How Can I Tell the Difference Between Hickory and Oak?


hickory trees 300x225If you just bought a load of mixed hardwood and want to tell the difference between oak and hickory, you are not alone. A lot of people want to tell them apart but don’t know what strategy to use to reach their goal.

You have likely tried looking at the bark to decide the type of wood with which you are dealing, but a visual inspection is not the best option because hickory and oak are similar in appearance. In this guide, you will learn a trick that works with 100 percent accuracy when you want to tell these two types of wood apart, but you will also discover what kind of wood to use for your desired flavor.

The Flame Test

Although we have had mixed results by looking at the bark, we have achieved perfect results using the flame test. Make sure you do this test over your smoker so that you stay safe while you work, and you will be glad you did. Start by taking a small sample from your load and holding a flame to it.

When you do so, you will find that hickory has a strong aroma that hits you like a train the second the smoke goes into the air. Oak, on the other hand, is a lot more subtle. You can take samples of wood from each pile and run a test on each one so that you can separate your hickory from your oak. This process takes some time and effort, but it’s worth it if you enjoy the slight difference in flavor after cooking your favorite meats.

Deciding Between Oak and Hickory

Deciding which type of wood to use while smoking your meat is not always easy when you are first getting started, but you get better with practice. Hickory is much stronger than oak in terms of flavor and smell, but oak has a slight hint of sweetness that adds an extra touch to pork and beef. The wood you use depends on the exact flavor you are trying to create. If you want your meat to have a strong smoked flavor, hickory is the option for which you have been looking. On the other hand, use oak if your goal is to create a mild flavor that is not overpowering.

Final Thoughts on Firewood Choices

Rather than trying to tell the difference between oak and hickory with a visual inspection, use the flame test to get accurate results. The smoke from a hickory sample stands out the second the smoke rises into the air, and oak is not as intense. If your goal is to create a mild smoked flavor that has a hint of sweetness, oak is the way to go.

You can even use them together to create a unique flavor you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Play around with different combinations until you uncover a taste you and your friends will love from the first bite. Smoking is a fine art that takes time, effort and patience, but you will be thrilled with the outcome as your skills improve.

The wood smoking experts at Wisconsin Firewood can answer any other questions you might have regarding barbecue wood or smoking wood. Call 414-769-9663 for wood smoking answers.