Hickory vs Mesquite for Smoking BBQ – What’s The Difference?

Hickory Versus Mesquite For Smoking Barbecue

This content contains affiliate links.  If you make a purchase after clicking a link on this page, we might receive a commission at no cost to you.

Smoking meat requires the right kind of wood for the right kind of meats.

It won’t take you long though to pick up on their subtleties once you become accustomed to them.

Smoking wood is a crucial ingredient in adding smoky flavors to meat and is the key to creating flavorful smoking.

You can add distinct flavors to your meat when you burn wood, such as hickory or mesquite, on your grill or smoker.

Hickory and mesquite are by far two of the most popular types of wood to use on the smoker. They’re used for many similar foods, but they impart a different flavor profile onto your BBQ.

Here we’ll explain how we compare hickory and mesquite. Read on to learn the differences and similarities between these two types of BBQ smoking wood!

Hickory vs Mesquite – Overview

Hickory – What You Need To Know

Hickory wood has a medium flavor strength that pairs well with pork, though it can also be used on chicken and beef when grilling.

The Hickory wood, which is known for its robustness and smoky taste, is widely considered a medium-strength wood.

Despite the fact that it does not have its own distinct flavor profile -the way certain woods like apple and maple do – it is known for its impact on the flavor of smoked meat, especially bacon.

Upon being exposed to the smoke of hickory for a while, you become accustomed to its vaguely sweet, intensely fragrant flavor.

Since hickory is a medium strength smokey flavor wood that has a little bit of sweetness to it, it makes it a very versatile wood that can be used in conjunction with just about any type of meat on the grill or smoker.

Mesquite – What You Need To Know

Mesquite on the other hand definitely falls into the “strong” category.

It is best used for meat cuts, particularly brisket, that have big flavors which can hold up to strong smokey flavor.

Mesquite-smoked foods, when cooked properly, are so delicious and full of rich smokey flavor that even diners who haven’t tried them before will recognize the flavor the moment they bite into them.

A lighter wood like apple or pecan is often mixed with it to tone down the intensity for less strong oods. When smoking mesquite for the first time, amateurs should be cautious.

There is a certain amount of caution even among BBQ masters because it can overwhelm even a small amount of ingredients. Furthermore, its use should be reserved for low and slow cooking processes.

Which Foods Are Best For Hickory?

The fact that it goes naturally with bacon means that hickory pairs well with most pork cuts. Additionally, it enhances the natural sweetness of beef, and it gives a nice depth to chicken, especially dark meat cuts like drumsticks and thighs.

Interestingly, some grillers have even used hickory to smoke fish and cheese, which can turn out quite tasty when done right.

Which Foods Are Best For Mesquite?

The flavor of mesquite is renowned in Texas, where it is almost exclusively used for hearty beef cuts. Most frequently, mesquite wood is paired with brisket.

However, you can also use mesquite for smoked chuck roasts, beef ribs, or even pork ribs if you want to lay on the smokey flavor.

In addition to intensifying the smoky qualities of pulled pork, this wood can also be used together with a mellower wood to further enhance the taste.

This really is a strong flavored wood that you need to be careful when choosing what to cook with it.

Does Size Make A Difference?

Which Shape Is Better For Hickory And Mesquite Wood

The optimal wood size you should use depends on the type of grill or smoker you have.

Especially when you use a gas or charcoal grill, wood chips or pellets are best for adding smokey flavor. Wood chips burn quickly, so you need to replace them frequently.

We recommend against using them for large cuts like briskets or pork shoulders, unless you are infusing other types of wood with their flavor. 

Next we have wood pellets, which are composed of compressed hardwoods that have been ground into sawdust and reshaped into small cylinders.

If you have a pellet smoker, this is your fuel of choice, since you will have more access to the flavors that come from the wood pellets and how they affect the meat. However, these can also be used in conjunction with a pellet tube smoker on other grill types.

It’s important to remember that chunks of wood work similar to wood chips, but they are bigger and last longer when smoked. This makes them an excellent choice for charcoal grills and offset smokers.

For large offset smokers, split logs provide both heat and flavor. They are the largest of all logs. When you are smoking large amounts of meat and the wood has to burn for hours on end, they are the best choice.

The use of this wood is typical for big festivals if they have a long-lasting program that involves serving food for a long period of time.

Final Thoughts

So which is better? Each has their place in the world of BBQ. The good news is that you can try both!

In fact, we’d recommend that you try both hickory and mesquite at some point – smoke a brisket with mesquite this time and hickory next time so you can taste the difference for yourself.

With virtually any barbecue dish, hickory makes a great choice. Discover your signature flavor with fruitwoods and different types of meats.

Mesquite and hickory burn at about the same rate, so this should be your first point of reference. Because of that, you will not have to adjust your cooking time based on which wood you use.

It will taste nicely balanced if you haven’t oversmoked. The type of wood that you have used can only be determined by experts like you. Smoky undertones could be noticed by some, but others will fail to notice.

The lighter meats should be smoked with mild woods, while the heavier meats should be smoked with stronger woods.

Smoking chicken, fish, or even ribs and pork shoulder with mesquite may be too overpowering. However, you should give it a try.

In general, mesquite does not give meat the same rich color as hickory. Each of these woods smokes well and has its own distinctive flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Hickory Or Mesquite Better For Brisket?

As mesquite burns much faster, it’s best to add it at the beginning or at the end in small amounts to avoid overpowering the hickory smoke flavor or making the meat bitter.

Brisket has a richer taste, so it can handle strong smoky flavors. You will typically come to find that mesquite is paired with brisket the most and it delivers great flavor every single time.

Can You Mix Hickory And Mesquite Together?

To make your food taste good, you can mix hickory and mesquite together. Using a mix of hickory and mesquite offers a good middle ground if you’re not sure whether to use either one.

Consequently, you will have a smoke blend that is not as strong as mesquite but contains more flavor than hickory.

Where Can You Get Hickory And Mesquite?

Hickory and mesquite are both readily available at grocery stores around the country.

Nowadays, it’s pretty easy to pick some up online too. Places like Amazon and specialty stores can ship your preferred wood type straight to your doorstep.

Can You Use Too Much Wood?

You will want to be careful not to overpower the flavor that you add yourself by using too much wood. You should only use mesquite wood sparingly if you have never smoked meat before, or if you have only used the weaker woods. 

You may want to soak dry hickory pieces in water beforehand or burn larger pieces before cooking. The taste of food can be ruined by too much hickory wood smoke.

It is best to use it in conjunction with another wood at a ratio of perhaps twenty percent hickory to eighty percent other wood.

It’s important to be cautious when using these woods or any wood in that matter because the smoke from these woods will bury the raw natural flavors of the meat.

For this reason, before you start cooking, make sure you use the right amount. You will be able to serve your guests a great tasting meal if you decide to use the right amount of wood.