While the cut of meat is the highlight of barbecues, there is one key ingredient in smoking meat – the wood.
The type of wood used for smoking meat is essential for the type, intensity, and flavor of smoke imparted with the recipe you are cooking.
Hickory and mesquite are two common wood types used for smoking meat. They both induce a tasty flavor of smoke into the meat that can never go wrong.
While they are both commonly used, they produce different flavors, and one is more intense when inducing smoky flavors into the meat.
In this post, I will share the type of meats that go well with these two types of wood.
Let us find out more about these two types of wood!
Hardwood Vs. Softwood For Smoking Meat
Hardwood should be the type of wood to look for when smoking meat. They are more robust, dense, and slower when burning, making them better for longer cooking sessions.
Softwoods are usually the types of wood with seed outside of the fruit. The wood from softwood usually contain more sap and air more airy compared to hardwoods.
This results into softwood burning too quickly and will not last for smoking meat. Softwood also releases a more acrid smell that is not so pleasing to the food.
On the other hand, hardwoods have more lignin, an organic material found in plants and responsible for giving meat that iconic smoky or BBQ flavor.
You can use Different types of hardwoods for smoking, and some have a milder flavor while others have a more robust smoky flavor.
A Little Bit About Hickory
Hickory is a versatile type of wood that you can use in almost any type of smoking method. The 3-2-1 method is a common smoking method and you can use hickory in this method.
While hickory has a strong flavor, it is not as robust as other hardwoods, making it versatile as you can use it for milder or softer cuts of meat.
It is also versatile in a way where you can mix it with other types of wood that also have a mild smoky flavor.
Hikcory also burns clean and it has a long burning time so it is perfect for low and slow cooking, especially with red meats like beef and pork cuts as it also imparts a deep red color.
What Does Hickory Smoke Taste Like?
Hickory has a medium-strong flavor that is usually associated with bacon. It also has hints of nuttiness and sweetness, but these are more of the side flavors of hickory smoke.
Note that if you are serving guests meat smoked with hickory, some might not like it because of its robust flavor.
While hickory does not have a distinct flavor profile like the sweetness from applewood, its flavor is quite familiar once you get used to cooking with it.
But how does hickory differ from mesquite?
A Little Bit About Mesquite
Mesquite is more on the strong side when it comes to flavor profile. It goes well with specific cuts of meat like large cuts of beef and can easily overpower fish and chicken.
While it adds color to the meat like hickory, the color that mesquite imparts is not as noticeable as the rich color from hickory.
Mesquite also burns a little faster and hotter than hickory becasue of the higher concentration of nitrogen so mesquite is not as good as hickory when it comes to low and slow cooking.
There is a delicious flavor that comes with cooking with mesquite and is a favorite of some people even though it is less popular than hickory.
What Does Mesquite Smoke Taste Like?
Mesquite produces smoke that tastes intense and has a defined flavor. It used too much, this strong flavor can easily become too strong and bitter.
The rugged aroma of mesquite is quite easy to remember and notice when you take a bite off the meat cooked using it.
It is perhaps a familiar flavor, especially with Texan recipes. Use it sparignly to avoid overpowering the flavor of the meat, even if it is tough red meat like beef.
The mesquite flavor can be great for thicker red meats but it should still be used sparingly, especially with softer cuts of meat like pork and chicken.
What Kind Of Meat Should They Be Used With?
|Type Of Wood
|Cut Of Meat To Cook
|What To Avoid
|Pork and beef (sometimes poultry)
|Poultry (if hickory is not mixed with fruitwood)
|Brisket, Lamb, Duck
|Chicken, Fish, Ribs
Hickory is a more versatile type of wood so it can cook or smoke pretty much every type of meat. However, it should be used sparingly with poultry to not overpower the meat flavors.
The slightly robust hickory flavor makes it perfect for most cuts of meat, especially when it is mixed with fruitwoods like apple and cherry.
Mesquite is quite strong and releases an intense smoky flavor so it should be used with wild game and others like duck and lamb or mixed with milder types of wood.
Which Is Better: Hickory Or Mesquite?
Hickory is better for low and slow cooking or smoking meat. It burns longer than mesquite so it is great for long cooking time.
Mesquite lights up and burns faster so it can be used with quick searing to impart the strong smoky flavor and still make sure that it does not overpower the flavors of the meat.
When smoking with mesquite, it is best to use it in the beginning or by the end of the cooking process to not make the smoke flvor too bitter for the meat.
Mesquite is better with high-heat cooking but it can be used for smoking meat, just make sure not to put too much or use it for too long when smoking.
Choosing between the two can be hard as it is about personal preferences and you might like the flavor from hickory than mesquite, or vice versa.
Can we get both flavors from these two types of wood?
Can You Mix Hickory And Mesquite?
Short answer, yes! You can mix the two types of wood for cooking although it is important to remember that you use them sparingly.
The resulting flavor of mixing these two will be a robustly smoky flavor with earthiness and sweetness.
So basically, you get to experience something heavier than hickory and lighter than mesquite, which is perfect for red meats like thick steaks, brisket, and pork shoulders.
If it is your first time using mesquite and hickory, I recommend testing their flavor profiles to see if you like them or not. When used sparingly, these two can make a mean flavor combo!