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What flavors go with mesquite?

Mesquite wood is a popular type of wood used for smoking and grilling. It imparts a distinctive, slightly sweet and nutty flavor to foods. When using mesquite wood, it’s important to consider what flavors will complement and enhance the mesquite smoke flavor rather than clashing with it.

Savory flavors

Mesquite smoke has a bold, earthy flavor that pairs well with other savory flavors. Some examples of ingredients and foods that go well with mesquite smoke include:

  • Beef – The rich flavor of mesquite complements beef beautifully. Try mesquite when grilling steaks, roasts, or burgers.
  • Pork – The sweetness of mesquite smoke balances the richness of pork. Use it when cooking pork chops, tenderloins, shoulders.
  • Chicken – Mesquite smoke adds depth of flavor to mild chicken. It’s great with whole chickens, chicken breasts, legs, wings.
  • Fish – The intensity of mesquite smoke stands up to oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
  • Garlic – The pungency of garlic is softened by mesquite’s sweetness.
  • Onions – Grilled onions take on a lovely smoky-sweet flavor when cooked over mesquite.
  • Mushrooms – Earthy mushrooms are complemented by the deep, woodsy notes of mesquite smoke.

Spicy flavors

The sweet, nutty quality of mesquite smoke balances out spicy heat. Consider pairing mesquite with:

  • Chili peppers – Mesquite smoke adds flavor dimension to dishes like chili or fajitas with peppers.
  • Spicy rubs and sauces – The smokiness mellows out the heat of cajun or chili seasoning blends.
  • Jalapeños – Grilled or smoked jalapeños take on complexity from the mesquite smoke.
  • Pepper jack cheese – Mesquite smoke infuses this spicy cheese with rich flavor.

Herbs and spices

Mesquite’s woodsy, slightly sweet flavor profile works well with many herbs and spices. Some good options include:

  • Rosemary – The piney flavor of rosemary complements the subtle resinous taste of mesquite smoke.
  • Thyme – Earthy thyme enhances the woodsy flavor of mesquite grilled or smoked foods.
  • Oregano – The brightness of oregano’s flavor contrasts nicely with mesquite smoke.
  • Cumin – Mesquite smoke brings out the nutty quality of cumin in Southwestern style rubs and chili.
  • Paprika – The mild sweetness of paprika is accentuated by mesquite smoke.
  • Chili powder – Mesquite balances the blend of spices in chili powder mixes.

Sweet flavors

Although mesquite itself has a subtly sweet flavor, it also pairs well with some sugary ingredients. The smokiness contrasts with and cuts through the sweetness. Good options include:

  • Brown sugar – A mesquite smoked brown sugar ham or salmon coated with brown sugar rub is delicious.
  • Fruit jams and chutneys – Mesquite’s woodsy flavor balances sweet fruity spreads when used as a glaze or sauce.
  • Maple syrup – Maple’s richness and sweetness is tempered by mesquite smoke in a glaze for salmon or pork.
  • Honey – Mesquite smoke infuses honey’s golden sweetness with depth in sauces and glazes.
  • Molasses – Smoky mesquite pairs nicely with molasses’ bittersweet flavor in baked beans or BBQ sauce.

Salty flavors

The subtle sweetness of mesquite smoke contrasts with and cuts through salty ingredients. It goes well with:

  • Soy sauce – Mesquite smoke adds flavor complexity to soy sauce based marinades and glazes.
  • Worcestershire sauce – Grilled steaks or burgers are great sauced with mesquite-kissed Worcestershire sauce.
  • Anchovies – Mesquite smoke stands up to and enhances the rich umami flavor of anchovies.
  • Olives – The brininess of olives is balanced by the sweet, woodsy notes of mesquite smoke.
  • Prosciutto – Mesquite smoke pairs nicely with cured, salty Italian meats like prosciutto.


The nutty sweetness of mesquite smoke works well with creamy dairy products. Consider pairing mesquite with:

  • Cheese – Smoked gouda, cheddar, mozzarella all gain depth of flavor from mesquite smoke.
  • Butter – Mesquite smoked butter adds flavor to corn, potatoes, seafood and more.
  • Sour cream – Mesquite smoke balances and cuts through the tang of sour cream as a topping, sauce or dip.
  • Mascarpone – Sweet mascarpone takes on the woodsy flavor of mesquite smoke beautifully.


Mesquite smoke can also be used to add flavor complexity to beverages. It pairs well with:

  • Whiskey – Mesquite smoke smooths out whiskey’s bite and contributes subtle sweetness.
  • Tequila – Grilling limes or oranges over mesquite and using the juice to make margaritas imparts smoky flavor.
  • Wine – Mesquite smoked grapes are used to make unoaked, smoky red wines.
  • Coffee – Smoked over mesquite coals, coffee takes on flavors of wood, caramel and chocolate.
  • Beer – Some breweries smoke malt over mesquite for unique smoky brews.

Flavors to avoid

While mesquite pairs well with many strong, savory flavors, it can overpower some more delicate ingredients. It’s best to avoid using mesquite smoke with:

  • Chicken breasts – The mild flavor of boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be overpowered by intense mesquite smoke.
  • Delicate white fish – Fish like sole, tilapia and flounder are too subtly flavored for strong mesquite smoke.
  • Citrus – The acidity of lemon, lime and orange juice is diminished by smoky flavors.
  • Vinegars – Similarly, the acid in vinegars like white wine vinegar clashes with mesquite smoke.
  • Watermelon – Mesquite overpowers the subtleties of watermelon’s sweetness.


Mesquite wood smoke adds incredible depth, sweetness, and complexity to grilled and smoked foods. To highlight mesquite’s signature flavor, pair it with bold, savory ingredients like beef, pork, zesty herbs and spices, salty accents, and sweet glazes. Avoid delicate flavors that will get lost behind mesquite’s smokiness. With the right complementary flavors, mesquite smoke can be the perfect addition to your next backyard barbecue.