Smoke Off: Hickory Vs Mesquite Wood For Smoking

The battle of the strongest wood smoke. How does the Texas favorite of mesquite wood smoke measure up to the traditional, strong, and versatile hickory wood smoke? Truthfully, there is a space for both of them in the world of barbecue. But, let’s settle on which is the better strong smoking wood for different meats.

Hickory Wood Smoke Vs. Mesquite Wood Smoke

Hickory and mesquite wood have very similar burning properties. They both burn hot, at roughly the same rate, and produce a similar amount of smoke. At the end of the day, you can deliver a fine piece of smoked meat with either smoking wood, but the subtle distinctions in flavor can make the biggest differences depending on what you’re serving.

Let’s compare how well hickory and mesquite wood smoke pairs with the most popular meats.  

Hickory Wood

Flavors:  Strong, Savoury, & Bacon-like.

Hickory is your reliable old mate, never failing to deliver a traditional barbecue smokiness that’s popular all over the world. It’s classified as a medium-strong smoky wood and has a distinct savory and bacon-like smokiness.

Hickory wood smoke is considered to be well balanced, and therefore it’s very versatile in its use, making it an extremely popular option to get a good smokiness time after time. However, it doesn’t offer much sweet, nutty, or fruiter flavors like apple, pecan, or cherry would. 

Because it’s so well balanced and provides a good oomph of smokiness it works well blended with any sweeter, fruiter, or nuttier wood. Apple, cherry, maple, pecan, peach you name it. Although it is versatile in use, it does stand out as a favorite on many smoked meats.

Best With:

Chicken Wings:
With chicken having a more delicate flavor than red meats, and with the wings being much smaller in size, you need a wood that will develop a strong smokiness in a shorter amount of time. But, with smaller and more delicate flavored meat you risk over smoking much more easily. 

Hickory is always the better choice if you want to have an oomph of smokiness on more delicate meats. It’s savory bacon-like flavors compliment the chicken, without overdoing it. It’s definitely a contender for the best wood for smoking chicken wings. 

Pork Butt
Pork butt, or Boston butt, a smoker’s dream cut. The glory of smoking a succulent delicious pork butt and it falling apart when you pull it is a great representation of the ultimate barbecue experience.

Anyway, enough daydreaming. Pork butt is able to take on a lot of smoke over the time it takes to smoke it. When smoking with hickory, you’ll find the bacon-like strong smokiness really compliments the meat. 

Honestly, pork butt is a dream match for almost all smoking woods, but if you’re looking for that strong smokiness then hickory has the final say. 

What’s YOUR favorite wood for smoking pork butt?

Brats are exceptional when smoked. Topping off the salty, spicy, savouriness of brats with a strong oomph of hickory smoke really seals the deal. 

The combination of meat, fat & seasonings can differ from brat to brat. Because of hickory’s versatility with its well-rounded smokiness, it’s almost always a safe bet for smoking brats. Although mesquite may work on some, it could more easily overpower more subtly flavored brats, like pork & herb.

Mesquite Wood

Flavors:  Very Strong Smokiness

Mesquite is uncontested as the strongest smoking wood. However, with great power comes great responsibility. It’s robust and intense smokiness gives it a reputation as a serious smoking wood. 

Although many criticize mesquite for being too sharp or bitter, when the smoke is controlled or blended with other smoking woods it really adds a unique and distinct, powerhouse of a smoky flavor.

However, for some mesquite can be overpowering, so make that call depending on what meat you’re smoking and how you’re smoking it.

Best With:

Brisket and mesquite go together like… well, brisket and mesquite. Although it’s highly debated, for so many reasons mesquite is one of, if not the best wood for smoking brisket.

*Texas applauds*

The distinct savouriness of the brisket is able to absorb and hold a lot of smoky flavor over its extended smoking periods. If you can control the smoke well, the mesquite will bring that brisket to the next level of smoked.

Controversial? Always. But realistically, there are so many wins for picking mesquite wood for smoking ribs, specifically beef spare ribs or short ribs, but any rib is able to absorb the strong mesquite smoke for great success.

Due to the rich savouriness and high-fat content ribs are able to absorb and handle the strong smokiness of mesquite, with a sweet or spicy rub or sauce you will have some kick-ass ribs.

Can You Blend Hickory And Mesquite?

Although nobodys stopping you blending hickory and mesquite, generally when you’re blending smoking woods, it’s to even out the stronger smokiness with sweet, fruity, or nuttier woods. 

Try blending your favourite strong smoking wood, whether it’s hickory or mesquite, with apple, cherry, maple, or pecan for a more well rounded smokiness.

Final Words

Who won? Well, honestly it’s going to depend on your personal preference. Above is just a guide on why smoking with hickory or mesquite is the better option for each type of meat. Naturally, they can pair better this way, but if you know your smoker and you can control the smoke, you can find success with most combinations of hardwoods and meat.

Who wins the smoke-off in your books? Hickory or mesquite?

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