Barbecue vs. Grill Barbecue vs. Grill

Barbecue vs. Grill

What are the major differences between barbecuing and grilling?

There’s BBQ, and there’s grilling. They are both performed outdoors, often on the same equipment, but they are very different things despite the terms being used interchangeably.



This is what most people do in their backyards for dinner. This is also what most of us mean when we say “barbecue.” Grilling is cooking foods hot and fast (usually 500-550 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher). It is usually done over direct heat. Meats like steaks, pork chops, seafood, hamburgers, and hot dogs are great for grilling. Many vegetables and some fruits are also great cooked on the grill. Grilling is done over direct heat, where the flame (either gas or charcoal) is directly below the meat.

Characteristics of Grilling:

Cooking Time - Short, hot and fast. Five to fifteen minutes.

Cooking Temperature - High temperatures, 500°F (260°C) or greater.

Cuts of Meat – Thin or ground cuts such as steak, burgers or chicken breast.

No Smoke – The meat is not on the grill long enough for smoke to impart much flavor.



Barbecuing is cooking foods low and slow. Barbecuing is usually used for cuts of meat like ribs, pork shoulder, beef brisket, or whole chickens or turkeys. These types of meats tend to be tougher, and need the low, slow heat of a barbecue (or a slow-cooker) in order to get them good and tender. Barbecued food is cooked over very low heat (usually 225 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) for a very long time (hours, or even all day long). Barbecuing is often done with indirect heat, where the heat source is connected to the chamber where the meat is held, but the meat is not directly over the flames like on a grill. Charcoal or wood are commonly used as the heat source for barbecue. Different types of wood give off different smoky flavors that the meat can absorb. The best barbecue chefs pride themselves on a very long cooking time to get the tenderest, most flavorful meat.

Characteristics of Barbecue:

Cooking Time - Long, low and slow. From four to twenty-four hours.

Cooking Temperature - Low temperatures, about 225°F (107°C).

Cuts of Meat – Large, tough, fatty meats full of connective tissues such as ribs, shoulder, butts, and brisket.

Smoke – The key ingredient is smoke from aromatic wood like hickory or mesquite.



Don’t let the name fool you – barbecue sauce can be used with either barbecuing or grilling.

Barbecue sauce adds a sweet and spicy flavor to any meat or poultry. Because it usually contains sugar, it will burn above 350°F (177°C). Don’t add it until the last hour if you are barbecuing. Typically, you don’t add barbecue sauce at all when grilling because it will very quickly burn. However, you can add it during the last few minutes of cooking for a nice glaze.


Marinades are often used for foods that will be grilled. The meat (or veggies or fruits) soak in a marinade for anywhere from one hour to overnight. The meat absorbs the flavors and some of the liquid from the marinade. The marinade is discarded, and the meat is cooked (hot and fast) on the grill, resulting in a very juicy, flavorful meal.

With most grilled meats we want to avoid wet marinades as the moisture prevents browning, especially the grill marks that are a commonly loved sign of a perfectly grilled piece of meat. Remember, browning isn’t just a sign of having been cooked– due to the reaction of proteins and sugars caramelizing, it’s an added layer of flavor. We want this, and wet marinades can prevent it..

Seasonings & Spices

Spices can be used in either cooking method. Many barbecued foods are treated with a dry rub of spices before they are cooked. This method can also be used for grilling, or simply shake on your favorite seasonings (or even just a bit of salt and pepper) for some more flavor before putting the meat on the grill..

You’ll find stronger seasonings, both wet or dry, for barbecue compared to grilling. The long cooking time allows the flavors to work their way into the meat, while the lower temperatures don’t burn, carbonize and turn the surface spices bitter.


Will you be barbecuing or grilling this summer?


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