Is Hackberry Good for Smoking Meat?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  January 5, 2021

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When we think of meats used for smoking, hickory, cedar, and oak come to mind.

But hackberry?

Most of us have never even heard of hackberry wood much less used it for smoking.

Is hackberry good for smoking meat

So is it any good for adding flavor to grilled meat?

The answer is yes, hackberry is good for smoking meat.

It infuses the meat with a sweet flavor that’s similar to that of cherry and other fruitwoods.

It burns hard and long making it a terrific investment for chefs that love a good smoke.

If you are thinking of using hackberry for smoking meat, read on to find out some tips and tricks that will help you get the best cook possible.

What is the Hackberry Tree?

The hackberry tree is a deciduous tree that is prevalent in the United States.

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It is also known as the sugarberry, the nettle tree, and the beaver wood. It can grow in a wide range of soils and conditions.

The tree produces small berries that attract birds and animals. The animals eat the fruit and the tree counts on the animals to disburse the fruit so that it may reproduce.

The fruit is also safe for human consumption and can be compared to the taste of dates.

Although the tree produces fruit, hackberry is not considered a fruitwood.

That being stated, many say it provides meat with a sweet taste that is not dissimilar to cherry.

So if hackberry is not a fruitwood, what is it?

You may be surprised to find that it’s a relative of the elm tree. This poses an interesting point because elm is among the kinds of trees that should not be used for smoking due to its high resin content.

However, there is no evidence that hackberry has a resin content that could be dangerous.

In fact, its berries and bark have been used for years in traditional medical applications and has been known to treat everything from a sore throat to venereal disease.

Hackberry Wood for Smoking

If you decide to be adventurous and use hackberry for smoking, there are a few things you should know.

First of all, the wood is very dense and extremely hard to cut.

In fact, some say that unless you cut it when it’s green you might not be able to get into it.

However, once cut, the denseness pays off in a slow cook that means a little bit can go a long way.

Also, if you find the wood yourself, make sure it is safe and fresh.

It is prone to bacteria damage and other elements can get into it making it dangerous to consume foods it has been cooked with.

Because hackberry is a fruit-bearing tree, it is best when used with lighter meats.

It is recommended for cooking turkey, chicken, and ham and will produce a mild, fruity flavor when used in these applications.

Its similarities to cherry and its nickname as ‘hickory light’ means it will also make a nice blend with hickory.

Using it with hickory means it will have the power to flavor stronger meats like ribs and other types of red meat.

Hickory and similar types of wood are great for Smoking Rib Roast.

Make Sure Your Hackberry Wood is Safe

Hackberry wood is not commonly sold in stores for smoking. If you source the wood yourself, you want to make sure it is safe for cooking before you use it.

You can tell if the wood is safe for cooking by looking at it and touching it.

If the wood does not have any soft spots and it doesn’t look decayed, that generally means it’s safe.

Even if it has a few soft spots, you may be able to cut around them to ensure the wood you’re using will not infuse contaminants into the food.

You must also make sure the wood is free of any mold, mildew, or fungus. If it has mold or mildew on it, you will probably be able to see as well as smell it.

If the wood is older and free of rot and mold, you should still be able to use it.

However, older wood is dry and therefore prone to bursting into flames. To keep this from happening, soak it before using it.

If the wood is extremely dry, you might consider wrapping it in aluminum foil before using it for smoking. This will allow heat to escape so it burns rather than smokes.

Also read: How do you store wood for smoking? Guide to proper wood storage.

Another option for getting hackberry for smoking is to buy it at the lumber yard.

Just make sure the wood you’re using to smoke has not been chemically treated and does not have resin in it.

Once you bring it home you can cut it down into smaller pieces that will be suitable for smoking.

Hackberry may not be the most common type of wood, but it can be a real treat when used for smoking.

How will you be using it to make your meals delicious?

Read next: Can I use green wood for smoking? Experts say yes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.