Smoking, grilling, and barbecuing are the most famous outdoor cooking methods. BBQ lovers have been preparing their foods with these methods for centuries.
But, when we discuss smoking vs grilling vs barbecuing, we aim not to choose a winner because each method provides unique and delicious outcomes in different styles and are admirable ways of cooking different types of food.
Smoking involves cooking foods at low temperatures, and it can take hours to smoke your food properly. It infuses a deep and intense smoky flavor into your meat and is usually ideal for large meat cuts. Barbecuing is almost the same as smoking.
In contrast, grilling uses high heat and cooks foods relatively quicker. Also, it creates a charred, seared, and crispy texture and is mainly suitable for cooking smaller meat cuts and foods.
In this guide, we will shed light on all the major differences, such as their specific cooking equipment, multiple cooking methods, durations, and cooking temperatures, along with their pros and cons.
So, let’s find out which can be more suitable or preferable for you in a specific situation and why.
Difference Between Smoking, Grilling, And Barbecuing
Smoking, grilling, and barbecuing are well-known cooking methods in the BBQ community. There are several factors that differentiate them, and we have explained each of them below.
Smoking is a popular cooking technique that typically involves cooking food through the smoke and heat generated by wood and charcoal or any other fuel source.
It smokes your meat at a low and slow cooking temperature, probably between 200 to 275 °F or 300 °F) for an extended period.
Most importantly, this food cooking technique is mainly admirable among BBQ enthusiasts because of its ability to cook your food items evenly along with a distinct unique smoky flavor.
Smoking is best suited for cooking large cuts of meats like brisket, turkey, full chicken, etc.
It might be a time-consuming process, but the outcome is always worth the time you spend on it. There are different smoking methods (explained below), such as cold smoking, low and slow smoking, smoke roasting, etc.
Moreover, it is a cooking method in which you prepare your meal through a device called a smoker, which can have multiple types, sizes, and shapes.
As we just mentioned, you can use different types of smokers for food smoking, but offset, charcoal, and pellet ones offer the most satisfying results because they use charcoal or wood chunks and wood pellets, respectively, for cooking your food.
As a result, the outcome is cooked evenly with plenty of rich and delightful smoke flavors, for which you have to spend multiple hours, depending on the meat and cooking temperature.
Other smokers, like gas and electric ones, can also be a good option for food smoking, but they might struggle to replicate the same level of authentic smoky flavors.
In summary, smoking is an admirable cooking method that requires time and patience, particularly suited for thick meat cuts like brisket, and rewards you with mouthwatering smoky flavors.
Grilling mainly refers to the process of cooking food directly over a heat source, which can be charcoal, pellets, or gas.
Unlike smoking, it cooks food in a relatively shorter time because it requires higher temperatures of around 350 to 500 °F and even more for searing.
Grilling is best suited for thin cuts of meats like steaks, ribs, etc.
This cooking method can also provide you with smoky flavors (if using pellet or charcoal as a fuel source) but not as much as you get through smoking. The reason is that it involves shorter cooking times and higher temperatures.
Furthermore, there are different grilling methods, including indirect, direct, and plank grilling, and each of them offers different outcomes.
Different types of grills, such as charcoal, gas, and electric ones, are used for grilling purposes, and each will have its own unique features. Some will offer convenience, while others prioritize the smokiness and crispiness of food.
To conclude, grilling is an outstanding food-cooking method that differs from smoking in terms of cooking durations, temperature ranges, the effort you put in, and the appliance on which you are going to cook your food.
What Is Barbeceuing?
Barbecuing is almost the same as smoking, in which you cook thick meat cuts like brisket, whole chicken, turkey, and ribs at a low temperature for hours. But where’s the difference?
The difference isn’t too much and lies between the cooking technique.
For example, barbecuing involves cooking food at a lower temperature using pure heat, whereas smoking refers to cooking food with the inclusion of heat by fuel source and smoke generated by the wood chips or chunks.
To conclude, both barbecuing and smoking are pretty much the same, have similar methods, and are useful for cooking thick cuts of meat. But they both differ from the grilling method.
