What’s The Difference Between Grilling, Barbecue, and Smoking?

There are some people who use the words grilling and barbecue interchangeably. It’s sort of understandable when you consider just how much they have in common. They both use fire, both cook meat, and sometimes fish or vegetables. Yet, when we look a little closer at them, you’ll see the difference in temperature and the types of meat they cook make a world of difference. When we toss in the word “Smoking” or “Cold Smoking” things start to get even more granular.

What Is Grilling?

Grilling is a method of cooking food, particularly meat over direct heat. For our purposes here, we’re talking about outdoor grilling. Though in the world of professional restaurants a “Grill Station” is often a large indoor appliance for marking off steaks, chops, and cuts of chicken.

When you’re grilling at home you are usually dealing with high temperatures of 350 degrees or more. There are even some infrared grills that can push upwards of 1,000 degrees. Most of the time when you’re grilling the meat is kissing the flames for only a few minutes at a time. Take for example a Steak, grilled to a perfect, pink medium-rare, which only needs about four minutes per side.

Common Grilled Foods

  • Steaks
  • Bratwursts
  • Hot Dogs
  • Hamburger Patties
  • Chicken Breasts
  • Pork Chops
  • Pork Tenderloins

What Is Hybrid Grilling?

Right off the bat, it’s important to note that there is a difference between a Hybrid Grill, which uses two different fuel sources, and Hybrid Grilling which is a cooking method.

Hybrid grilling is where the direct heat of grilling gets turned down a notch as it flirts with the cooking concepts in traditional barbecue. Not all grills are capable of hybrid grilling as it requires you to develop two different heat zones.

You see there are some cuts of meat that are downright tough and even if you cook them over direct heat to their proper internal temperature of 165-degrees, they are still too chewy to enjoy. This is because of all the connective tissue woven into the meat.

When you are hybrid grilling, the goal is to cook the meat over low heat around 200 to 250-degrees, for a longer period of time. This could be 20 to even 45 minutes. This low heating method causes the connective tissues in the meat to breakdown and renders into gelatin, which then permeates the meat with succulent juiciness.

Once the meat is tender, you then fire up the high heat side of the grill. When the grates are good and hot, you move the tender piece of meat over the high flame to sear it off with those attractive grill marks that everyone loves. This also helps punch up the flavor via a process known as the Maillard Reaction.

Common Foods For Hybrid Grilling

  • Chicken Wings
  • Chicken Drumsticks and Leg Quarters
  • Bone-In Chicken Thighs
  • Stuffed Pork Chops
  • Tri-Tip Beef Roast

The Best Grills For Hybrid Grilling

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Napoleon T495SBNK Triumph Natural Gas with 4 Burners Review

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Broil King 988847 Sovereign XLS 90 Natural Gas Grill w/ Side Burner & Rear Rotisserie Burner Review

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What Is Barbecue?

Barbecue’s earliest roots in the New World extend back to native people living in the Caribbean who slow cooked tough pieces of meat over a smoky fire. Today it has spread throughout the United States, Canada, and even South America. Each subculture it encounters puts their own local spin on it.

In the Carolinas, barbecue is a whole hog affair, often with a mustard sauce. In Texas, barbecue is largely beef, heavy on the smoked brisket. In Kansas City sticky sauces are added. Yet in Memphis those sauces are traded in for more dry rubs. Travel out west to California and Merino Grilling adds vegetables and an almost Mediterranean flair.

At its heart Barbecue is the art of cooking meat, over indirect heat, often with a significant amount of smoke, over a prolonged period of time. Just like the early stages of hybrid grilling the goal is to slowly breakdown tough collagen in the muscle fibers while also rendering the fat in a “Slow-and-Low” cooking process. This calls for temperatures between 185 to 250 degrees.

Seasonings on the surface often combine with the slowly melting fat and the surrounding hot smoke to saturate deep into the meat. The more fat a particular cut has the more smoke it can absorb. This means that barbecue is a process of hours, sometimes an entire day. It also lends itself to tougher, inexpensive pieces of meat.

Common Barbecue Meats For Smoking

  • Beef Brisket
  • Pork Shoulder (Boston Butt)
  • Pork Ribs
  • Beef Ribs
  • Country-Style Ribs
  • Whole Chickens
  • Whole Turkeys
  • Salmon And Trout Fillets

The type of smoking wood being used for these various cuts is equally rich with traditions. They often find their roots from the hardwood trees growing in a particular area. Though today barbecue has spread out and vendors offer wood chips or wood chunks in stores as well as via online retailers.

This means that today you can get just about any type of smoking wood for a price. Each wood has its own distinct characteristics that will influence the flavor of the meat over the long-term smoking process.

Popular Smoking Woods For Classic Barbecue

  • Hickory
  • Mesquite
  • Applewood
  • Alder
  • Oak
  • Cherry Wood
  • Nut Woods Like Pecan
  • Ground Wine And Whiskey Barrels
  • The Best Smokers For Classic Barbecue
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What Is BBQ Smoking?

Smoking is another variation of barbecue, that’s sometimes referred to as “Cold Smoking” because it invokes very low temperatures. Most cold smoking techniques even use the same smoking woods you find with traditional barbecue. However, the temperatures that they smoke at are generally between 125 to 175 degrees. In some cases, the cold smoking isn’t intended to cook the meat through completely, but instead to help preserve it.

Common Foods For Cold Smoking

  • Salmon Fillets (Wild Caught, Skin-On, Or Farm Raised)
  • Trout (Whole or as fillets)
  • Shell-On Shrimp
  • Shellfish
  • White Fish
  • Smoked Kippers
  • Cheese
  • Fresh Sausage (Links or Rings)

There are also some deli meats and game meats that call for cold smoking to add flavor, without fully cooking it through. Bacon is a prime example, where a pork belly is placed in a wet cure for 10 to 14 days to start the preservation process. Then it is placed in a cold smoker for several hours to impart the rich smoky flavor that everyone loves, before slicing and packaging. To actually cook the bacon, the rasher slices are later put in a hot pan.

The Best Smokers For Cold Smoking

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