The hickory tree is found in various parts of the United States, especially in the Midwest and East. Often growing to 80 feet in height, it is a tall tree with an expansive canvas of up to 40 feet.  

Hickory is excellent for making sturdy axe handles, but how useful is it for burning? We’re about to take a close look at whether hickory firewood is worth using in your fire.

Is hickory good for firewood?

Hickory is one of the best firewood varieties you can use in a fire, especially if you need plenty of heat. Once seasoned, this wood produces 30.6 million BTUs per cord which is very high. Hickory is also popular for its excellent coaling properties, low smoke, and pleasant fragrance. 

  • A top-performing firewood based on heat output.
  • Great for infusing smoky flavor into meat and vegetables.
  • Will burn clean and long, whether you’re outdoors or at home.
Infographic of Shagbark hickory statistics

Hickory firewood burn qualities

1. Heat output

Checking a firewood’s heat output should be your first consideration. Whether you’re sitting around a campfire or relaxing at home, there’s no point in making a fire if it doesn’t provide warmth.

Hickory rates highly for outputting heat which is important if you live in a very cold climate. It’s good to know you’ll stay warm even in the coldest conditions.

Compared to other popular firewood, hickory outperforms most alternatives including beech, red oak, and even black locust. The only wood types we reviewed that provide more heat than hickory are Osage-orange, Gambel oak, and Rock elm. Be sure to also check out our complete comparison of hickory vs. oak firewood.

Keep in mind that hickory will vary its BTU output a little depending on the species. For example, Bitternut hickory rates 29.2 BTUs while Shagbark is a higher 30.6.

Check out the following table comparing the heat output of hickory to various other common types of firewood.      

Wood varietyHeat per Cord (Million BTUs)
White pine15.9
Red oak24.6
Black locust27.9
Bitternut hickory29.2
Shagbark hickory30.6
Gambel oak30.7
Rock elm32.0

2. Smoke

Hickory emits low levels of smoke compared to white fir, pine, and boxelder. Like most top-tier wood, it burns clean and won’t cause sore, red eyes. Hickory is great for outdoor campfires and there’s no concern of billowing smoke choking out the inside of your home.

Seasoning is an important consideration with any wood, including hickory. Green wood may have up to 80% water content which will produce a lot of unwanted smoke. Check out our seasoning tips further down the page to get the best out of your wood. 

3. Ease of splitting

Hickory is a challenge to split, thanks to its stringy, tough wood fibers. Although there is conflicting advice about when to split hickory, most would agree that it’s best to season first, then split.

If you can buy or get access to a hydraulic log splitter your life will be made much easier. These don’t come cheap though. At the very least, you’ll need a heavy-duty splitting axe or maul that is built for the big jobs.  

If you live in an area that gets really cold, wait for a freezing morning to chop up the wood. This makes the job a little easier.

4. Sparks

Sparking and popping wood can put burns in the carpet and may start an unwanted fire. Hickory is safe firewood that doesn’t produce many sparks.

Like most hardwoods, it burns well and won’t produce a fireworks display. You can sit around a campfire without the fear of an ember landing in your lap!  

5. Aroma

Hickory has one of the best fragrances and will fill your home with a pleasant aroma that most love. Its smell has also made it popular with the meat smoking community, perfect for adding a sweet, smoky flavor to food. Find out all the best types of wood for cooking here.

If you’ve ever used liquid smoke then you’ll have a rough idea of what to expect from burning hickory. Producers of imitation smoke flavor have tested many options and found hickory was often the most popular option. So, they have modeled the scent of hickory, which we think is a good endorsement for burning the firewood.

Most people will find that hickory outperforms oak, beech, elm, and most other wood on fragrance. But not everyone wants to smell their fire. For those that prefer a neutral-smelling fire, consider aspen, white fir, or black locust. 

Tip: If you enjoy firewood with a nice fragrance you may also want to check out our review of apple firewood or pine firewood.

6. Coaling

Hickory produces excellent coals that keep wood stoves warm through the night. It is a much better option than pine, ash, or maple if you want a long-lasting fire. Hickory is comparable to oak and black locust for its coaling properties.

