What’s the Difference Between Grilling and BBQ?
By Chef David Hall
Across the country the terms “grill” and “barbecue” are frequently used interchangeably, except in some areas including, St. Louis, Memphis, Kansas City, the Carolinas and several other places. These cooking methods and quite different as are the flavors one can achieve. The misunderstanding is compounded when the same piece of equipment is used at home for grilling and barbecue. These two cooking techniques are fundamentally and drastically different.
Direct high heat and relatively short cooking times are characteristic of grilling. Foods are typically just a few inches above the coal or gas flames in temperatures between 350°F to 600 °F, or above. Usually it is the tender cuts of meat that are grilled. Some include steaks, chicken, shrimp as well as “burgers and dogs.” The high heat serves a specific purpose relating to flavor. The extreme heat causes the relatively small amount of carbohydrates in the meat to convert to a caramel flavor through a Millard (pronounced My-Yard) chemical reaction. This caramelization does not take place at lower temperature in the short amount of time typical of grilling.
Grilling is a common way to cook, universally around the world. There are very few cultures that do not have some form of grilling in their cuisine every possible combination of spices, seasoning and marinades.
Barbeque is fundamentally the opposite of grilling. Lower cooking temperatures, indirect heat and long (several hours) cooking time are used to cook and smoke the meat. Smoldering wood is the fuel source and maintains cooking temperatures 180°F and 250°F. The 250°F limit is critical to the cooking/smoking success of those items containing sugars in their rubs and sauces, because sugar burns and becomes very bitter when exposed to temperatures above 260°F.
Indirect heating is accomplished by isolation of the heat and smoke source from the meat, often using a separate “firebox” thought which a constant smoldering of wood delivers both smoke and heat to the main cooking chamber of racks holding the meat. Therefore, air circulation is critical to the process as it must carry both heat and smoke to the meat.
Tougher, larger, inexpensive cuts of meat are ideal for barbequing because the dense proteins will break down without tightening up as they would under the intense heat of grilling, thereby providing you with moist and tender meat. If you tried to grill brisket for example, the meat would wind up tough and dry.
The significant and wonderful flavor difference between grilling and barbeque is the sweet and smoky flavors produced by the “low and slow” of barbeque. Smoking can easily be used to smoke other items like, salt, jalapenos (smoked jalapenos are called chipotles), fish to preserve it, cheese (but the smoke must first be cooled) and whatever else your imagination can come up with. However, I have never been successful as smoking ice cream. It falls through the grates.
Be well and be blessed,
Chef David Hall