Hickory vs Mesquite: Which is the Best Wood for Smoking Meat?

Between hickory vs mesquite, one comes out as a winner as the best wood for smoking meat.

If you’ve ever taken a bite of smoked meat, be it beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or even wild game, chances are it was smoked using either hickory or mesquite.

But is one of them really that much better than the other? Will your smoked meat taste that much different?

Read on and let’s find out!

What is the best wood for smoking

The answer to these questions is “…it depends.”

After all, tastes are a matter of opinion. It’s impossible to really know which wood is the most powerful smoke until you test it yourself.

Since there are hundreds of types of wood available on the market, it’s impossible to say that one kind of tree is better than another.

But if I had to pick a favorite type of wood for smoking, it would have to be hickory. I’ll also explain why mesquite isn’t as great as many people think, even though it gets a lot of praise online.

Hickory vs mesquite, which is the best wood for smoking?

Hickory vs mesquite

I bet you’re wondering what I’m talking about when I say mesquite.

Well, if you’ve ever read anything online about grilling or smoking meat, then you know that mesquite is all the rage right now.

It’s actually not a traditional wood for smoking meats in America because it tends to be bitter and overpowering. But when cooking abroad in South America, where the Mesquites grow naturally, they use this wood for cooking regularly.

Mesquite chips are often used as the main ingredient for grilling steaks in South America, but that doesn’t mean that every type of wood from Mesquite is great for barbecuing meat in an American smoker.

Type of Mesquite wood

there are three types of mesquite tree that produce very different flavors:

1. Eastern Mesquite

Also known as the Honey Mesquite tree, this is by far the most popular type for smoking meat.

It has a lightly sweet flavor with medium smoky notes and can be used to cook anything from beef to fish.

2. Western Mesquite

This is the least appealing kind of Mesquite because it’s very strong and bitter.

The smoke produced by this variety could ruin any dish quickly, so you’ll want to steer clear of it if you know what’s good for you.

3. Bolivian Mesquite

Offering the biggest fragrance of all three types mentioned here, Bolivian Mesquite produces a signature smoke that tastes like no other.

It smells like vanilla beans mixed with molasses and makes food taste incredible, but its amazing flavor doesn’t last long.

In fact, you’ll have to add more wood every 20 minutes if you want your meat to stay flavorful throughout the cooking process with this type.

Hickory is another excellent choice for smoking meats because it’s hearty and versatile. But when it comes down to it, most people would instead use a milder wood that they can leave in their smoker for a few hours, if not all day.

Source: James Bremner (Flickr)

Inexpensive hardwoods like Hickory are still very popular even though they’re known for being overpowering in some cases.

Still, there isn’t much of a difference between them and the Hardcore Smoke Woods out there.

The difference between hickory and mesquite

So why do so many people rave about Mesquite?

Is it because this is a traditional wood for smoking in South America, and they’re just trying to cash in on a good thing? It could be.

But here’s the deal:

Mesquite makes the meat too bitter after you’ve been cooking with it for a few hours.

You’ll have to keep adding more chips every 20 minutes to keep the smoke going, even if your smoker runs hot.

I really don’t see any advantage to using this wood over Hickory unless you plan to use it as an additional flavor alongside another type of lighter smoke, which isn’t necessary or practical for most home smokers.

When you use Hickory, however, you’ll get that same hearty, smoky flavor without having to add chips every few minutes.

It’s the choice of many competition cooks because it has that great flavor that goes great with all types of meat. But you don’t have to worry about your food tasting bitter towards the end of your cooking or grilling session.

So which is better for wood smoking

Well, in my opinion, there isn’t a clear winner when it comes down to these two particular kinds of wood.

They both make excellent smoke and offer different flavors for various dishes, so I’d say let your taste buds be the judge when choosing between Hickory vs. Mesquite.

You may find one flavor more appealing than another based on what you’re cooking at home, but keep in mind that beginning smokers might want to start with lighter woods.

How much do hickory and mesquite wood cost

Mesquite wood is much more expensive than Hickory.

Source: Keith Williamson (Flickr)

It goes for almost $20 for a small bag, but you can expect that price to go up even further if you’re buying it at a restaurant.

You’ll probably end up spending at least $25 every time you need more wood for your smoker.

One way to get around this is to spend a few dollars on each type of wood you want to use, but keep in mind that the flavor will be very different, so it’s not always recommended to combine them in your smoker.

If you do happen to mix up the types, though, make sure one of them has a lighter flavor so you can add chips every 20 minutes instead of waiting an hour or two before adding more smoke.

Hickory costs about $1 per pound, making it one of the most affordable woods for barbecuing meat at home, especially when compared to pieces like Mesquite, Maplewood, and other Hardcore Smoke Woods that are known for their strong scents.

Final Thoughts

Mesquite is an expensive type of wood that requires frequent adjustments if you want to keep the smoke going throughout your cooking time.

It has a very strong and bitter flavor, so most people prefer using it in combination with another lighter wood like applewood or pecan wood.

On the other hand, hickory is super versatile and can be used without having to add chips every 20 minutes because its flavor isn’t as strong.

It’s one of the most popular choices for smoked meats, especially when combined with heavier woods like oakwood.

There really isn’t a clear winner here since they both make excellent smoke and offer different flavors depending on what you’re cooking. But like I said at the beginning, my personal preference leans a little more toward mesquite.

I’d suggest you try both and see for yourself which tastes better to you!