Beginners Guide On Using Hickory and Mesquite For Smoking Meat

Hickory vs Mesquite

The heat is on! Summer is here and it’s perfect for grilling and smoking meats outdoors. For those of you not familiar with using smoke for cooking, it is important to understand the variety of woods that can be used, whether you are smoking brisket, pork ribs, fish, or poultry. Think of using smoke in the same way as you would use spices, garlic, ginger, curry, or basil in a dish you are preparing. Each one of these will give a distinct flavor to your dish and will either work for or against your dish, depending on how you use them.

Meat should be smoked prior to grilling for that special flavor. You don’t need a dedicated smoker. Here are some handy solutions for smoking meat using your gas or charcoal grill.

If you’re new to smoking meats, you should familiarize yourself with a variety of woods to choose from, suitable for smoking meats. Many fruit trees are suitable for smoking meat. Apple, cherry, pear, plum, and almond woods will lend a sweet, fruity flavor to most meats.  Apple wood is a very fine option as it results in a light, fruity, sweet smoky flavor.

We’ll start with Hickory and Mesquite since these are amongst the most popular woods used for smoking meat. Both Hickory and Mesquite are high-quality hardwoods, so in order to choose between these two firewoods, you’ll need to know more about their individual characteristics, flavor, smoking point, and burning time.

Hickory vs Mesquite

In order to get the best results, when choosing which wood to use when smoking meats, a good place to start would be to examine the differences between Hickory wood and Mesquite wood. These are both hardwood trees, which means they make for high-quality firewood.

If we were to measure Hickory and Mesquite on a spectrum that spanned from mild to strong, we would find Hickory in the middle, along with other woods, such as maple and oak. These woods are excellent for smoking pork and bold enough to smoke beef, and game meats as well. Mesquite is in another category, all of its own. It produces the strongest tasting smokey flavor and should be used in moderation, or combined with other woods when smoking lighter meats. Let’s have a closer look at the characteristics of these two fine hardwoods.

Hickory Chips

Hickory

Hickory is the longest-burning wood of the two, it is high-quality firewood and because it has quite a high heat output, Hickory tends to last longer than many other kinds of wood and delivers consistent smoke throughout the entire cooking period.

Hickory is a versatile smoking wood that works well with most types of meats and is the classic choice for bacon and turkey. Just about anyone is familiar with hickory bacon. Hickory produces a strong-flavored smoke, slightly more intense than alder and other fruitwoods, such as cherry wood or applewood, and Hickory has a milder profile than Mesquite wood does. Many Pitmasters will pick Hickory because it adds a dark coloring to smoked meats.

Hickory is a clean-burning wood that provides longer slower smoking times and can be mixed with other wood types if desired. With Hickory, you’ll have less to worry about when cooking different types of meats together or steaks of various thicknesses. Hickory is a simpler choice, for anyone who is new to smoking meat.

Mesquite Chips

Mesquite

Mesquite is also a prized wood for both smoking and grilling meats because it produces a lot of heat and gives the meat a deep flavor. Mesquite has a unique, pleasant scent and flavor, both strong and tangy. However, Mesquite burns faster than Hickory.

Mesquite also produces long-lasting coals, although not as long-lasting as Hickory. More smoke is produced when using Mesquite than any other type of smoking wood because it contains higher levels of Lignin, which gives us that fantastic BBQ smokey flavor when burned

It is recommended that Hickory be used as the base, and Mesquite be added either at the beginning or near the end of the smoking process. Mesquite should be added in small amounts, or you risk turning the meat bitter tasting, and so as not to overpower the meat.

Generally, when smoking light meats, Mesquite should be used moderately. For those who prefer a more robust smokey taste, then Mesquite is for you. However, remember that if you need longer cooking times, Hickory is a better choice.

Depending on the meat you are smoking there are some combinations that are proven to be winners. The general rule of thumb is that Mesquite is more suitable for smoking dark red meats. and game, because of its strong-flavored attributes. Meats that need less cooking time are best for smoking with Mesquite wood, as these don’t risk staying on the grill long enough to turn bitter.

Is Hickory or Mesquite Preferable On Different Meats ?

Smoking meat before and during grilling

Hickory or Mesquite For Chicken

Poultry is an excellent meat to add flavor to by smoking. Poultry meat will take on any wood smoke and will work with most woods. It is a matter of personal taste. Super strong woods like mesquite may be overwhelming for those people who prefer a milder smoked chicken flavor. Hickory is not as strong as Mesquite and works wonders with Turkey and Chicken.

