Mesquite vs Hickory: When to Use Them

Dec 4, 2017 | Blog

Grilling with wood gives you a unique opportunity to give your food a flavor that just can’t be achieved with any other type of heat source. The level of smokiness and the flavor of your meat will depend on the type of wood you choose, so this is obviously a very important decision. Hickory and mesquite are both very popular options with very distinctive flavors, so let’s compare them.

The Taste

Hickory, image from kingsford.com

Hickory has a quite strong taste compared to apple or oak, but it’s definitely milder than mesquite. It gives a sweet, fruity, fragrant smoke. Most people like the taste, but some it can still be too strong. In this case, mix it with oak or some other milder wood.

Mesquite is most popular in Texas, where it’s abundant and it’s probably the strongest smoke wood out there. Because it’s so strong, it can easily overpower the taste of your food, but if used right it results in an amazing flavor that can hardly be compared to anything else. If you are new to mesquite, it’s best to use it sparingly, combined with hickory or oak, as many people can find the flavor to be too strong.

Choose the Right Wood for the Right Dish

Mesquite, mage from kingsford.com

Different types of smoke go with different types of meat. For this reason, choosing the right type of smoke wood is a very important decision. You’ll want to achieve the distinct smoky flavor without going overboard and getting a taste that is too overpowering.

Hickory is probably the most versatile wood used in barbecue. It compliments all meats, but it’s still quite heavy, so it’s strong enough to be used with larger cuts of meat. Hickory goes perfectly with beef and pork, but it can be used with chicken too, and even fish. One thing you should definitely try is a hickory smoked chicken, seasoned with some olive oil, black pepper, paprika, and thyme.

Mesquite, on the other hand, has a very strong taste unlike any other and it goes only with certain types of dishes. The only case where you can safely use mesquite alone is with robust chunks of red meat, like briskets. However, small quantities of mesquite in combination with other, milder smoke woods can be used to complement almost any dish. To cook a perfect mesquite smoked brisket, rub it with spices of your choice and leave to rest for 12-24 hours before cooking.

Conclusion

There are people who use mesquite exclusively for any type of barbecue because of its unique taste. However, if you are just trying it out it’s best to start with a large cut of beef and leave experiments with pork, poultry or fish for later. Hickory, on the other hand, goes best with pork, but you can’t really go wrong with it.

Getting the perfect taste with mesquite requires smo skill and experience, but with hickory, it’s super easy to get amazing barbecue. Mesquite also burns hotter and longer than most other smoke woods and produces a really thick smoke. Because of this, it is sometimes first reduced to coals and then used for grilling. Both hickory and mesquite can be soaked in water for a couple of hours before cooking in order to burn slower and smolder. This produces white smoke which is great for short cooks.

Finally, there is a lot of space to experiment with combinations of different types of wood. You can find the right combination only by learning from experience, and everyone should definitely try both hickory and mesquite at least once.

Billy StewartBilly Stewart

Founder of BarbequeSmoked.com

My dad is a true mans man, and has owned a number of grills. Ranging from gas to charcoal. Growing up with him allowed me to see what different types of rubs, spices, brines, etc went into making the best BBQ. Although my dad was a truck driver, and I had a degree in Information Technology I knew that I wanted to do something about grilling and our recipes.  That’s where Barbeque Smoked comes in.

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