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Hickory vs. Mesquite for BBQ

Hickory vs. Mesquite for BBQ

Smoking meat in your offset smoker requires wood. It is the only way to infuse your pork butt with a smoky flavor.

When searching for the best woods to smoke meat with, you will notice hickory and mesquite will frequently come up.

Just like every cut of beef is not equal, every type of wood is not identical.

Knowing this, we have now pitted mesquite and hickory woods against each other.

Keep reading to find out which wood is superior.

Types of Woods

There are two primary types of smoking woods: softwood and hardwood. These woods are not classified by the tree’s hardness.

However, they are classified by the tree’s reproduction process.

Hardwoods produce sees that are encased in a covering like the seed of pecan is in the shell of the nut. In contrast, softwoods are light in color and contain more sap and resin.

For this reason, softwoods are difficult to burn and usually release acrid smoke when they come into contact with fire.

If you know anything about acrid smoke, then you know it’s the worst possible thing that can happen when you are smoking your brisket.

Acrid smoke imparts an unpleasant, bitter flavor to the food.

Every wood had a unique flavor. Woods can also add a darker or lighter color to your meat.

Therefore, you should choose your woods for smoking carefully.

What Is Hickory Wood?

Hickory is a medium to a thick wood. It is popular in the BBQ world, especially for smoking bacon. Hickory is found in North America and certain provinces of South Asia.

Like most woods, hickory has a unique taste. Some people think this flavor is too robust, so they pair it with oak to town it down a bit. 

When hickory and oak wood are paired together, they create the perfect smoky flavor.

Hickory is also paired with fruity woods like cherry and apple.

If you are a novice barbecuer, it is best to mix hickory with another wood so it doesn’t overpower your brisket’s flavor.

Some people compare hickory’s flavor to bacon. Hickory has a savory, robust flavor that goes perfectly with pork.

What Is Mesquite Wood?

Mesquite wood is a species of wood that’s native to several provinces in North and South America.

However, it is also grown in Australia, Argentina, India, Chile, and Puerto Rico. Globally, there are more than 40 species of mesquite wood.

Mesquite wood is known for its high spark. This spark is caused by the tree’s high concentration of nitrogen.

Mesquite wood also burns faster than most woods on the market.

In terms of flavor, mesquite wood has a strong taste. Specifically, it has a sharp, robust, bitter, slightly earthy flavor.

Therefore, you can quickly tell if pork shoulder was smoked with mesquite wood.

While mesquite wood is very flavorful, it can be a bit too strong for some folks, so you may not want to add too much mesquite wood to your smoker.

Nevertheless, mesquite wood will produce a savory flavor when used sparingly or in combination with other woods.

Hickory vs. Mesquite

With debates such as brisket fat side up or down, chuck roast vs. brisket, and pork shoulder fat side up or down, are you really surprised that there is a hickory vs. mesquite wood debate. I’m not.

Nevertheless, let’s examine both kinds of wood in depth before making a decision.


Compared to mesquite, hickory is the more versatile choice.

Hickory can be used to smoke a variety of meats and combined with other types of woods to create impressive smoky profiles.

Hickory can be used with red meats such as chuck roast or brisket., pork, as well as other types of meat.

In contrast, mesquite is limited to specific meats such as lamb, red meat, duck, wild game, and lamb.

Mesquite may overpower the flavor of chicken, salmon, and even meats like pork shoulder or ribs.


Hickory and pork are like Bonnie and Clyde; they are always paired together. If you cure your own bacon at home, most people will recommend using hickory to smoke it.

In addition to this, if you just purchased your portable pellet smoker and are new to smoking food, hickory is the best option to start with.

Hickory enhances the natural flavor of pork and gives the meat a darker color.

In addition to this, hickory has an addictingly sweet aroma that offers the perfect amount of flavor. Unfortunately, mesquite wood is too strong for pork.


Hickory is perfect for smoking beef. It enhances the natural flavor of meat, but it also adds a subtle sweet taste to the beef.

While you can use mesquite wood with beef, do not go overboard.

You can also use a combination of hardwoods, including mesquite, to dilute its flavor profile.

Fish and Poultry

Hickory is versatile enough to be used with fish and poultry.

However, since fish and poultry have such a delicate flavor, they can easily overpower mesquite wood.

In addition to this, hickory and mesquite woods come in different sizes and can be used in your kamado grill or electric smoker.

Flavors Profiles

Hickory’s flavor is more balanced than mesquite.

It is strong enough to add a subtle flavor to the food but not strong enough to overpower the food’s natural flavor.

On the other hand, mesquite wood has a strong aroma and flavor.

Use too much mesquite, and you can easily destroy your food’s natural flavor.

Can You Mix Hickory and Mesquite?

Of course, you can combine hickory and mesquite woods. It will create a fantastic flavor profile.

It will give your meat a sweeter, smokey, yet earthy flavor.

In addition to this, hickory will also balance out the mesquite flavor and tone it down a bit.

Final Thoughts

On the one hand, hickory is versatility at its best. It pairs well with any BBQ dish.

On the other hand, mesquite has a strong flavor that’s limited to a few BBQ dishes.

Whether hickory or mesquite wood is better is up to you. I recommend smoking your meats with each wood before deciding the winner.