BBQ vs Grilling vs Smoking-What’s the Difference?  

If you’re a BBQ lover and love to cook delicious food on a beautiful Summer day outside, you might have come to the point where you realize BBQ vs grilling vs smoking aren’t the same things.  

Each method has unique flavor profiles that can make or break a dish. Smoking uses low, indirect heat to slowly cook food, infusing it with smoky flavors. BBQ involves cooking food over direct heat, often using a wood-fired grill or smoker. Grilling is the third method of outdoor cooking. It uses high, direct heat to cook food quickly, producing crisp vegetables and juicy meat.

In this post, learn everything about BBQ vs grilling vs smoking and how they are different from each other:  

Three Cooking Methods- BBQ vs Grilling vs Smoking

In a nutshell, grilling is cooking quickly and hotly over a fire. Low and slow is what a barbecue is, and smoking is when you cook something with smoke (also low and slow).  

Specifically, the latter two refer to cooking meat, fish, and poultry, whereas grilling can also involve cooking vegetables, fruits, and other dishes you might not have thought of. But the focus of smoking and grilling is always on the meat. Large, tough chunks of meat become meltingly tender and show their entire flavors thanks to the low cooking temperatures and extended cooking durations.  

Naturally, the fact that all three procedures may be completed outside and with the same piece of equipment is what unites them. So let’s have a look at BBQ vs grilling vs smoking in detail:   

What is Barbecuing?  


Barbecue is all about large cuts of meat. It is basically used for cooking whole pork shoulders, rib roasts, turkey, slabs of ribs, or beef briskets.   

Although you’ll often encounter recipes calling for a temperature between 225 and 250 F, the temperature needs to be very low to cook these large pieces on a grill: between 190 and 300 F. It will take a long time to cook a large piece of meat at those low temperatures. So the primary challenge is keeping that temperature constant during the cooking process.  

It only involves setting the knob to low heat and leaving it on a gas grill. However, if you’re using a charcoal barbecue, you’ll need to add new coals roughly every hour. A typical grill will have two little doors in the grate to make this possible.  

Another benefit of having a set of charcoal baskets is that they make it easier to maintain the water pan in the middle of the barbecue. In addition to keeping coals to the side, baskets create space on the surface. This aids in indirectly and more gradually heating the meal, which is the intended outcome. You must incorporate wood chips (or pieces) and refill them throughout the cooking process because classic barbecue necessitates a little smoke as well.  

Here are some tips on how to cook BBQ delicious food:  

  • Use a small amount of charcoal to maintain a low to medium temperature.   
  • Put the meat on the part of the grate that is not immediately over the charcoal or wood used for cooking.  
  • Before grilling, marinate the meat to add flavor and softness.  
  • Make sure your meat reaches a safe temperature using a thermometer to avoid contracting a foodborne illness.  
  • Pork should be put in a foil-covered pan and barbecued.  

What is Grilling?  


Grilling is all about cooking food on a hot fire. The fast and hot context of grilling basically means cooking at a temperature of more than 350 F for less than an hour.   

The temperature should be around 450-500 F for items like chops and steaks to enable short cooking. The best grilled chicken foods are the porks, strip steaks, tenderest cuts, or ribs. Cooking them quickly is the best way to preserve their tenderness and prevent it from drying out or overcooking. In order to make a flavorful piece of meat, cook it over a hot fire for a short time.   

There’s not a lot of finesses involved when it comes to grilling steaks, but it’s not the case with poultry, vegetables, or fish. For more delicate foods, it’s better to go for a lower temperature.  

Here are some tips on how to grill:  

  • When grilling, open the vents and dampers on your barbecue.  
  • Check your meat periodically to ensure it’s not burning or cooking too quickly, but don’t touch it.  
  • Before placing your meat on the grill, clean the grate to avoid sticking.  
  • To attain a higher grilling temperature, use lump charcoal rather than charcoal briquettes.  
  • Allow your meat to rest at room temperature for five minutes after removing it from the grill so the juices may settle.  

What is Smoking?  


Smoking is similar to the extreme form of grilling; you really cook the meal with smoke from burning hickory, mesquite, apple, or cherry chunks or chips, each of which imparts a distinct flavor to the meat.  

Smoking is done at a temperature that is even lower than that of barbeque in order to give the meat a smokey taste and fully cook it. To smoke food, your grill should be heated to 125- and 175 degrees F. Any higher will cause the outside of the meat to cook too quickly and create a barrier that the smoke cannot pass through.  

Cooking times of more than a day are not unusual when cooking at this temperature. Smoking is one of the three procedures that call for the most knowledge. However, if you begin with direct grilling and progress to a more intricate large-scale barbeque, you might wish to try smoking at some point.  

Here are a few tips on how to smoke delicious meat:  

  • Choose a variety of chunks for smoking that complement the meat’s natural flavor.  
  • Add a pan or bowl of water to help stabilize the temperature or to prevent the meat from drying out.   
  • Keep the lid of the smoker or grill closed. Whenever you open the lid, the smoke will come out.   
  • If you are worried the meat can dry out, mist it with water every 1-2 hours.   
  • If you’re using charcoal in chunks, then add a small amount of charcoal to prevent the smoker from becoming too hot.   
  • Keep adjusting your smokers or grill’s dampers, so they are about 90% closed.  

BBQ vs Grill vs Smoking  

In a nutshell, all these three methods of cooking have their different purposes. For larger and soft portions of meat, BBQ is a great way to cook. Plus, it helps in creating a beautiful texture.  

If you are cooking small cuts of meat such as sausages and burgers and want those grill marks, grilling is the best method to use here. Finally, if you’ve time to spare and want to take one extra step- smoking is your way to go!  

The table below summarizes what each cooking method provides from a Texture & Appearance point of view, Time, and Taste.  

 Barbecuing  Grilling  Smoking 
Texture & Appearance point of view As BBQ food has low and slow nature, the texture melts in the mouth.    It is best if you want cooked food with chargrill marks.    Food that has been smoked often appears more “pink” than food that has been cooked in another way, producing a very soft outcome.  
Time It takes more time than grilling but not as long as smoking. It is a perfect cooking method for those who aren’t confident with trying out the smoking method.    It is the quickest cooking method on a bbq grill. It is an ideal option for foods that do not take more than 20 mins to cook.    This is the longest cooking method. It can take a few hours or even a day to cook food.    
Taste Compared to grilling, barbecuing produces a smoker and heartier flavor. However, it is not quite as smoker as smoking.  Many people prefer the traditional grilled flavor, ideal for grilling sausages and burgers to please the audience.     Often produces the tastiest results since burning the wood produces a smokey flavor.  


All too frequently, the names of various cooking techniques are used interchangeably- BBQ vs grilling vs smoking. But as you can see, grilling, smoking, and barbecuing are not the same, although they may have some similarities. Each of them distinguishes itself in some way. They have the ability to produce flavors with quite varied characteristics.  

You can take your outdoor cooking to the next level by taking the time to grasp the science and methodology behind various cooking methods like this, especially when it comes to meat. 

John Rinder
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