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Grilling and barbecuing, two techniques for making absolutely delicious foods, which are often mistaken for one another. To the unacquainted, many may mistake grilling for barbecuing, or vice versa. But how can you tell the difference?
These two styles both create delicious foods and are great for outdoor parties, family meals, and much more.
Today, we are going to take the time to tell you everything you need to know about grilling and barbecuing, including how to tell the difference, the characteristics of each of these styles, and the types of grills and smokers, so you know exactly what you are doing next time you want to impress your friends and family.
Grilling vs Barbecuing: What Is The Difference?
When we head out onto the deck, we frequently say “grill” and “barbecue” as if they were the same. However, there’s a real and genuine difference, not that many of us know it.
For a real outdoor cook, these differences really do matter, and knowing them is very important.
Normally, when people say they’re “barbecuing” something, they often mean they’re “grilling”. These words have become synonymous with each other, but they actually have different meanings.
However, these concepts are technically different. “Grilling” is when you cook food fast and over a direct heat. This is how we cook steaks, burgers, hot dogs, and so on. Many use fruits and vegetables too.
When we grill, there will be a flame directly under the food. This flame is normally created through charcoal or gas.
Barbecuing, however, isn’t a fast process. Instead, you prepare for a slow and low heat experience. This is perfect for thick meat cuts like pork shoulders or brisket which need a low heat to create a tender texture.
Characteristics For Barbecuing
Barbecuing is typically reserved for meat, which needs a low and slow heat. Specifically, whole chicken, turkey, pork shoulder, and beef briskets do well in a barbecue.
This method allows the meat to reach a tender texture, which melts in your mouth.
It is therefore not a quick cook. It takes longer, and so it is not best used for erratic parties, but instead parties to show off your great barbecuing skills to your friends.
Cooking Time; Long, Low, And Slow From 4-24 Hours
These meats cooked in barbecuing will regularly be cooked for 4 to, sometimes, 24 hours. A long slow cook helps to thoroughly cook these tougher meats all the way through, helping them to become properly tender and tasty. Meats like this often require extra seasoning and flavor, and a long and slow cook can help to achieve extra flavor in the meats too.
Depending on how you cook it. Of course, when you are barbecuing you do not get the smokey taste that you do when you grill, instead you get a more smokey taste, as barbecues come with more smoke and a different type too, however, barbecuing offers plenty of other delicious flavorings and benefits too.
Low Cooking Temperatures (~225ºF)
Cooking at a low temperature means that these meats need to be cooked for longer. However, we don’t know about you, but blasting a whole chicken with your grill does not sound like a great idea, it brings up images of a burned outer skin and an uncooked middle. Yuck!
Obviously, grilling and barbecuing are different, as you typically wouldn’t barbecue a burger for an hour (although you could if you wanted to). This is reserved for meats that really do need this style of cooking to bring the very best to the table.
The temperature and time taken to cook are key aspects of the barbecuing cooking style.
Larger Meat Cuts
Whereas you might grill other meats such as burgers or hot dogs, barbecuing is mostly reserved for larger and tougher meats.
It is all dependent on what the meat requires when cooking. Unlike meats that require barbecuing, which even when done in your kitchen do not need long to cook, larger chunks of meat need a longer cook time.
For Thanksgiving, you could even put your turkey on the smoker if you plan far enough in advance.
When we barbecue, we don’t use an exposed flame. Instead, the heat cooks the food in a separate chamber. This chamber will hold some kind of heating source, like wood or charcoal. It is attached to the area where the food sits, and smokes the meat over a long period of time.
Different wood types will give off unique flavors in the smoke. The meat then absorbs these flavors for a delicious and deep taste.
You know when you’ve seen a real barbecuing genius at work. They stand proud over their equipment, knowing they can withstand a long time around heat to create the most tender and flavorful meats.
Characteristics For Grilling
Grilling is very different from barbecuing. While we typically use these two words interchangeably, they really do have a lot of differences.
People grill in their backyards for dinner. If you have a party, you are not barbecuing, you are grilling. You do not barbecue burgers, you grill them.
It is typically mistaken for barbecuing because the words are just used so casually, and many grills are known as barbecues now, or even barbecue grills, which is even more confusing.
However, they are very different, and they have distinct characteristics that make them so. We know about barbecuing, now to learn about grilling.
Cooking time; Short, Hot, And Fast From 5-15 Minutes
One of the most distinctive features of grilling is how quick and easy it is. Nothing stays on your grill for longer than 15 minutes – save for a few cuts like the coveted tomahawk steak. Grill cooking is quick and very hot, and the meat is not so far from the flame, which is why it cooks so quickly.
