What’s the Difference Between Grilling and Barbecue (BBQ)?

By John Hoff / August 12, 2014
what-is-grilling what-is-barbecue

Grilling is when you cook food over high heat (hot and fast).

Barbecuing is when you cook over low or indirect heat (low and slow).


I’ll admit it…

Before I became an avid barbecue enthusiast I thought barbecue and grilling were the same thing.

Little did I know that one day when the younger version of myself would mention the word “barbecue” to a competition cook (when he was grilling) that I was about to get a quick lesson which would change the way I looked at grilling and barbecue for the rest of my life.

I wish I knew the cook’s name so I could give him credit.

But all I can remember were those insightful words he spoke while he flipped burgers surrounded by that savory flavored smoke we all love and which filled the air between us.

I can smell those burgers cooking while I type this today.

He said to me…

“Son this ain’t barbecuing, this here is grilling. We barbecue low and slow and we grill hot and fast.”

Typically you grill smaller/thinner foods (like thin steaks and chicken breasts) while you barbecue thicker cuts of meat (like pork shoulders, thick steaks, brisket).

But that idea is far from being a rule set in stone.

You can barbecue chicken wings (second image shown above) even though they are small. You can also mix it up some and cook larger cuts of food using both methods as long as you prepare them right, like how Bobby Flay does with this butterfly chicken.

The reason we barbecue a large brisket verses grilling it is because by the time the interior of the meat reaches a safe cooking temperature to eat, the outer layer of the meat (surface) will be charred to a crisp.

So the method then is to cook the brisket low and slow so the meat can gently come to a relatively even temperature.

True the surface will be more well done than the center, but not nearly as much as if you were to cook hot and fast.

Does Adding Smoke Mean You Are Barbecuing?

No, it doesn’t.

Most barbecue pros that I know of think of smoke more as an ingredient.

smokeboxFor example, you can add a smoker box to your grill (see link for 3 options).

Another way to add smoke might be to cold smoke, but that’s a whole other thing.

You could also add liquid smoke or even smoke food in your oven (see video below).

Smoking ribs in the oven…

As you can see, just because you add smoke to your food does not necessarily mean that you are barbecuing.

Have you ever gotten grilling confused with barbecue?

About the author

John Hoff

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