Hickory or Mesquite For Ribs

Both Hickory and Mesquite work well for smoking ribs. Hickory is the preferred choice for a traditional Southern barbecue. It imparts a strong, sweet smoky flavor to meats and is used mainly to smoke pork shoulders and ribs. Mesquite will give a more robust smoky taste to your meat dishes, which works very well for ribs and any other strong-flavored meats.

Hickory or Mesquite For Pork

Traditionally Hickory is used for smoking pork. Hickory will give a rich flavor and darker coloration to the meat. You could try adding a little Mesquite at the end to add a little extra smoky and tangy flavor.

Hickory or Mesquite For Brisket

Mesquite can be an acquired taste, however, if you’ve been dying to try Mesquite for smoking, then brisket lends itself perfectly to the task. Since it is a richer meat than most, it can handle the stronger smokey flavor of Mesquite. Being a fast-burning wood makes Mesquite the ideal choice for authentic Texas-style brisket.

Hickory or Mesquite For Steak

Mesquite burns faster than Hickory and is suitable to use for quick cooks like steak. Mesquite will add color to smoked meats, although it’ll be a bit lighter in color than meat smoked with Hickory. If you have not used Mesquite before then try mixing it, using Hickory as a base.

Hickory or Mesquite For Burgers

Both Hickory and Mesquite are favorites for smoking burgers. Hickory will impart a nice, bacon-like taste and aroma, whereas Mesquite will lend burgers a steak-like quality.

Hickory or Mesquite For Pulled Pork

You’ll find people debating online on whether to use Hickory or Mesquite for Pulled Pork. Generally, Hickory is favored, but in the end, it is a matter of personal taste.

Hickory or Mesquite For Jerky

If you like that bacon flavor in your Jerky, then Hickory should do it or try adding a little Mesquite if you want your Jerky a little smokier, and stronger-flavored.

Hickory or Mesquite For Bacon

Hickory has been a longstanding favorite for Bacon. For those who enjoy stronger smoke-flavored bacon, you’ll find Mesquite bacon to be tangy, savory, and surprisingly delicious.

Smoking does more than add flavor to meat dishes, it also tenderizes and adds an appealing color to the meat itself. Hickory is partially popular because it gives the meat a rich, dark color, which makes the meat more appealing and appetizing to the eye.

Although Hickory is the more popular smoking wood, Mesquite is perfect for wild game, beef brisket, duck, and lamb. For some people’s taste, Mesquite might be too strong, used for smoking chicken, fish, or even ribs, and pork shoulder. Mesquite also adds some color to the meat, but generally, not the rich, color that Hickory imparts.

Mesquite and Hickory both have their unique flavor and are high-quality smoking woods. However, the general consensus is Mesquite should be used sparingly unless you would rather opt for a richer, deeper, and stronger taste. When you need longer cooking times, as for poultry, and you prefer a slightly milder, sweeter, taste, Hickory is the right pick. For shorter cooking times, Mesquite can be used, depending on personal tastes.

The rule of thumb is to smoke the lighter meats, with the milder woods, in this instance, Hickory, and the heavier meats with the stronger flavored woods, such as Mesquite.

If you don’t have much experience with smoking meats and you want to play it safe, Hickory is a good wood to start with. It’s easy to over-smoke meat with Mesquite and you risk the meat tasting bitter as a result. With Hickory wood, you don’t risk changing the taste of the meat, and it won’t turn bitter even if you over-smoke it. Hickory is forgiving and more flexible than Mesquite. Hickory will lend a deep and rich quality to your dishes and is an exceptional choice for any meat you want to smoke, from beef to pork, poultry, and fish.

You can experiment by simultaneously using a mix of Hickory and Mesquite, or Hickory with other mild fruit woods such as cherry or apple. Hickory and Mesquite combined together, will result in a flavor that is stronger than Hickory but lighter than Mesquite. You’ll appreciate the earthy yet sweet and mellow flavor that the blend of Hickory and Mesquite will give your meat dishes.

If you’ve never tried smoking meat, when grilling, you have truly missed out on one of the great culinary pleasures. Smoked meat is super tasty, and tender beyond comparison. The results will astound your palate.

Published by Maddalena Di Gregorio

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in” Robert L. Stevenson

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