When you host a party, and you cook up some burgers outside, you are grilling, the burgers cook fast, close to the flame, they’re on, then they’re off. No age long wait time, like with barbecuing, it’s the outdoor cooking style for the impatient and hungry.
Out of both of these cooking styles, barbecuing is seen as being more artful, whereas grilling is the more popular option.
High Cooking Temperatures (350-500ºF+)
Because the meat is cooked so close to the flame, the temperature is significantly higher, which makes the meat cook much faster. Now, you cannot put a whole turkey on a grill just because you want it to cook faster, that’s not how this works. But we will talk more about that in a moment.
Temperatures on a grill can be more than double what they are on a barbecue – that way you can get a proper sear on your steak. They can reach temperatures of more than 500 degrees, so you should definitely be careful when you are working with a grill, as it is easy to get burned.
Thinner Meat Cuts
So, why can’t you place a whole turkey on a grill? Well, in theory, you could, but it wouldn’t cook very well. On a grill, you cook thin slices of meats, such as ribeye steaks, skirt steak or similar cuts, pork chops, seafood, hamburgers, and hot dogs.
You can also put on vegetables and fruits, or even some tasty buttered potatoes. Whatever you fancy. Grilling is reserved for thin foods that will cook easily over a high flame without getting burned to cinders. If you placed a whole turkey on a grill, the underside would get burned, but the top would stay raw, and it would take ages to cook, to the point where it was burned on the outside before the inside was cooked.
Grills are also different in the fuel used, while it is similar, it does not have the same effect. Sure, you get a unique flavor from grilling, but it is not that powerful, distinct smokey flavor you get from barbecuing.
When grilling, you cook over direct heat, where the flame is directly below the meat, you might get a smokey or charcoal flavor to the food, however, it is not the same smokiness you get from barbecuing.
What Is Grilling?
We have all grown up with grilling in our lives, we watched mom or dad grill up a burger or a hot dog from our youngest years. As kids, we loved watching the meats and vegetables cook over the fire.
You got that pungent smell of beef, with the fat drizzling onto the red-hot coals. Flames dancing around the edges.
Now we love to take to the grill ourselves, enjoy the view as we cook, or maybe get adventurous and see how much we can fit on there, or what new things we can grill.
If you wanted to scientifically define grilling then this would be defined as a fast, dry heat cooking method that uses a significant amount of direct, and radiant heat.
To fry in a pan or on a griddle uses direct conduction heating, while grilling uses thermal radiation.
To be less scientific, grilling temperatures are usually around 500 degrees, which makes this a super speedy cooking method that you have to watch very carefully. Otherwise, you can find your food burst into flames or disintegrated into ash very quickly.
Grilled foods also taste great because of the browning of proteins and sugars that gives the food that unique color and extra flavor.
What Is Barbecuing?
Barbecues are different. They are a style of cooking, well, indirect cooking. It uses a live fire and smoke to heat up your food. A majority of countries and cultures have their own barbecue traditions.
In North America, pit masters will barbecue foods by roasting or smoking them over wood or charcoal fires at low temperatures for several hours. This process will transform whole roasts or tough cuts into tender, succulent pieces of meat.
Barbecuing is a masterful art, in comparison to the home-cooking garden grilling we know better.
In barbecuing, as the cooking process, cooking equipment, and the meals are so entwined, all of them are referred to as barbecue. You can accurately barbecue ribs, get the smoke going on a barbecue, and enjoy a plate of barbecued chicken.
While in the English language, barbecue is an adverb, noun, and adjective, for those who love barbecuing, and for the pit masters who have mastered the art. Barbecuing is not just a word, it is a way of life.
Because not only is it a unique cooking style, but because it also takes time and effort. You have to be dedicated to the cooking process.
Types of Grilling
First, let us focus on grills and how to grill. There are a myriad of ways to classify a grill, and even more ways to categorize them.
We find the best way to sort through them is through fire and food. The average griller won’t know the history of grills around the world, so instead let’s use information they will know!
But the most common way you can categorize grilling is from your own preferences. By the placement of the fire, and where in relation to the fire you place the food.
This is what determines what temperature you need to cook at, and how fast the food will cook.
Being able to acknowledge and control these factors can go a very long way towards being a successful master of the grill!
Open grills are commonly found in camping sites. They are made of either a stone box, or a metal one. You can use wood, charcoal or propane gas to fuel these grills, and over them with an optional grate,
These types of grills are best used for direct and high-heat grilling. It is best used for small and tender foods such as sates, kebabs, steaks, pork or lamb chops, fillets of fish, vegetables, and so on. I.e. foods that will always cook quickly.
When you have an open grill, if you add a lid that you can lower and raise, then you end up getting a covered grill. Okay, so this isn’t a mind-blowing statement, but the lid gives you way more options as a griller.