A major benefit of hickory is that a large log will probably have red hot embers the next day. That means re-starting fires the next morning is quick and easy. 

You may also like to read our article that looks at whether ash makes good firewood

7. Creosote build-up

Creosote is a type of black tar that slowly builds up on the inside of chimneys. These deposits eventually need to be removed, or you’ll have to deal with poor ventilation or fires.

Hickory is a hardwood with low levels of sap and resin, so creosote output is low. That means you won’t need to maintain your chimney as frequently as you would if using firewood like pine.

A majestic hickory tree on a white background
A large hickory tree produces a lot of firewood.

How to identify hickory firewood

The easiest, most reliable way to identify hickory is to check the bark. Shagbarks have distinctive thin plates that often hang like a rug from the outside of the trunk. If you don’t see the bark hanging, it may be another species of hickory such as a pignut. Whatever the variety, if it is hickory firewood, the bark will easily pull off as plates. 

As a backup method, check the leaves which are similar to an ash. Each tree has serrated compound leaves, usually made up of 7-9 leaflets. However, ash leaf stems from opposite each other on the branch while hickory leaves grow in an alternating pattern.

How long does it take to season hickory?

Hickory firewood requires at least 12 months of seasoning for a clean-burning fire. If possible, try to dry the wood for 24 months to get really dry wood that burns hot. Unseasoned green hickory may have 80% moisture content, so burning it prematurely will result in a lot of smoke and much less heat output.

Tips for seasoning hickory

Seasoning time will be much quicker in dry states like Texas. If climate isn’t on your side, speed up the process by following these tips.

  • Split the firewood: by splitting the logs, you increase the amount of surface area that is exposed to wind and sunshine.
  • Stack in the right place: expedite drying time by laying the face of the stack towards the wind and avoiding shady areas.
  • Protect the wood: use a tarp to protect the stacks from snow and rain while keeping one side exposed to the wind.
  • Elevate the wood: lay the wood on planks or pallets to create airflow under the wood.
  • Space out the rows: create a series of stacks with a 3-5” gap between each one to assist with air circulation.
Hickory wood chips in a small pile on white background
Hickory wood chips are popular for smoking meat.

5 Fast facts

  1. The hickory tree’s botanical name is Carya; it is a part of the family Juglandaceae.
  2. There are 18 species of hickory tree and 12 of these are native to the United States.
  3. The shagbark species usually grows scattered through forests of pine, oak, or maple. You won’t often find a pure stand of all shagbarks.
  4. Common firewood varieties include Bitternut (Carya cordiformis), Shagbark (Carya ovata), Pignut (Carya laciniosa), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa), and Shellbark (Carya laciniosa).
  5. The hickory is a tall deciduous tree with a spreading, dense canopy and flakey gray bark. 

Get more info about the hickory tree here.

Commonly asked questions

Is hickory better than black locust?

Hickory and black locust both provide high heat output and excellent coals while being difficult to split. They’re both excellent used for firewood, but if you want a fire with no aroma then choose black locust. Anyone smoking meat or wanting plenty of fragrance from their fire will do well to select hickory. 

Can you burn hickory in a wood stove?

Hickory is a versatile firewood that’s ideal for wood stoves or hearths. It doesn’t produce a lot of smoke or sparks but is one of the best for heat output.

How much is a cord of hickory firewood?

Hickory is in high demand throughout the United States, which has pushed the price for one cord of seasoned, split wood to around $500. Our research found that some online retailers are selling hickory for up to $1100 per cord.

Is hickory firewood prone to bug infestations? 

Hickory is well known for attracting bugs once it’s stacked and getting seasoned. This problem is best fixed by removing the slabwood before seasoning. You’ll want to work your way around the outside of the log, splitting just inside the bark. The outside bits will dry out quickly and can be used in the fire. Once the rounds have been left to season, you’ll find the splitting process easier and there won’t be any issues with bugs.

Summing up

If you need a hot-burning fire then hickory is one of the best options. It is clean-burning firewood that gives off an enticing fragrance. Perfect for a welcoming home or for cooking with.

There are other high-quality types of firewood like oak and black locust that’ll also make a great fire. In most cases, use what you have or what’s cheapest where you live.

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