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What is the difference between barbecuing, grilling, and smoking?

We are sure that at some point in your life you have heard someone say that barbecuing and grilling aren’t the same things. That conversation then usually then turns to smoking and how, again, that is totally different from the other two. All three methods of cooking are done on a grill (or can be, some people do buy dedicated stand-alone smokers). It doesn’t matter if you prefer to use a gas grill or charcoal – you can make amazing meals with both types of fuel. Well, if these three methods of cooking are done on the same piece of equipment, how are they so different?

In a nutshell, this is the difference between the three:

Cooking something over a fire, charcoal, coals, or wood slowly and at a low temperature.Cooking something quickly (usually utilizing natural gas) at a hot temperature.Cooking something utilizing smoke very slowly at a low temperature.


Barbequing basically means to cook something over a fire (either direct heat or indirect heat), charcoal, coals, or wood, at low (temperatures between 190°F and 300°F) and slow (more than an hour). This method of cooking works well for larger cuts of meat, such as beef brisket, pork shoulder, whole turkey, slabs of ribs, and more. You want to cook these larger pieces slowly over several hours to lock in the flavor and juiciness and to ensure a tender piece of meat. It is also perfect for smaller meats like steaks, sausages, chicken pieces, and more. The main trick to getting barbeque just right is maintaining the correct temperature inside the barbeque throughout the cook. If you are using gas, this is an easy task. If you prefer charcoal, you will need to add fresh coals every hour or so. Barbequing is also wonderful for flavorful fish, shellfish, and veggies. This method really gives you the full flavor of the smoke along with a wonderful outer char.


Grilling basically means to cook something over a fire (usually utilizing natural gas), hot (temperatures 350°F and above) and fast (less than an hour). This method is best for smaller pieces of tender cuts of meat such as T-bones, ribeye, loin, strip steak, and others. Cooking these meats quickly is the best way to keep them tender and prevent overcooking and drying out. This method is also great for vegetables, fish, shellfish, fruit, and more. Though with grilling you don’t get that deep smoky flavor that you can get with smoking or barbequing.


Smoking basically means you are cooking something using smoke while doing it low (temperatures between 125°F and 175°F) and slow (many hours). Smoking is a more extreme version of barbequing where you are actually cooking the food with the smoke from smoldering pieces of wood (typically apple, cherry, hickory, or mesquite), which is typically in a separate chamber from the item being smoked. The wood adds a wonderful flavor and depth to the meat as it cooks. Smoking must be done carefully to ensure that the smoke can penetrate and properly cook the meat. This means the cook time is extremely long at very low temperatures; cook times of 24 hours or more are not uncommon for smoking large pieces of meat or large quantities of meat. If the meat is cooked too quickly the outer part will cook and form a barrier that blocks the smoke from penetrating the rest of the meat. Of course you can also smoke amazing fish, shellfish, vegetables, and more.

So which method is the best?

That really depends on what you are cooking. Both smoking and barbequing are really all about the meat! Low and slow to turn large and tough pieces of meat into tender and flavorful morsels. Grilling really shines when cooking more delicate meats, smaller cuts, or fruits and vegetables.

What is your preferred method? Do you use all three? What is your favorite thing to cook using each method? Let us know in the comments!

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