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Barbecuing vs Smoking vs Grilling - what is the difference?

A BBQ is a very versatile item and there are three common cooking methods you can use all on one grill. These are; barbecuing, smoking and grilling. Each method will give your food a different outcome and taste.

In short, grilling means to cook over a fire, hot and fast. Barbecuing refers to cooking over a low flame and much slower, and smoking means to also cook low and slow, whilst also using the smoke produced by the barbecue to cook the food.

Barbecuing and smoking are the best options for cooking meat, fish, and poultry specifically, whereas grilling can include vegetables, fruits and other foods you might not have considered. This blog breaks down what barbecuing, smoking and grilling all are and will help you decide which option is best for your needs and tastes.

WHAT IS BARBECUING?

Barbecuing is the best method for cooking large cuts of meat such as pork shoulders, beef briskets, whole chickens, turkeys and ribs. This is because these types of meats tend to be tougher, and need the low, slow heat of a barbecue in order to get them soft and tender. The best barbecue chefs pride themselves on a very long cooking time to get the tenderest, most flavourful meat.

Barbecuing is often done using indirect heat, meaning the meat is not directly over the flames as it cooks like it would be if you were to grill your food. Charcoal or wood are commonly used as the heat source when barbecuing. 

How to Barbecue Food

First of all, you need to decide whether you will be using a charcoal or gas barbecue to cook your food. Each has their own benefits and will give off slightly different flavours. Charcoal barbecues such as the Master-Touch GBS Premium will take slightly longer to get to the right temperature, as you will have to wait for the coals to cool down before cooking your food. However, charcoal leaves a lovely smokey flavour on your food.

On the other hand, gas barbecues such as the Weber Genesis range give the user better control over temperature.

The best temperature for barbecuing food using this method is between 100 and 150°C. Place your food on the grill, but not directly over the flames, moving it to the edges of the grill. This is referred to as the indirect cooking method.

Place the barbecue lid down so that the heat is trapped. This not only controls the temperature but also ensures smoke circulates inside the grill and infuses into your food, enhancing that barbecue flavour. 

With temperatures so low, cooking a big piece of meat will take several hours. The trick is maintaining that temperature for the duration of the cooking, if you’re using coal, it is worth replacing the coals throughout the process to ensure the temperature is maintained.

Advantages of barbecuing food include being able to get the optimum juiciness from your meat where the meat will be soft, moist and break apart when barbecued at the right temperature for the optimum amount of time. In terms of disadvantages of this process of cooking, by nature, this is much more time consuming than simply grilling food and barbecuing with charcoal is weather dependent.

Barbecue Recipes

  • If you’re looking to level up from burgers and sausages, this beef brisket is a great way to feed a group of people with one delicious cut of meat.

TOP TIP: Rather than cutting into your meat to check that it's done, use a meat thermometer such as the Weber iGrill. It is the most accurate way to tell if your food is cooked. Simply download the app, tell the iGrill what you're cooking and how you'd like it cooked. The iGrill does the rest, tracking the progress of your food in real time and will notify you when it's done - meaning you can spend more time with your guests whilst cooking to perfection.

WHAT IS SMOKING MEAT?

There is a true art and science behind smoking your meat on the barbecue. Similar to how barbecuing involves using indirect heat, the smoking method steers away from using a direct flame to cook your food. Rather, you use hot charcoal and slow burning hardwood. The aromatic wood smoke encapsulates the meat and soaks into the fat, cooking it to perfection.

Smoking adds flavour and improves the appearance of meat through the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction refers to lots of small, simultaneous chemical reactions that occur when proteins and sugars in and on your food are transformed by heat, producing new flavours, aromas, and colours.

How to Smoke Food

Smoking can be achieved by using a charcoal barbecue, a gas barbecue, a wood pellet grill or even a Weber Smokey Mountain. Wood chips are burnt to release smoke, the meat is then placed away from the flame and is cooked indirectly, whilst being infused by the smoke.