Let’s discuss the most prominent methods of smoking.
Low and Slow Smoking
Among all the methods of food smoking, this is the most famous and also our favorite one. Most chefs and experts who make thick smoked meats like ribs and beef briskets follow this method.
It refers to a smoking technique in which your foods get cooked at a low and slow temperature, most likely between 200 °F to 270 °F.
It is quite a time-consuming procedure that can take several hours to properly cook your food and infuse it with delicious smoke flavors.
For example, if you are smoking a 10 lb brisket at a suitable temperature of 225 °F, it can take somewhere between 15 to 20 hours to finish the smoking session.
Furthermore, low and slow smoking is achievable through both direct and indirect heat methods, depending on the specific setup and equipment used.
Here’s a quick step-by-step instruction regarding low and slow smoking.
- Prepare your smoker and preheat it to 225 – 275 °F.
- Make your meat ready and place it inside the smoker.
- Maintain a steady lower temperature, regardless of the smoker’s type.
- Monitor the smoking session by checking the meat’s internal temperature
- Lastly, stop smoking your meat when it reaches the desired internal temperature and give it the required resting time.
If you like preserving your food items for later use, to prevent food spoilage, or to enhance the flavor, cold smoking is the technique you need to learn.
This smoking procedure requires a temperature of 70 °F to 100 °F, not to cook but fill your food or meat with smoke flavors.
A proper cold-smoking session can prolong to 12 hours or more, depending on what kind of food you are trying to cold smoke.
It is also similar to low and slow smoking, and the only difference between them is the temperature you smoke at. For cold smoking, you need to keep the temperature around 90°F to infuse a smoky flavor into the food without cooking it.
Also, the temperature of the food will not rise significantly during cold smoking because it is often done for flavor infusion or food preservation rather than cooking.
Therefore, you can stop cold smoking when you are satisfied with the level of smokiness, and the duration of cold smoking depends on personal preference and the food you smoke.
Smoke roasting is a cooking technique that combines smoking and roasting methods. It involves slowly roasting the food over indirect heat while infusing it with the aromatic smoke flavors generated by wood.
It requires a slightly higher temperature than low and slow smoking, around 275 to 350°F, resulting in a moist, flavorful, and a bit of crispy outcome at the same time.
It can be advantageous for different food items, including large and small meat cuts.
Best Foods To Smoke
Plenty of food options are available, including meats that give extraordinary smoking results when you smoke them to perfection. So, let’s move forward and highlight some of the best foods to smoke.
Beef Brisket: It is one of the most popular meat choices for smoking as it is relatively bigger, thicker, and requires more cooking time than the other meats.
But when you smoke it at 225 degrees Fahrenheit through low and slow smoking or indirect smoking, it ensures a juicy, tender, flavorful, and delicious outcome.
Its smoking process may take hours depending on the brisket’s weight and temperature consistency, but it would satisfy you with the outcome.
Ribs: There are numerous types of ribs available that you can choose to smoke, but we prefer smoking beef ribs as they develop a perfect flavor profile with maximum tenderness and juiciness.
They are also a thick cut of meat but not as much as a brisket. Still, We recommend you smoke your different kinds of ribs at 225 °F or 250 °F to get perfect results.
Whole Turkey: A whole turkey can be a good brisket competitor in terms of weight and size, making it an excellent option for smoking.
It can take around 2.5 to 3.5 hours (depending on the turkey’s weight) even when smoking it at a higher temperature of 300 °F.
Though its smoking process also requires a lot of time for preparation, like thawing, brining, and seasoning, but in the end, you get to serve a succulent, slightly tender, and crispy smoked turkey to your guests.
Salmon: This seafood is also a great smoking option to enhance its overall taste and texture and make it more delicious. Also, you can cold smoke it if you wish to preserve it for a long time.
Pros and Cons of Smoking
There are many notable advantages when it comes to food smoking.
- Rich Smoky Flavors: One of the most admirable advantages of smoking in the BBQ community is getting food ready with rich smoky flavors.
- Food Preservation: Through cold smoking, you can preserve your food items for an extended period and can enhance their flavor. Also, this smoking method can save your food from spoilage.
