecuing, then hickory would be a good choice. According to Identifying Hickory and Walnut Trees Native to Tennessee Using BRFs by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture:

Of the world’s 23 known hickory species, only three are found outside the United States…Hickory wood is widely acclaimed for its strength and durability. Gen. Andrew Jackson was named “Old Hickory” during the Battle of New Orleans because he was as “tough as hickory.” As a natural resource, hickory wood played a vital role in the development of Tennessee and the nation.

Type of foods that go well with hickory:
  • Beef – whole briskets and roasts, thick cuts
  • Poultry
  • Game meats – lamb
  • Pork – whole pig, rigs, whole roasts
  • Any dried meats, and sausages

Hickory Classifications and Types

In North America, the Carya genus has a few standout species for use in BBQ. The pecan tree is in this genus of trees. Hickory trees are typically long-living and produce nuts, some of which are sweet and edible. All hickories fall into the Juglandaceae family (the walnut family). All nuts from hickory trees are technically not a ‘true’ nut, but rather a drupe, fruit with a single pit surrounded by a husk.

Shagbark Hickory – Carya ovata

The ‘shaggiest’ bark of the hickory trees. The bark is identifiable by the long, vertical strips on the outer bark. This tree is found in much of the Midwestern and Eastern states. Southern Shagbark (Carya carolinae-septentrionalis) is found in these Southern states: AL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN, VA.

Bitternut Hickory – Carya cordiformis

Also called Swamp Hickory. This is closely related to the pecan tree, but doesn’t have sweet, edible nuts. It is short-lived compared to other hickories (only to about 200 years). Like the Shagbark, it is found throughout much of the Eastern and Midwestern states of the U.S.

Pignut Hickory – Carya glabra

Also called Sweet Pignut, Coast Pignut Hickory, Broom Hickory, Smoothbark Hickory. It produces a pear-shaped nut, and has an extensive growing range. It is long-living, with optimum seed production happening between 75 to 200 years.

Kingnut or Shellbark Hickory – Carya laciniosa

Also called Bigleaf Shagbark Hickory, Kingnut, Big Hickory. This tree produces the largest of the hickory nuts, and is very long-living. Because of its very long taproot, the Shellbark Hickory does poorly as a transplant tree.

Pecan – Carya illinoinensis

This tree produces the pecan nut we are familiar with, and the pecan wood gives off a sweet, smoky flavor. Georgia leads the country in commercial pecan harvests.

For Further Reading:

Mercker, David, Karen Kuers, David Buckley, and Brien Ostby. Identifying Hickory and Walnut Trees Native to Tennessee Using BRFs. Tech. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture
Article by Renee Shelton. Her love for tri tip almost surpasses her love for cake. When she’s not tasting BBQ, she can be found at Pastry Sampler.
Photo by Executive Chef John Shelton. You can find him sharing his fishing adventures at Dana Point Fish Company.


Dedicated to the art of grilling, smoking, and barbecuing.