With a lid in place, you can turn your grill into a barbecue. This is because you’ll unlock the ability to smoke your meats.
You now have the option to grill using the live flames, or smoke your goods using the lid! But we should mention that smoking is only possible when you use charcoal grills.
It works well for thick steaks such as beef steaks or tuna steaks. You can also use this for thick pork, or veal chops. You can also try to be a bit more ambitious with even larger foods, although it’s best to leave this to the barbecues.
Vessel grills are ceramic grills, but with a twist. These grills have thick walls and a deep belly. They are fueled by coals in that deep belly. This depth can hold a lot of different foods.
In some vessel grills, you can hand food on the walls. This is a popular method to cook bread. Other options allow you to create a vertical spit.
You can use these grills for high-heat roasting, grilling, and smoking. You could cook bread like an Indian naan on the walls of a tandoor with this.
Grills with rotisseries add movement to the simple catering of grilling. The slow and careful rotation of a spit evens out the process, so this is best for thicker foods that may need assistance on being evenly cooked. It bastes the meat, so it melts out the fat and browns the exterior nicely.
Spit-roasted meats will come out crispy on the outside and tender and succulent on the inside with this type of grilling method.
It combines the beauty of direct and indirect grilling all in one.
Open pits are much like campfire style grills. In the old days, grilling was not performed on a grill, but over a cooking fire pit. Although primal, this method is still very popular, especially in North and South America.
This is often used for roasting, but with a strong or “radiant” heat. It is typically a technique used for fish fillets with their skin-on, whole lamb, pig, salmon, and beef ribs.
Fish is frequently a very popular choice for open pit grilling, and we can see why, it takes us back to our roots, and lets us enjoy fish through a cooking method used a long time ago by our ancestors.
We mentioned charcoal grills earlier, and they are still a long-time favorite of many. Charcoal grills are easy to use, and we love the smoky, rich flavor which charcoal grills give.
All charcoal grills operate with the same basic similarities. The air intake is one of these similarities, and it makes grilling so much easier. You control it and once the temperature within stabilizes in the zone that you are cooking, it will remain constant and consistent as you cook. As long as you have enough charcoal to keep it running at that temperature.
This is one of the main benefits and is a reason why it is so loved.
Aside from charcoal grills, gas is another very popular grill option. Gas and propane grills all operate very similarly, burners typically emit the same amount of heat and fire on three or four burners to cook your food from below with direct, or indirect heat.
One of the appeals of cooking with gas is the convenience, heating up fast, and with many accessory options available to enhance your experience when cooking.
There is also a smaller clean-up than with charcoal grills, you do not get the mess of the charcoal, and many do love this about them.
Gas grills come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and prices. You can find budget gas grills, or gas grills that build-in to an outdoor kitchen. Further, you can find luxury grills that are commercial quality.
Pellet grills are not as popular as they once were, but recently they have made a comeback as a convenient and flavorful option. One of the most appealing things about pellet grills is that they really do act as a smoker and a grill, which makes for a brilliant selling feature.
They also have a reputation for not browning or searing the meat as effectively as other grills, but manufacturers are working on this.
Electric grills are grilling units that do not use any fuel, no flame, no fuel, it is just plugged in and uses an electric element to supply a constant heat source. They are simple and easy, however not traditional, and you totally miss out on the typical smokey, or charcoal flavor you would get with a traditional grill.
It is a modern invention for easy, at-home grilling. At least you have a backup plan if it rains?
Portable grills are great grills that can go anywhere. Ideal for campers. You will often get them as a gas grill option, with a 1lb propane tank that will give you enough fuel for two hours.
They are an ideal option for taking on camping trips, and on adventurous excursions. However, if you do have a gas option to take on a camping trip, make sure you take enough propane with you.
Kamado grills are ceramic egg-shaped grills of Japanese origin. They are more popular among many cooks, as it is a very versatile unit. It is also easy to use and has very easy maintenance. You can grill, smoke, roast, and cook all of your food, together, or separately.
They are becoming more and more popular of late among many avid grillers, and it is no surprise as to why.
Types of Barbecuing
Much like grills, barbecues also vary, and you can get many types of barbecue. Barbecues are different from grills, as they do require different parts to cook in the way you need to get those tough meats super succulent and tasty.
The type of barbecue you use will provide you with different flavorings too. There are three primary styles of barbecue cooking, and each of them has its own benefits. A very common and tasty one is wood barbecues, but we won’t get too much into that, just yet.
Which of these barbecues you use depends on your own personal preference.
Barbecuing is a longer process than grilling, so for those who are still not the most patient, and love the taste of barbecue, but hate having to go back to the barbecue to keep fueling it, or waiting for ages for it to heat up adequately.