- Versatility: It is a versatile cooking method that can cook a variety of foods, including meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, and even cheese.
There are also some common disadvantages of food smoking.
- Time-Consuming: It is a time-taking process that requires long cooking times, often several hours or even overnight, to achieve the desired tenderness and smoky flavors.
- Experience: Time apart, it requires experience with smoking and the equipment (smoker) you will use. Maintaining the required temperature on a charcoal or offset smoker can be challenging for a newbie.
There are several methods, each of which has its own capabilities to cook food.
Are you interested in cooking delicious, juicy, and crispy food in a quick and straightforward way? Look no further than direct grilling.
It is the most popular grilling method in which you place your food directly over a high-heat source. It requires an average temperature of 400 °F to 550 °F. As a result, your food gets cooked within minutes.
Moreover, the exact cooking duration depends on several factors, such as the size of the meat, your desired doneness level, fuel source, the temperature you cook at, etc.
One of the most liked advantages of this method is its ability to sear different kinds of meat such as steak, chicken breast, fish, lamb chops, etc.
For direct grilling, you just need to maintain a higher temperature for a few minutes, monitor the internal temperature of your meat, and stop cooking when it reaches your desired doneness level.
While grilling indirectly, you don’t place your food directly above the heat source because keeping the distance between them is essential. You usually set down your food items on the opposite side of the heat source, called indirect heat.
In this method, the heat keeps roaming around the food. It prevents it from burning and injects a smoky flavor if you use charcoal or pellets as a fuel source.
The temperature remains between 225 °F to 275 °F or a little more, and requires more time to cook your food thoroughly.
People usually choose this technique when the goal is to grill thicker cuts of meat like steaks, roasts, and turkeys. Its duration depends on the size of the meat and the type of grill you use.
So, indirect grilling steps are the same as direct grilling, but you just need to ensure that the temp is slightly lower and there is a distance between the heat source and the food.
Plank Grilling or Planking
You may not be familiar with this procedure, but it is an excellent way to get smoky flavors in the food.
A cooking method in which you place your food on a piece of wood and set it over the heat source is called plank grilling. The wood piece is usually made with cedar, hickory, apple, or alder.
Plank Grilling can use both direct and indirect heat to prepare food with a smoke flavor. It is suitable when it comes to the preparation of fish and seafood.
We recommend soaking the plank in the water before cooking meat to prevent it from burning. Depending on your preferences, you can marinate your food for extra flavor and tenderness.
In this cooking method, the recommended temperature range is 350 °F to 450 °F, depending on the type of meat you are preparing. Here’s a rough temperature range and cooking duration.
- Around 350 °F for fish (10-15 minutes)
- 400 °F to 425 °F for chicken (20-25 minutes)
- 425 °F to 450 °F for beef (16-24 minutes)
It is essential to keep in mind that these stats may vary depending on your desired doneness levels and the size of the meat you grill.
It is a comparatively faster way to prepare food because it uses radiant heat and high temperatures. You require an infrared grill that uses infrared technology rather than charcoal or wood pellets and cooks food evenly from all sides.
Unlike other methods, this one can cook your food within the temperature range of 900 °F to 1600 °F or even more, depending on what type of infrared grill you use.
Preparing food items with crispy textures is the notable advantage of infrared grilling. You can choose this method for making steaks, boneless chicken breasts, vegetables, sausages, etc.
The thickness and size of the meat will decide how long you will cook through infrared grilling. For example, if other methods take 15 minutes to make steak, the infrared method will make it within 5 minutes or less.
Best Foods To Grill
When it comes to grilling, there are endless meat and food options available that promise deliciousness and an unforgettable grilling experience.
Let’s have a look at some of the best meats to grill.
Steaks: They are one of the best meat options for grilling, and another good thing is that there are different steak cuts, like ribeye and t-bone, that suit everyone’s preferences and tastes.
When you grill a steak over a higher temperature for the required duration, it ensures beautiful sear marks on the exterior and keeps its interior juicy and tender.
