Smoking meat is one of the most effective ways to improve your meat game. Choosing the suitable wood for the job is critical, of course. It alters the whole flavor of the steak, brisket, chicken, or turkey to be grilled. You can consider smoking the same way you would consider the spices such as garlic, ginger, or basil. Depending on how you use them, each will impart a particular flavor that will either benefit or detract from your cuisine.
Some are stronger than others. Hickory and Mesquite are two of the woods. Hickory is regarded as the king of all smoking woods. However, Mesquite is said to be the most potent of all.
But before we dig in about which wood is better, let’s go through an overview of smoking woods.
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Overview on Smoking With Wood
Wood for smoking comes in different forms. There are wood chunks, wood chips or wood pellets. Wood chunk are large chunks of woods and is mainly used in gas smokers or charcoal smokers. Wood pellets are primarily used as both the fuel and the flavor for pellet grills, but can alternatively also be used on other smokers. Wood chips is the most used one. Most often they are sprinkled directly on the charcoal on a charcoal grill, or used in a smoker box. What wood you choose will depend on what smoker you have.
Also Read: How to Use Wood Chips on a Charcoal Grill
There are two types of wood, and both have their own characteristics. They are as follows:
Softwood: Softwood have less sap and resin than hardwood but are simpler to deal with. They make decent fuel because they burn slowly and emit a pleasant smoky aroma. They aren’t, however, as high quality as hardwood, and are therefore often cheaper. Because of their high sap and resin content, they burn exceptionally quickly – far too quickly for excellent smoking.
Hardwood: Hardwoods are thicker and higher quality than softwoods; they are heavier and more challenging to split. Hardwoods are also denser in color than softwoods, making them darker. The tastes of hardwood smoke range from moderate to vigorous. Lightly flavored hardwoods include apple, cherry, and peach. Oak and Hickory are medium-flavored hardwoods that are utilized in the preparation of beef and other game meats.
What is Hickory, and Where Does it Come From?
Hickory is a medium-strength wood with a rich smoky flavor. Although it does not have its distinct flavor profile like certain woods such as apple and maple, it is recognized for leaving its imprint on smoked foods such as bacon.
Hickory wood is derived from the genus Carya’s deciduous (hardwood) trees. There are around 18 species of hickory trees, the majority of which are endemic to eastern North America. Some hickory trees yield nuts, such as the pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis), which has a mild, sweet flavor but does not burn as long as oak or other hickories.
What is Mesquite, and Where Does it Come From?
Mesquite is a popular wood for smoking and grilling meats since it creates a lot of heat and imparts a rich flavor to the meat. It has a distinct, pleasant aroma and flavor that is both robust and acidic. However, it burns faster than Hickory. In fact, it’s frequently blended with lighter woods like apples and pecan to reduce the strength.
It is also stated that even diners who have never tried mesquite-smoked dishes before would identify the flavor as soon as they take their first mouthful.
Mesquite wood originated in South America. It is also found in Mexico and grows in other regions of the United States, such as Texas. This might possibly be because it grows better in semi-arid climates like Texas. Growing in arid locations such as the Americas requires the tree to grow extensive roots to tap into deep water reservoirs.
Let’s Compare Flavors
The taste and flavor of the wood you use for smoking are important, and various from what meat you’re smoking. If you’ve ever wondered what differentiates the tastes of the same type of meat, the answer is has a lot to do with the choice of wood used for smoking. When the wood smolders smoke is created which is what gives the distinct smoky flavor to the meat. So, yeah, the wood flavor does matter.
Hickory flavor: Hickory smoke provides a pleasant nutty flavor that some people mainly connect with bacon. Bacon smoked with Hickory, for example, has recently become a popular option. The sweet, smoky bacon taste enhances this meat’s inherent strength. It’s also delicious and very filling.
Hickory smoke produces a better, deeper color on meats than Mesquite, which does not provide a deeper color.
Hickory is popular among most individuals. If you’re new to smoking or have only tried fruitwoods, you should start slowly with Hickory. It may be too powerful or pungent for you and your family. The ideal approach is to keep utilizing your fruitwoods while gradually adding a little Hickory to the mix. After you’ve gotten acclimated to it, you may use solely hickory. However, it is still a strong-flavored wood, so take caution if you use too much Hickory. It might provide a harsh taste to your meal. These few tips and tricks will get you going with the wood.
