Hickory VS Mesquite: Which Is The Best Wood For Smoking?

Smoking meat is one of the best things you can do to up your meat game.

However, it is important to understand the variety and use of each wood – whether you are smoking a brisket, pork ribs, fish, or poultry – each one will need different wood.

Think of using smoke the same way you would use spices, garlic, ginger, curry, or basil. Each of these will give a distinct flavor and either work for or against your dish, depending on how you use them.

If you’re new to smoking meats, you should familiarize yourself with various woods, their pros, and cons.

And in this article, we’ll go over Hickory and Mesquite – both are high-quality hardwoods that are amongst the most popular woods used for smoking meat.

Let’s learn their individual characteristics, flavor, smoking point, and burning time.

Hickory VS Mesquite

Hickory vs Mesquite

These are both hardwood trees, which means they make for high-quality firewood.

If we were to measure the flavor of Hickory and Mesquite on a spectrum that spanned from mild to intense, we would find Hickory in the middle, along with other woods, such as maple and oak.

These woods are excellent for smoking pork and bold enough to smoke beef and game meats as well.

And Mesquite is in another category, all of its own. It produces the strongest tasting smokey flavor and should be used in moderation or combined with other woods when smoking lighter meats.

Let’s have an even closer look at the characteristics of these two fine hardwoods.

A Little Bit About Hickory

Hickory is the longest-burning wood of the two. It is super high-quality firewood.

It has quite a high heat output and tends to last longer than most other kinds of wood while delivering consistent smoke throughout the entire period.

Hickory is a versatile smoking wood that works well with most types of meats and is the classic choice for bacon and turkey. Just about anyone is familiar with hickory bacon. 

It produces a mild to strong-flavored smoke, slightly more intense than alder and other fruitwoods, such as cherry wood or applewood. Many Pitmasters will also pick Hickory because it adds a dark coloring to smoked meats.

Hickory provides longer, slower smoking and can be mixed with other wood types for flavor if desired.

With Hickory, you’ll have less to worry about when cooking different types of meats together or steaks of various thicknesses. It is one of the best choices for anyone new to smoking meat.

A Little Bit About Mesquite

Mesquite is also a prized wood for both smoking and grilling meats because it produces a lot of heat and gives the meat a deep flavor.

It has a unique, pleasant scent and flavor, both strong and tangy. However, it burns way faster than Hickory.

However, more smoke is produced when using Mesquite than any other type of smoking wood because it contains higher levels of Lignin, which gives us that fantastic BBQ smokey flavor when burned.

It is recommended that Hickory be used as the base, and Mesquite be added either at the beginning or near the end of the smoking process. Use mesquite in large amounts, and you risk turning the meat bitter.

Depending on the meat you are smoking, some combinations are proven to be winners.

The general rule of thumb is that Mesquite is more suitable for smoking dark red meats and game meat because of its strong-flavored attributes.

Meats that need less cooking time are best for smoking with Mesquite wood, as these don’t risk staying on the grill long enough to turn bitter.

Hickory VS Mesquite – Which One For What?

hickory or mesquite

Hickory Or Mesquite For Chicken

Chicken will work with most woods. So it’s mostly a matter of personal taste – trying and seeing for yourself.

However, super-strong woods like mesquite will likely be overwhelming for those who prefer a milder smoked chicken flavor. Hickory is not as strong as Mesquite and works wonders with both turkey and chicken.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Ribs

Both Hickory and Mesquite work well for smoking ribs. Hickory is the preferred choice for a traditional Southern barbecue.

It imparts a strong, sweet, smoky flavor to meats and is perfect for pork shoulders and ribs. Mesquite will give a more robust smoky taste to your meat dishes, which works very well for ribs and other strong-flavored meats.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Pork

Traditionally Hickory is used for smoking pork. Hickory will give a rich flavor and darker coloration to the meat. You could try adding a little Mesquite at the end to add that extra smoky and tangy flavor.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Brisket

Mesquite can be an acquired taste; however, if you’ve been dying to try Mesquite for smoking, then brisket lends itself perfectly to the task.

Since it is a richer meat than most, it can handle the stronger smokey flavor of Mesquite. Being a fast-burning wood makes Mesquite the ideal choice for authentic Texas-style brisket.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Steak

As mentioned, Mesquite burns faster than Hickory, making it suitable for quick cooks like steak. It will also add color to the meat, although it’ll be a bit lighter in color than meat smoked with Hickory.

If you have not used Mesquite before, then try mixing it, using Hickory as a base.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Burgers

Both Hickory and Mesquite are favorites for smoking burgers. Hickory will impart a nice, bacon-like taste and aroma, whereas Mesquite will lend burgers a steak-like quality.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Pulled Pork

You’ll find people debating online on whether to use Hickory or Mesquite for pulled pork. Generally, Hickory is favored, but both of them work well, and in the end, it is a matter of personal taste.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Jerky

If you like that bacon flavor in your jerky, then Hickory is the choice for jerky. However, try adding a little Mesquite if you want your jerky a little smokier and stronger-flavored.

Hickory Or Mesquite For Bacon

Hickory has been a longstanding favorite for Bacon. For those who enjoy stronger smoke-flavored bacon, you’ll find Mesquite bacon to be tangy, savory, and surprisingly delicious.

Conclusion

So, although Hickory is the more popular and versatile smoking wood, Mesquite is perfect for wild game, beef brisket, duck, and lamb.

For some people’s taste, Mesquite might be too strong for smoking chicken, fish, or even ribs and pork shoulder. But try it and judge for yourself.

Mesquite also adds some color to the meat, but generally, not the rich color that Hickory imparts. Mesquite and Hickory both have their unique flavor and are high-quality smoking woods.

When you need longer cooking times, as for poultry, and you prefer a slightly milder, sweeter taste, Hickory is the right pick. For shorter cooking times, or as an addition, Mesquite can be used.

The rule of thumb is to smoke the lighter meats with the milder woods (even milder than Hickory) and the heavier meats with the stronger flavored woods. Good luck!

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