Before you know it, the sun will be setting faster and faster. While it's still bright and sunny out, enjoy cooking outside in all the different ways that you can! There is a common misconception that grilling, smoking, and barbecuing are the same thing and in American English, we have bleached these terms to mean the same thing colloquially. However, each process requires something different and each has its own pros depending on what exactly it is you are making, meaning each is unique.
Smoking requires a lot of patience and a lot of high-quality meat, meaning this isn't a practice for everyone. Throwing some wet wood chips over hot coals and smoking the outside of your brisket does not make for smoked meat. The professionals know that true smokiness must penetrate the entire piece of meat, and in some cases, this may take hours or even days.
There are two ways to smoke meat. The first is cold smoking, a process that works best with foods like chicken breast, beef, sausage, pork chops, salmon, scallops, steak, and cheese. Cold smoking takes place between 68°F and 86°F. Cold smoking is primarily used for flavor and is usually done on meat that has been cured or previously cooked.
Hot smoking is done when you want to fully cook the food you are smoking as well as impart that incredible smoky flavor onto it. Hot smoking is done at a temperature range of 126°F to 176°F. Hot smoking at temperatures of over 185°F can cause shrinkage and buckling of the meat. Hot smoking is great for large cuts of meat like ham, ham hocks, ribs, pulled pork, and brisket. Typically hot smoked meats are reheated or cooked further later on, but they are safe to eat right away if they have been fully cooked through. Hot smoking will give meat more moisture and helps lock in the natural flavors of the meat.
Whichever type of smoking you do, you will want to be sure you have a good quality smoker and quality wood chips, pieces, or chunks.
The history of barbecuing and barbacoa is interesting and touches several parts of the globe. In this country, barbecue was used as a way to cook meats with tough tissue, like the cows that had been walked across the country by cowboys, or whole pigs. These meats don't do well in high heat, quick cook times, but instead turns out best over an extended period, cooked over low heat. Barbecuing takes place over heat with a temperature range of about 190 to 300°F. A good barbecue makes meat so tender and delicious it will almost fall right off the bone. The key phrase to remember here is "slow and low."
In the United States, the south has been the undisputed barbecue capitol of America for a very long time. Each region has its own specific type of barbecue, but they pretty much all revolve around pork and frequently signify large family and friend gatherings. In the northern part of the United States however, you will hear barbecue used as a term to inaccurately describe anything cooked on the grill, from hot dogs to burgers.
Grilling food leads to a charred surface that seals in the natural juices of the food in question. Grilling is done all over the world in various cultures that all follow the same principle of cooking food over a high, direct heat that ranges from 400°F to 550°F for a short period of time. In the United States, grilling is done over both charcoal and gas grills, with infrared grills also appearing in the more affluent grilling circles.
Grilling is perfect for more tender meats, like chicken, ribs, pork chops, strip steak, burgers, and hot dogs. Grilling is a common way to cook up some truly flavorful vegetables.
What is the Difference Between Smoking, Barbecuing, and Grilling?
So with all this information about what each cooking style is, the question still stands. What is the difference between smoking, barbecuing, and grilling? The main differences between the three methods of cooking the same piece of meat all comes down to cooking temperature and time.
- Smoking can happen at two different temperature ranges. Very low heat (68°F to176°F) for 1 hour to 2 weeks depending on the temperature and the individual needs of the food simply for flavor, is an option called "cold smoking." Smoking can also be done at low heat (126°F to 176°F) for larger foods that need to be cooked, not just smoked for flavor.
- Barbecuing is done over low heat (190°F to 300°F) for a few hours. "Low and slow" is the phrase to remember here.
- Grilling is done over high heat (400°F to 550°F) for just a few minutes.
If you keep this in mind, you will be able to quickly and efficiently tell the difference between the three. Break out your herbs, spices, and seasonings and get to cooking!