Mesquite flavor: When burnt, mesquite wood generates a distinct flavor and aroma. It provides a rich, aromatic, earthy flavor to fast-cooking meats when applied judiciously by the grill master. When used in excess, it may be harsh and bitter, but when used sparingly, it can be bold and earthy. As previously said, mesquite wood flavor is one of those flavors that you can identify from the first mouthful. In addition, mesquite smoke enhances the color of smoked foods.
In fact, this wood is really one of the hottest burning trees. It also burns quickly, producing a lot of smoke and sparks as it burns. It’s easy to envision it being abused or on fire for too long. This results in a little bitter flavor from the smoke, which is undesirable. Because of these characteristics, it is best to plan its use.
If this is your first time using Mesquite, use it minimally with meat. Unlike other lighter protein types, red meat can withstand smoking without becoming overpowering. Another option is to mix it with other fruitwoods. Do these until you have a taste for mesquite smoke. However, we advise you not to use these if you have guests around for supper. The mesquite flavor will not appeal to everyone and is only liked by a few.
Now coming onto our favorite, what does each wood go best with?
What do Hickory and Mesquite go Best With?
Hickory and mesquite each fit better with some types of meat than others. It’s of course all a matter of taste, but here are some suggestions.
Hickory wood is quite adaptable. Let us tell you what works best with it:
Pork Butt: A smoker’s ideal cut is a pork butt. The pleasure of smoking a juicy, tasty pig butt and having it break apart when you pull it perfectly illustrates the ultimate BBQ experience.
Pork butt may absorb a lot of smoke when it takes to smoke it. When smoked with Hickory, the bacon-like smokiness nicely complements the meat.
Pork butt is a great match for practically any smoking wood, but if you want a robust smokiness, Hickory is the way to go.
Bacon: Bacon is one of the most fantastic meats to smoke using hickory wood. That is why the two are frequently found together.
Chicken wings: Chicken has a more delicate flavor than red meats, and because the wings are considerably smaller, you need a wood that develops a robust smokiness in a shorter time.
If you want to add smokiness to more delicate foods, Hickory is always the superior choice. Its delicious bacon-like qualities complement the chicken without being too overpowering. It’s a strong candidate for best wood for smoking chicken wings.
Mesquite may be overpowering sometimes, so make that decision based on the meat you’re smoking and how you’re smoking it. Let us tell you what works best with it:
Brisket: Brisket and Mesquite complement each other. Although it is discussed, Mesquite is one of the most incredible woods for smoking brisket for various reasons.
Brisket’s particular savory absorbs and holds a smoky flavor over long smoking durations. If you can keep the smoke under control, the Mesquite will elevate the smokiness of the brisket.
Ribs: Many individuals appear to be divided on this issue. However, we wanted to keep it honest with you, there are several advantages to using mesquite wood to smoke ribs, notably beef spare ribs or short ribs, but any rib may absorb the intense mesquite smoke for outstanding results.
Ribs can absorb and manage the intense smokiness of Mesquite because of their rich savories and high-fat content; pair them with a sweet or spicy rub or sauce for kick-ass ribs. You know you want to try this combination ASAP!
Steaks: Mesquite burns quicker than Hickory, making it ideal for rapid cooking methods such as steak. It will also impart color to the meat, although it will be a little lighter in color than Hickory-smoked meat.
Do we have a winner? Hickory or Mesquite?
Hickory is a more adaptable cooking wood than Mesquite. It is effective on most types of meat, including beef, pork and poultry. It is also beneficial to fish and seafood. Mesquite is a durable, fast-burning hardwood. It’s ideal for low and slow smoking but not for grilling.
It’s crucial to note that Hickory has a moderate to strong flavor, so it forgives if you use too much. Mesquite, on the other hand, if given half a chance, will dominate all tastes.
Who won, though? To be honest, it will come down to your personal choice. Most mixes of hardwoods and meat may be successful if you know your smoker and can manage the smoke.