The Difference Between Hickory and Mesquite, and When to Use Each

Not sure which wood to choose for smoking? In this hickory vs mesquite comparison, we cover all about these two types and discuss when to use each.
Jeremy Bivens
Jeremy Bivens
Research Writer
Jeremy Bivens is a passionate writer and grilling enthusiast. He's been working as a freelance journalist for over 15 years now and has a particular interest in food writing read more
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Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams
Expert Consultant
Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous read more
Last updated: September 11, 2023
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What is the most important thing when smoking Trusted Source Smoking (cooking) - Wikipedia Smoking is the process of flavoring, browning, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Meat, fish, and lapsang souchong tea are often smoked. your food? Well, for many experts, the type of wood used is one of the most important considerations that affect the flavor of the food. Not all smoking woods are equal, and in this post, we review two of the most popular woods used in smoking food – hickory and mesquite.

This article will compare the two types of woods, looking at the flavor they give, the kind of foods they are best for, and who wins the hickory vs mesquite argument. Without further ado, let’s see more about these two special smoking woods.

What is hickory?

The Difference Between Hickory and Mesquite, and When to Use Each

The first thing to consider is what these woods are. We start off with hickory. Hickory is widely considered as a medium-strength wood. When used for smoking food, it usually gives a smoky taste. Unlike some other woods, hickory does not have a special flavor profile; however, it is easy to identify in foods like smoked meats.

Hickory is found in North America and parts of South Asia. One of the reasons why it is used for smoking is its duration of cooking. It lasts for a longer time. Additionally, as a clean-burning wood, it gives more smoke, which allows you to manipulate it better.

The flavor and taste it gives

Considering that this is a clean-burning wood, what does the flavor taste like? Well, we observed that hickory gives a rather pungent but sweet taste. It gives a deep flavor to meats when compared with some other woods.

One of the most popular ways of using this wood is to use it in smoked bacon. Using this wood enhances the already robust flavor of bacon.

An advantage to this wood is that it doesn’t change the flavor of your food, even if it burns for a long time. Therefore, it is a preferred choice for anyone that wants a slow smoking process.

However, you need to be careful not to overdo it because if left for too long, it can cause your food to have a bitter aftertaste.

Reviews have praised the Weber hickory hardwood pellets as some of the best hickory pellets that will help to bring the best flavor from your meats.

What is mesquite?

The Difference Between Hickory and Mesquite, and When to Use Each

Mesquite is a type of wood that is unique to certain parts of South America and North America. There are scores of species in nature, and the interesting thing is that each one houses a unique flavor profile.

In areas where it is found in abundance, mesquite is great for the environment and soil because it adds more nitrogen to the soil. The relatively high concentration of nitrogen in this wood is responsible for the spark that is often generated during burning.

Unlike hickory, this wood burns pretty quickly, and it is generally viewed as faster-burning than many of the other woods available.

The flavor and taste it gives

Mesquite gives a pretty distinct flavor. When we used it, we observed that it offers an earthy flavor that is rich and delicious. It is pretty strong, which is why it is highly recommended that you use it sparingly. If used in excess, it can totally change the flavor of the meat. Another characteristic of this wood is its ability to change the color of smoked meats.

It is best to use this wood selectively for several reasons. For one, as we said, it burns faster than your regular wood. There is also the risk of making your meat bitter if not used selectively.

Due to the strong nature of mesquite, it is better to plan in advance before using it. Determine the time that your meat will take to cook, and choose meats that have fewer cooking times. This way, you can use mesquite before it discolors or changes the flavor of your food.

Traeger is one of the biggest names in the smoking and grill world. They have grills and also have Traeger mesquite pellets that you can use for smoking. These pellets are recommended as some of the best mesquite pellets for smoking on the market.

Hickory vs mesquite comparison: Is there a winner?

After considering the flavor profile of these two kinds of wood, which of them is better? Well, the answer to that is dependent on what you want to use it for. Since there are different foods that can be smoked, you need to determine which is better for different types of foods.

The Difference Between Hickory and Mesquite, and When to Use Each

Dark red meats

Hickory is a good companion to dark red meat cuts like thighs, drumsticks, and the like. However, mesquite is a better companion to these dark red meats. This is because it comes with a strong flavor.


Pork is the most common meat that hickory is used with. Bacon and hickory go great together. If you are just learning how to smoke food, then starting out your journey with pork and hickory is recommended.

When used with pork, it enhances the flavor of the meat and gives it a darker color. The sweet aroma of hickory penetrates the meat well and will taste great in the end.

On the other hand, mesquite might be too powerful for pork.

You can check out this article to see the best wood for pulled pork.


As with pork, hickory is great with beef. It helps to bring out the natural flavor and sweetness of beef. If you want to use mesquite, it is highly recommended that you use it sparingly. You could also blend it with other fruitwoods to temper the flavor that it imparts.

If you are smoking ribs, you can find the best woods here.

Are they suitable for fish and poultry?

Hickory is quite versatile, and it is widely believed that it is more versatile than mesquite. It works well with pork and beef, as we have seen above.

When it comes to fish and poultry, you can also use hickory. It burns cleanly and slowly, which makes it great for these types of food.

However, mesquite is likely going to prove too powerful for your fish and poultry. It can add color to your food, and the flavor can overwhelm your poultry and fish.

Can you mix them?

Yes, you can. It is possible to mix hickory and mesquite together to get a good flavor in your food. If you aren’t decided about whether to use hickory or mesquite, mixing them offers you a good middle ground. Therefore, you will have a smoke blend that isn’t as strong as mesquite but offers more flavor than hickory.

We tried it out, and the results were nice. However, since these two kinds of wood require special attention, it is recommended to try mixing them only if you are experienced. If you don’t have the experience, then you might end up with an unrecognizable flavor that you might not like.

Apart from experience, it is also important to consider the foods that you want to smoke while using this mix. A rule of thumb is to use milder woods for lighter meats and vice versa.

Tips for smoking with wood

If you are smoking with wood, here are some tips that can help you:

  • Start smoking your food early.
  • Go low and slow for most of the cooking time.
  • Use a water pan to regulate temperature.
  • Be careful not to overdo the smoking.
  • White smoke is great for flavor, while blacks smoke can taint your food.
  • Let the meat’s bark get dark.
  • Decide on the shape of wood used. Some shapes include chips, pellets, chunks, and logs.

Final thoughts

So who wins the hickory vs mesquite debate? Well, the winner between the two depends on what you are smoking. They both have advantages and drawbacks. Keep in mind that hickory has a moderately strong flavor, while mesquite gives a powerful flavor.

We recommend that you try out the two woods to determine which is better for your palate.


Smoking (cooking) - Wikipedia
Smoking is the process of flavoring, browning, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Meat, fish, and lapsang souchong tea are often smoked.

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