Why It's Best To Add Mesquite Flavor To Dark Meats

Want to make meat taste better? Add some smoke. Whether you slow-cook a cut over fragrant wood chips or dress it up with liquid smoke, adding a hazy hit of flavor is almost always a good idea. From sweet hickory to nutty pecan, there are seemingly endless wood varieties that can add dimensions of nuanced richness to meat. Yet, of the many options used to impart those wonderfully smoky flavors, we're partial to mesquite when it comes to seasoning darker meats.

Predominantly earthy, its bold and spicy edge makes it an incredible flavoring agent. However, in comparison to other varieties like honeyed hickory, fruity cherry, or savory oak, mesquite imparts the absolute smokiest flavor — thanks to its high concentration of combustible lignin — which can sometimes make it tricky to combine with certain proteins. As a result, it needs to be paired with equally bold protein that won't be easily overshadowed. Since white meats such as chicken breast or filets of white fish prove far too delicate of a match with mesquite, more decadent and borderline pungent dark meats prove to be the most ideal pairing.

The ideal dark meat and mesquite pairings

Pairing mesquite with savory cuts of beef is a no-brainer. Anything from short ribs to burgers can benefit from some smoky pungency, but brisket is an especially great option to amp up flavor. Additionally, proteins with earthy notes like lamb can also hold up nicely when flavored with zesty mesquite. Of course, game meats with a more particular profile including duck, pheasant, or boar can also make for a balanced pairing as mesquite enhances the meat's savory quality, and vice versa.

As for incorporating the flavoring, you could take a few different paths. Working with mesquite wood chips or coals is great for smoking and barbecuing. However, if you find that they pack too much of a punch for your liking — but still want some complexity — you can also work with a combination of chips or coals. Just add half the quantity of mesquite and half of something milder like hickory or maple wood.

Likewise, you can also look to alternative sources to add that same great flavor without even stepping foot near a grill. Simply brush a splash of mesquite-flavored liquid smoke on top of the meat before cooking or add it to marinades and barbecue sauce for an effortless way to impart ultra-smoky goodness. You can even dress meat in a rub made with mesquite powder or simply finish it with smoked salt for a delicious end-product.