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Sara Hansen

What Is The Difference Between Barbecuing, Smoking, & Grilling?

Unless you are a competition BBQ cooker, you may not know all of the intricacies and science that separates barbecuing, smoking, and grilling. Even though they all involve cooking outdoors over a heat source, they are not all the same thing. Many times, people use these words (especially barbecuing and grilling) interchangeably when they actually are all very different from each other. 

Elevate your outdoor cooking game by taking the time to learn the distinctions between these cooking methods and wow your friends, neighbors, and family at your next backyard party or tailgate event with your new knowledge.

The biggest things that differentiate each method from the others is the type of heat used and the total cook time. Let’s break down exactly what the differences are between barbecuing, smoking, and grilling.


What Makes It Barbecuing?

The phrase that you should remember when it comes to differentiating barbecuing from other cooking methods is “low and slow”. Meaning low heat and slower cooking times. Temperatures for barbecuing range from 190 degrees Fahrenheit to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking times are usually in the range of several hours (roughly 4-6).

Barbecuing meat started about 1.8 million years ago during the times of Homo Erectus. Even before Homo sapiens. It was a way to cook and tenderize tough cuts of meat from many animals, like cows or whole pigs, that traveled long distances. 

By cooking meat over indirect heat (away from a flame) at lower temperatures for longer periods the meat becomes very tender and flavorful. Resulting in the meat being juicy and almost falling off the bone. Most of the cuts of meat that outdoor cooks use for barbecuing are large bone-in cuts (often pork). Like ribs, brisket, pork butt, and pork shoulder.

Barbecuing (or barbeque) is also often the word that people use, somewhat incorrectly, as a “catch-all” term for large social gatherings involving any type of outdoor cooking. Even if the food is actually is being grilled or smoked. This is often where a lot of the confusion comes from regarding the difference between the methods.



what is the difference between barbecuing and grilling | barbecue ribs | BBQ meatSource: Tastymeat.net


So What Is Smoking Meat?

Smoking meat has many similarities with barbecuing meat. The one thing that truly sets it apart is that one of the main goals of smoking meat is to impart the smoky flavor from the smoldering hardwood into the meat itself. This is done by enclosing it in a smoky chamber over the indirect heat from the smoking wood. During this process, meat is also cooked at lower temperatures and long cooking times. Smoking often requires a lot of patience and great high-quality cuts of meat. Smoked meats can take anywhere from 6-8 hours for some cuts to around 20 hours for a brisket.

The Paleolithic era was also the time that smoking meat originated. During the process of smoking meat to cook it all the way through, locking the moisture and natural flavors into the meat. Resulting in amazing taste and aroma.

There are two methods of smoking: “cold” smoking and hot smoking. Cold smoking is done at a temperature range of 68 degrees Fahrenheit to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. This method is used mainly only to impart the smoked flavor onto meats or food that is already cured or cooked. Examples of things that are great for cold smoking are chicken breasts, sausage, beef, scallops, salmon, and cheese.

Hot smoking meat is done at temperatures ranging from 300 degrees Fahrenheit to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. With hot smoking, the goal is to not only impart the smoky flavor but to also cook the meat all the way through. Like barbecuing, hot smoking is great for large cuts of meat like ribs, pork shoulder, brisket, ham, and ham hocks. Hot smoked meats are often cooked further later or reheated but you can eat it immediately if the meat is cooked all the way through.

An important thing to remember to achieve great smoked meats and food is to use a great smoker and good quality wood chips.



what is the difference between barbecuing and smoking | smoked chicken | BBQ meatSource: Choco Chicken


How Is Grilling Different?

Grilling meat is the method that is most often utilized by the average backyard outdoor cooker. The thing that sets grilling apart from both barbecuing and smoking meat is that in this method the meat is cooked hot and fast over direct heat. Grilling is done at much higher temperatures than the other methods. In a range from 325 degrees Fahrenheit to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. This method gives the food a good sear and char on the outside. This also helps to seal in the natural juices and flavors of the meat.

The method of backyard grilling meat on a metal grill rack like we all know today started in 1952. George Stephen, of Weber Bros. Metal Spinning Company, modified their popular harbor buoy into what is known today as the Weber Grill. With the introduction of the Weber grill, backyard grilling swept America. Grilling is now a popular cooking method performed in cultures all over the world.

Grilling is done usually on gas or charcoal grills. More recently we’ve seen the introduction of higher-end infrared grills as well. Meats that are great for grilling are steaks, chicken, burgers, hotdogs or sausages, seafood, and more. Vegetables and fruits are also great grilling additions to help kick your backyard event or tailgate party up a notch. 

You can also enjoy a great barbeque sauce on grilled meats even if you aren’t barbecuing. Just make sure to brush the BBQ sauce on when the meat is almost finished since the sugars in the sauce can allow it to burn over high heat.


what is the difference between barbecuing and grilling | what is grilling | grilled steaks
Source: Sayers Brook Bison Ranch


Wrapping It All Up

These names of these cooking methods above are all too often used interchangeably. But, as you can see, even though barbecuing, smoking, and grilling may have similarities, they are not the same. They all have distinctions that set them apart. They can also produce very different flavor profiles.

Hopefully, after reading this article you have a better grasp of the differences and goals of each method. The main things to remember are:

  • Barbecuing: Temp. range of 190 - 275 degrees Fahrenheit
    Cooked for roughly 4 - 6 hours
  • Smoking: Cold smoking = Temp. range of 68 - 86 degrees Fahrenheit
    Hot smoking = Temp. range of 300 - 450 degrees Fahrenheit
    Smoking is done for roughly 6 - 20 hours
  • Grilling: Temp. range of 325 - 550 degrees Fahrenheit
    Cooked for much less duration, often less than 30 minutes

Taking the time to learn the science and techniques behind different cooking methods like this, especially when it comes to meat, will help you elevate your outdoor cooking game to new levels.

Do you have a preferred cooking method? Have you tried your hand at smoking? Think you can grill a perfect steak since you’ve mastered the temperature? Tell us about it. Leave a comment below. We want to hear from you!

Here at BBQ Champs Academy, we can help you kick up your outdoor cooking game even further. Join award-winning Pitmasters and Grillmasters in our tell-all online cooking school and learn the best techniques and secrets to competition cooking. Check out our classes today!

Sara Hansen

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