Chicken Wings & Thighs: These two meat cuts from chicken are perfect for grilling as well as a suitable option for beginner grilling enthusiasts. The reason is that they are relatively smaller, cook early, and don’t require much attention.
Lamb Chops: They also offer a unique grilling experience due to their smaller size.
When you set your grill to a higher temperature of around 350 to 400 °F and put your seasoned chops over it, they cook within a few minutes by developing beautiful sear marks and caramelization on their exterior.
Fish: Another protein-loaded and low-on-fat meat that we suggest you to grill is freshly caught river fish, especially on a charcoal or pellet grill if you want a juicy and smokey flavor inside.
Pros and Cons of Grilling
Let’s share some of the most-liked things about grilling.
- Faster Cooking: All the procedures are suitable for faster cooking, probably in minutes. It is because of direct heat and higher temperatures used for cooking.
- Health-Friendly: If you are health conscious, you would like to grill your food as it requires less oil, and the extra fat drips through the grates, making it a healthier diet.
Grilling also has a few ignorable disadvantages.
- Temperature Control: One of the essential things in grilling is maintaining the required temperature. It can be confusing for beginners, especially on a charcoal grill, whereas experts can manage it nicely.
- Weather Dependent: It can be annoying to grill outside when there is a heat wave or hot outside. Moreover, when the weather is too cold, or you are grilling in the rain, you might struggle to maintain the temperature.
Smoking Vs Grilling – A Quick Comparison Table
Here’s a quick overview regarding which cooking method between smoking and grilling shines in different factors.
|Crispy & Crusty Texture||Grilling|
|Suitable For Beginners||Grilling|
Mastering the Art of Smoking – Tips and Tricks
There are many pro tips and tricks that give you a better outcome than you imagine.
- If you are a newbie in the meat-smoking field, we suggest you use a water pan to balance the temperature throughout the session. It is also helpful in adding moisture and prevents the meat from drying out.
- A proper smoking session provides delightful smoky flavors. We recommend not adding extra wood chips when smoking your food as it affects the food’s taste and injects intense smoke, which you may not like.
- Many people repeatedly open the smoker’s lid to check the internal temperature of the food, which allows the smoke to escape. Therefore, you should keep the lid closed and use a digital probe meat thermometer to be in touch with the internal temperature.
Expert Tips for Grilling Perfection
We have enlisted some valuable tips that can enhance your grilling experience.
- We suggest you should season grill grates before and after the grilling session to repulse the rust and remove contaminants. It will make cleaning easier for you and prevent your food from sticking to the grates.
- Grillers usually complain about food sticking and ask for a solution. Well, it happens when you place food over a cold cooking surface. That’s why we recommend you preheat your grill for around 10-15 minutes before placing your food.
- Although grilling provides less smoky flavors than smoking, you can still add some flavor by adding your favorite wood chips to the igniting source.
Side Note: Here are some further beneficial tips and tricks for pellets grill users.
In the great battle of grilling, smoking, and barbecuing, all of these cooking methods provide delicious foods with unique flavors in their own way.
We have provided complete information on their different cooking methods and their pros and cons. Some helpful tips and tricks are also shared to help you enhance your barbecue experience.
Now, you need to see your preferences, and you can choose one cooking method between them conveniently.
Have A Great Barbecue Evening!
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should you rest smoked meat?
It is suitable to rest the smoked meat for at least 20-30 minutes, but the exact resting duration depends on the meat type and its size.
What is the most common mistake to avoid when grilling?
When it comes to igniting the charcoals, most people use too much lighter fluid or charcoal starter, which can leave a chemical taste on your food. Therefore, to avoid this, you should use a chimney starter to burn charcoals.
Are ribs better smoked or grilled?
It is better to smoke them rather than grilling because they are thick and require a slow and slow smoking session at a lower temperature to break down the collagen, render the fat, and make them tender and juicy.
Caspian James, the Founder and Chief Editor at FaveGrills, is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise on the latest Smokers and Grilling Products along with mouth-watering barbecue recipes. He constantly researches new gear with a sharp eye for detail, providing the FaveGrills community with in-depth reviews.