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Sara Hansen

Grilling vs Smoking: Which is Better for Your Meat?

Grilling and smoking are both popular methods for cooking meat (and other foods). But which one is the better choice? 

This debate often comes down to several variables, including personal preference, but a better understanding of the differences between the two can help you make an informed decision. 

In this article, we’ve broken down the difference in grilling vs smoking, the pros and cons of both, and which method works best for certain meats.


The Difference in the Cooking Process & Pros/Cons

Between grilling and smoking, both of these outdoor cooking methods produce delicious results, but they differ in the way they cook the meat and the flavors they impart.


Grilling is the process of cooking meat over an open flame or a high-heat surface. This method is great for cooking smaller cuts of meat, including steaks, pork chops, burgers, and sausages/hot dogs. Grilling is a fast and convenient way to cook meat, and it's perfect for summer barbecues and bigger backyard gatherings. 

The high heat of grilling creates a more pronounced char flavor on the exterior of the meat, which gives it a nice but slightly tougher texture than smoked meat. This is because the higher cooking temperatures causes a browning of the exterior during what is known as a Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction that occurs between the meat’s amino acids and sugars when they are heated. This reaction produces a variety of flavor compounds that give grilled meat its characteristic flavor.


Pros of Grilling:

  • A quick and easy way to cook meat. You can have a perfectly cooked steak or burger in just a few minutes.
  • It creates a flavorful char on the exterior of the food.
  • You can grill a variety of foods, including meat, seafood, vegetables, and even fruit.
  • It is a healthy way to cook meat, as any excess fat drips off the meat and into the flames. This means that grilled meat is leaner and lower in calories than meat cooked using other methods.


Cons of Grilling:

  • You can overcook food easily, especially if you are fairly new to grilling. This is because the cooking temperatures are high and juices within the meat can evaporate quickly. And, sometimes, without a digital meat thermometer, it can be tough to judge the doneness of the food.
  • It can create a smoky mess if the food is not cooked properly, the grill is not properly cleaned, or you have overcrowded the grill.


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Smoking is the process of cooking using smoke and low heat over a longer period. This method is great for cooking larger cuts of meat like brisket, pork butt, ribs, and whole chicken/turkey. Smoking requires a bit more effort and preparation than grilling, but the result is a tender and flavorful piece of meat.

Smoked meat has a milder flavor and a more tender texture, compared to grilled meat. This is because the lower cooking temperature allows the smoke to penetrate the exterior of the meat, adding flavor without overcooking it. The smoke and longer cooking times also help to break down the collagen in the meat, making it more tender.


Pros of Smoking Meat:

  • It imparts a rich and smoky flavor to the meat (but a milder flavor than when grilling). The low and slow cooking process with the added wood smoke gives it a unique flavor that can't be achieved with any other method.
  • Makes the meat incredibly tender and juicy, as the low heat breaks down the connective tissue in the meat.
  • This method can also be used to cook a wide variety of foods. (Though some items are better grilled and vice versa. See more on this below.)


Cons of Smoking Meat:

  • With lower cooking temperatures, it does take longer to cook the items to the proper temperature.
  • It can be more difficult to master this cooking method compared to grilling.

Both grilling and smoking are great methods for cooking meat. And, as you can see, each one has its advantages and disadvantages. If you're looking for a quick and easy way to cook small cuts of meat, grilling is the way to go. If you want to cook a large cut of meat and have the time to spare, smoking is the better method. Ultimately, the choice between grilling and smoking comes down to personal preference and the specific type of meat you're cooking.


So, Which is Better for the Different Types of Meat?

Now you should have a better idea of exactly how each method cooks the food and the pros and cons of each. But how does this apply to the different types of meat specifically? Let’s break down which method, grilling vs smoking, is best depending on exactly what you are cooking:


Grilling is a great option for chicken since it is a lean meat that doesn't require a lot of time to cook. You can quickly sear smaller cuts of chicken like breasts, thighs, wings on a hot grill and get a nice char and flavor. Smoking whole chicken can also be delicious, but it does require more time and effort. If you do decide to smoke chicken, be sure to brine it first to help keep it as moist as possible.


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Beef is a meat that can benefit from both grilling and smoking it. Grilling is ideal for smaller cuts like steak and burgers that are best cooked quickly over high heat. While smoking is great for larger, tougher cuts like brisket that need to cook slowly over a long period to become tender and flavorful. If you're new to smoking beef, start with an “easier” cut like a tri-tip or chuck roast.



Pork is another meat that can do well either grilled or smoked, depending on the specific cut. Grilling is great for pork chops and pork tenderloin, which can be cooked quickly over high heat. While smoking is ideal for pork shoulder or ribs, which need to be cooked more slowly to become tender. When smoking pork, opt for using fruit woods like apple or cherry for a sweeter, more delicate flavor.



When it comes to fish, grilling is most often the best option. Fish is delicate and can easily become overcooked and dry, so grilling it quickly over high heat is ideal. Fattier/oilier fish, like tuna, salmon, sea bass, and snapper, are the types of fish that hold up the best directly on the grill. Leaving the skin on the filet will help even more to ensure that they do not stick to the grates. 

You can also smoke fish (and even lobster!), but it requires a lot of care and attention to ensure that the fish doesn't dry out or become too smoky. If you do decide to smoke fish, consider using a mild wood like alder or maple to complement the delicate flavor of the fish.


You Can Make an Informed Decision on if Grilling or Smoking is Best


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In the battle of grilling vs smoking, both methods prove to have their advantages and drawbacks. Grilling offers a faster, more convenient way to cook meat, with a delicious charred flavor and attractive grill marks. On the other hand, smoking provides a distinct smoky taste, enhanced by your choice of wood and a longer, slow-cooking process that tenderizes the meat.

Ultimately, the decision boils down to the type of meat, your personal preference, and the desired outcome. Those seeking a quicker, high-heat cooking method will prefer grilling, while those who appreciate the art of slow cooking and complex flavors will lean towards smoking. Experimenting with both techniques and various recipes will help determine the best fit for your taste buds and cooking preferences.

Do you have a preferred cooking method between grilling or smoking? Switch back and forth depending on what you're cooking? Leave a comment below, we want to hear about it!


Do you want to take your outdoor cooking skills to the next level? Learn from the best with BBQ Champs Academy! Our virtual BBQ Classes are taught by competition-winning Grillmasters and Pitmasters, who will teach you everything you need to know to master your grill or smoker.

In our Championship backyard BBQ classes, you'll learn how to make 20 different delicious recipes, including herb-roasted chicken, Texas-style prime Rib, brine smoked turkey, and more! And if you want to level-up to competition caliber BBQ cooking, get your All-Access pass today. Not only will you master how to properly smoke brisket, ribs, pork butt, and chicken, but we'll also share valuable insider tips that will help you take your BBQ to the next level.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up for a BBQ Champs Academy today and start cooking like a pro!

Plus, don't forget to subscribe to the BBQ Champs Academy YouTube channel! There you'll find exclusive content from our Grillmasters and Pitmasters, including BBQ competition news, tips and tricks straight from the pros, and behind-the-scenes footage.

Sara Hansen

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