Burning logs in a Barbecue pit firebox

Barbeque, Grilling, and Smoking: What’s the Difference?

You can’t have a conversation about cooking outdoors without hearing the words barbeque, grilling, and smoking. Most people consider these three elements synonymous, but do they really mean the same thing? Can you perform these cooking methods interchangeably and not change the outcome of whatever food you’re preparing? To help you prevent any dinner disasters, we are here to set the record straight.

It All Starts With a Grill

That’s right; if you’ve got a grill, you can barbeque, grill, and smoke foods. However, there is a fundamental difference between these three terms, the temperature and type of heat used. Ensuring you employ the proper cooking method, let’s take a closer look at each.

Grilling is About the Heat

Whether you’re using a charcoal or gas grill, you know you’re grilling when you use high, direct heat for short periods. We are talking a minimum of 375° F for no more than an hour. Cooking steaks or chops? Crank the heat up to 450° to 500° F. The most tender cuts of meats like T-bones, ribeyes, and strip steaks, do best with this high heat approach. Grilling preserves the tenderness while preventing the meat from overcooking and drying out. Other foods like burgers, veggies, and fish are better cooked at a lower temp around 375° to 450° F. Small roasts and chickens are best cooked at medium heat (325° to 375° F) for about 45 to 60 minutes.

Larger Cuts of Meats Benefit From Barbequing

The best meats for barbequing are larger cuts such as beef brisket, a whole turkey, or pork shoulder, also known as pork butt, rib roast, or slab of ribs. Unlike the high heat/short-time method for grilling, here you’re going to want a low heat with a long cooking time. Most barbeque recipes require low temps 225° to 250° F. Barbequing large cuts of meat can take hours, and maintaining even temps throughout the entire process is crucial to a satisfactory result. For a gas grill, you can turn the temp to low for the duration of the cooking time, whereas you’ll need to add briquets to a charcoal grill every hour or so to keep the temp steady.

Smoking is Barbequing Amplified

Now that you’ve got barbequing down, time to throw in some smoldering wood chunks or chips, each imparting their flavor into whatever food your smoking like meats, nuts, cheese, or vegetables. Although there are numerous smoking wood flavors, some of the most common include mesquite, apple, hickory, cherry, peach, and pecan. Wood chunks burn slowly, releasing smoke over long periods, while chips burn quickly, giving off their smoke flavor in bursts. What you’re smoking will help you determine the best wood flavor or combination of flavors to use. Temperatures for this cooking method must be between 125 and 175 degrees F. If you’ve never smoked foods before, know that a 24-hour smoking time isn’t uncommon.

Now that you know the difference between barbeque, grilling, and smoking, it’s time to get out there and fire that grill up!