Many know that smoking meats has been an ancient practice within cultures far and wide. Originally, the art of smoking was used as a preservative, keeping the flies away from the meat as well as utilizing the antibacterial properties of the absorbed smoke.
The smoking process involves meats that are hung in a warm chamber and strung over a “smoking pit.” Inside this pit, fire from wood chips generate smoke that penetrates the meat, creating an aromatic flavor that varies depending on the type of wood you use to create the smoke. Thus, this bring us to the question, why is the South famous for using hickory to smoke it’s meats?
Perhaps the simple answer is because of hickory’s abundance throughout the lands of The South. The term “hickory” was derived from the word “pockerchicory,” a name from Algonquin and Powhatan languages describing this species of walnut.
But there’s is something more to the reason behind hickory’s popularity other than its abundance. Sam Edwards III, third generation cure-master of S. Wallace Edwards & Sons, Inc., explains hickory’s popularity lies in its time-tested quality and style. “In Virginia, there are two plentiful hardwoods: oak and hickory. Our customers like the flavor of hickory wood the most and hickory imparts a mahogany color that our customers seem to like better than the redder tint that oak smoke makes.”
There was a time when Edwards used oak rather hickory for their sought-after flavor profile. “We used it on smoked sausage until the late 70’s when we switched all product to hickory since that seemed to be what most folks liked.”
It’s the strong scent of hickory that adds to the hardiness of dry-cured meats. Even the mahogany coloring from hickory on a 18-month cured Surryano ham gives the meat an artisanal presentation. If craftsmanship ever was a flavor, it would be hickory.