Many people wonder ‘what is the best wood for smoking meat?’. The answer depends on what meat you are using and the flavours you want to achieve. Using different types of wood chips create different flavours, for example, Beech wood chips match perfectly with fish and poultry, or try whiskey wood chips for adding flavour to chops and beef tenderloin. 

Our guide to smoking outlines all the tips, tricks and tools you will need to get it just right.

Advantages of using the smoking method to cook your food is the undeniable flavours you can create that can’t quite be matched by using the other methods. Similar to barbecuing food, this process takes much longer than simply grilling and it is not unusual for some recipes to call for cooking times of 24 hours. Out of all three methods, this is definitely the trickiest to master - but it can be done with just a little bit of practice.

Top Tip: It is best to have two accurate thermometers for smoking, one inside the smoker in the area where the meat sits to tell you the smoker temperature, and one meat thermometer placed in the meat to tell you the internal temperature of what you are smoking.

Foods to smoke

  • Salmon

For a smoky piece of salmon with a kick, we recommend our smoked pepper salmon recipe, made with a beautiful marinade and served with potatoes and dill salsa

  • Ham

Have a go at making Apple wood smoked ham - smoked on the barbecue for two hours for a family favourite that everyone can enjoy.

  • Chicken

The melt-in-your-mouth quality of these slow-cooked smoked chicken wings with hoisin glaze goes seamlessly with their smoky Asian flavours. For top-notch texture, never allow the temperature of your barbecue or smoker to go over 150°C.

WHAT IS GRILLING?

Grilling is what many people mean when they say “barbecuing.” Grilling is cooking foods hot and fast (typically around 230 - 290°C) and this is usually done over direct heat. As with the other methods of cooking, you can grill food on any type of barbecue. We recommend the Weber Spirit range for grilling.

For small cuts of food that take less than 20 minutes to cook such as steaks, seafood, burgers, and sausages - the grill is a great option. Many vegetables and some fruits are also great cooked on the grill making grilling a good choice to provide a variety of delicious food for vegetarian and vegan diets.

How to Grill Food

Grilling is done over direct heat, where the flame (either gas or charcoal) is directly below the meat. Place your small cuts of meat and vegetables onto the centre of the grill and allow the flames to cook the food, ensuring you frequently turn the food to ensure it is cooked evenly on all sides.

Grilling Recipes

  • Try our grilled vegetables recipe for a delicious accompaniment to a wide range of meat dishes - mix and match the vegetables you want to include, depending on what is currently in season.
  • These grilled prawn wraps are a crowd pleaser and full of flavour, with herbs, hard cheese and peppery watercress.

WHICH METHOD IS THE BEST FOR ME?

In sum, all three methods have their purpose. For soft, larger portions of meat, barbecuing is a great way to cook and create a beautiful texture. If you’re cooking smaller cuts of meat such as burgers and sausages and want those grill marks, grilling is likely the best option.  Finally, if you have the time to spare and want to go one step further in your culinary journey - smoking is a way you can impress friends and family and achieve unmatched flavour.

Our table below summarises what each of the cooking methods provides from a Time, Taste, and Texture & Appearance point of view.

BarbecuingGrilling Smoking
TimeTakes more time than grilling, but not as long as smoking. Good for those who aren’t yet confident with trying the smoking method.The quickest way to safely cook food on a barbecue grill. Ideal for foods that take up to 20 mins to thoroughly cook.This method takes the longest - from a few hours to even up to a day.
TasteBarbecuing creates a smokier and heartier flavour than grilling but is not quite as smoky as using the smoking method.The classic grilled taste is enjoyed by many - perfect for cooking sausages and burgers to please the crowd.Often yields the tastiest results because of the smokey flavour achieved from burning the wood.
Texture & appearanceBecause of the low and slow nature of barbecuing food, the texture is melt in the mouth. Grilling is the best option if you want nicely cooked food with those sought after chargrill marks on your food.Extremely soft end result, smoked food can often take on a more ‘pink’ appearance than cooking using other methods.

For more tips and recipes, read our list of recipes to get you inspired.