Grill vs Barbecue… Not The Same!

In California the terms “grill” and “barbecue” are used interchangeably. This is incorrect and nutsmaking to barbecue aficionados. The confusion is compounded when the same piece of equipment is used at home for grilling and barbecue. The two cooking methods are radically different.

Grilling is a relatively fast, direct heat method of cooking. Food is cooked on a grill; just a few inches above live coals or gas flames, often at temperatures exceeding 550°F. Examples of meat that would be good for grilling are steak, hamburgers and hot dogs.

The high heat caramelizes (converts the natural sugars in the meat to a sweet brown crust) the surface of the food and seals in the juices. In the U.S., grilled meat is often served anywhere from blood rare to medium.

Grilling is a popular way to cook, just about everywhere in the world and is prepared using every conceivable combination of marinades and spices.

Barbecue is a slow, indirect, low-heat method of cooking.

In fact, it’s the opposite of grilling. Barbecue uses smoldering wood to simultaneously smoke and cook the food at temperatures between 180 and 250°F.

Examples of cuts of meat that are good for barbecue would be the tougher, larger and less expensive cuts, such as brisket, pork shoulder, ribs and even the whole damn pig. That’s right – from snout to tail.

Smoldering wood generates smoke that gives barbecue its wonderful sweet and smoky flavor. The heat source should be separated from the cooking chamber to provide indirect heat. In order to circulate a uniform amount of heat and smoke to all the food throughout the chamber a fan or rotating rack is helpful.

Beware of a common but unhealthy hybrid of the two processes: grilling a piece of meat that contains fat on a covered grill — and what meat doesn’t contain fat? The thick black smoke that results from fat dripping on live coals is trapped inside the grill and bathes the meat with carcinogenic soot.

This is practiced at home and even at some businesses. You can see the clouds of smoke pouring out from under covered grills as you drive by supermarkets and delis around the county. Read a Reuters article that explains the relationship of grilling to cancer at