Gas barbecues are easy, all you need to do is turn on the gas and press the ignition. Then within a few minutes, your barbecue will be good to go. While you do not get that wooden, or smokey taste you do on other barbecues, it has been improved, and it is almost at a stage where you cannot tell the difference.
Although, for those with super-sensitive taste buds, it might still be noticeable.
Of course, using wood is also easy. You just pop your chosen wood into the grill and light it on fire via your chosen method. Some would say that barbecuing with wood offers a better flavor, as wood burns, it releases a flavorful smoke that is absorbed by your food.
Some people think that wood barbecuing tastes better than charcoal barbecuing even, due to the flavors released by the wood. However, we will leave this up to you. Only you can decide what you think tastes best.
Offset smokers simply cook your meat by smoking it in a long, horizontal chamber. It is placed alongside the heat instead of directly above it.
This makes adjusting the heat and replenishing the fuel much easier to do. This is so because there is no need to move the food out of the way so that you can add coals or wood to your heat source.
Using a smoker gives you that authentic barbecue flavor that comes from smoking meat. Through this particular type of barbecuing, your foods will take on a smoky, barbecue flavor.
Grilling And Barbecuing Methods, Ways, and Techniques
Before we finish up, we want to talk to you about some of the words that we have used. If you are a newbie to the grill or barbecue, some of these words and phrases might be a little bit confusing, and so, it is worthwhile to understand what they mean.
Words such as direct, or indirect when applied to grilling and barbecuing are what we are talking about. These are in reference to methods and techniques for grilling and barbecuing that will cook your meat in unique ways that will add different textures and flavors to your food.
Direct grilling is the most common way of grilling. It is the go-to technique for all backyard parties when you’re making some tasty hamburgers or hot dogs.
With this, your food is cooked directly over the coals, usually quickly at high temperatures, to produce a crunchy, or gently charred exterior and tasty interior. This is suitable for small, fast-cooking meats, such as steak, kebabs, chicken cuts, and fish.
It is also great for burgers, and hot dogs, and other grilled-up party foods for your summer get-togethers.
Grill smoking is the one that we all love, but most of us do not know how to do it. It is a wonderful invention that is worth the love it gets. It gives off a smoky flavor.
You just need to soak a cup of wood chips in water for thirty minutes and then add them to the burning charcoal. Close your grill and check from time to time to see if the smoke dissipates, as a cue for you to replenish the chips inside the smoker.
It smokes your food rather than cooking it directly over the flame, and gives it a delicious smokey taste, that cliché barbecue flavor we all love.
Indirect grilling (or two zone grilling) is another popular style of grilling that certainly has many fans. The food will rest on a grill over a foil drip pan. This has coals burning around it. The grill lid will stay closed, and this makes the heat rise and reflects off the underside of the lid to cook the food more slowly and evenly on every side.
This is a technique best reserved for the bigger meats and is more significantly tied to barbecuing than grilling. It works for whole chickens and turkeys really well. This is because it provides a less-intense heat so that they will keep their moistness.
Spit roasting is a delicious way to cook if you have never tried it. As the rotisserie rotates over the hot coals, the juices will stay inside the meat instead of dripping onto the coals – which would typically cause a flare-up. This self-basting style gives your meats a juicy inside, while still providing some crispy skin.
We definitely recommend this method of cooking for large meat cuts, including whole chickens, suckling pigs, and whole legs of lamb. It is suitable for any meats that require a long cooking time.
Of course, this is a delicious barbecuing method, however, for newbies, you can also get rotisserie ovens that cook the meat in the same way, but use an oven system instead of hot coals. You do not get the smokey, barbecue flavor, but the cooking method is the same in other ways.
If you have never tried rotisserie cooking, you certainly should!
What Can You Grill
- Hot dogs and sausages
- Fish (like salmon) and Shellfish
- Boneless chicken
What Can You Barbecue?
- Beef or Pork Ribs
- Whole Chickens
- Pork shoulders
- Beef brisket
- Whole Turkeys
Grilling and barbecuing are both very similar cooking methods. Both use a grill top and a fuel source such as gas, coals, or wood. However, they do have plenty of differences. While grilling is quick and hot, barbecuing is a longer process, with much lower temperatures.
Which is better is up to you, there is no better way to cook, however, each of these cooking styles is best suited for different types of food. While grilling is best for thin meat cuts, barbecuing is best for thicker meats, or even a whole turkey or chicken.
There are also different cooking techniques for each of these two types of outdoor cooking, however, it is up to you to decide which you will try, although we definitely recommend trying out spit-roasting and smoking.
These two cooking styles are very similar, but at the same time, very different.