Hickory vs. Mesquite: BBQ Smoking Woods Compared


Hickory and mesquite are popular barbecue smoking woods with intense smoky flavors and thick blue smoke. But which one should you be throwing on your smoker’s coals? Discover the differences between hickory and mesquite wood chips.

hickory vs mesquite barbecue smoking wood


Where does it come from

Mesquite wood is originally from South America. It can also be found in Mexico and grows in other parts of the US, such as Texas. This may also be because it grows better in semi-arid regions, such as Texas. Growing in dry areas such as the Americas means that the tree has to have long roots to tap into deepwater reservoirs. 


The taste and flavor of the wood that you choose for smoking are significant. If you’ve ever wondered what separates the classes regarding smoked meat, this is one of the critical factors. The wood is burnt, and the smoke produced is what gives the meat a particular flavor. So yes, wood taste matters. 

When it is burnt, mesquite has a much stronger taste than fruitwoods and also hickory. It is one of the most potent flavor profiles that you can get. It is best used to smoke dark red meat, which can withstand the strong taste. The taste has earth-like tones to it, and it is also bold and distinct when used in the right proportions. However, if you go overboard, the flavor can be somewhat bitter.  

Smoke characteristics

It is not just the taste that is strong, but mesquite wood also discolors the meat. It’s a fast-burning wood and gives off a lot of smoke fast. This gives you an intensely rich flavor very quickly. The amount of smoke it produces is more than most smoking woods. 

What meat does it go best with?

Mesquite wood is better paired with red meat. You will want to go with meat that needs a bit more time. Cuts such as brisket pair well with mesquite because it is robust enough to soak in the smoke flavor and not be overpowered by it. The fact that it discolors the meat is another reason why this wood is better paired with darker red meat. 

You can get it in chunks from various sites online and also in Hardware stores. Camerons Smoking Wood Chunks are an excellent choice. You can get them in a 10-pound bag, which is a decent amount for most smoking jobs. The wood chunks are kiln-dried and are easy to load into your smoker.

hickory vs mesquite barbecue smoking wood


Where does it come from

Hickory wood is also a common wood in America. It is also found in Southeast Asia, amongst other places. Of the 18 species of hickory wood, approximately 15 are native to North America. The others come from southeast Asia. 


Although not as pungent as mesquite, hickory wood for smoking has a distinctly strong, nutty flavor profile. It has sweet notes to it. It is more robust than fruitwoods. It is often used in conjunction with oak, even though it is stronger than oak. It has a nutty-like taste, which pairs well with a lot of dark meat. One can also describe it as having a hearty flavor. 

Smoke characteristics

Hickory wood burns for longer, which means that you can use it for more extended periods if you want to be doing something else. The more extended period doesn’t alter the taste. The smoke profile is more intense than a lot of common smoking woods such as fruitwoods. Also, the smoke produced is cleaner than most wood types. You will also not need to combine it with other wood unless you prefer to do so. 

What meat does it go best with

One of the best meat choices to smoke with hickory wood is bacon. That is why you commonly find the two paired together. It smokes pork well and also adds a deeper dimension to the meat. You can smoke pork shoulder or other cuts of pork to get a rich flavor. It also works well with pork as it gives it a rich, intense color. 

We recommend Western Wood Smoking Chip Variety Pack because it comes with various wood chips, and hickory wood chips are part of the set. You can use them with a variety of grills and smokers. The manufacturer closely watches over the moisture content during production, and this helps a great deal in coming up with wood chips that are dry and ready for smoking. 

hickory vs mesquite barbecue smoking wood

Can you mix hickory and mesquite?

Yes, you can. When you mix the two, you get the best of both worlds. A combination that gives you smoke that is stronger than hickory but not as intense as mesquite. You also get the slight sweetness that comes from hickory wood chips but isn’t present in mesquite. It will need some level of skill, so it may not be advisable for new smokers. The balance has to be just right. For best results, try to match the intensity of the wood with the intensity of the meat. 

Hardwood vs. Softwood

The type of wood that you choose is essential. Softwoods are not ideal for smoking because they burn fast and hot, although not as hot as softwoods. They have more sap in them and produce flares and flavors that do not pair well with food. You will not like the taste of the food you get from softwoods such as pine, cedar, fir, and cypress. They are not a good option for smoking or cooking anything. 

Hardwoods are taken from deciduous trees, which often have broad leaves. They can burn for long hours and, as such, are the best choice for cooking. They do not have as much resin, which means that it’s safer to cook with hardwood. One of the components that make up hardwood is lignin, and this comes in handy when you are looking to flavor your meat. Hardwood has a better flavor than softwood. Hardwood burns longer and hotter, and this means that you won’t need to refill the smoker or grill often. 

Hardwoods are made up of cellulose, hemicellulose, in addition to the lignin we’ve just mentioned. These three work together and help preserve the food. When you use hardwoods, you get more flavor in the meat as well as good coloration. Another difference between the two is that hardwoods burn much slower than softwoods. Softwoods are a lot less dense than hardwoods.


Got any burning questions on smoking wood? Check out these answers to our most frequently asked barbecue questions.

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

Still hungry? Check out more BBQ posts