Difference Between Barbecue, Grilling, and Smoking

Everyone gets excited when invited for a BBQ meal or snacks whether in the family or an outdoor family and friends’ get-together. Similarly, grilled and smoked recipes both veggies and meat or fish are irresistible. The delicious taste and mesmerizing flavor of barbecue, grilled, and smoked dishes are simply amazing.

However, many get confused between BBQ, grilled, and smoked dishes as they are cooked in grills and almost follow similar processes. But the truth is BBQ, grilling, and smoking are distinctly different from each other with different processes of cooking, taste, and flavor. If you are curious about how different they are, here goes the barbecue vs grilling vs smoking.

Barbecue – Things You May Like to Know


Britannica defines barbecue as an outdoor meal made out of meat, fowl, fish, and vegetable and usually served or enjoyed in social entertainment. Whatever the definition may be, people are so crazy about barbecue that there are frequent debate in the culinary world. Even how to spell barbecue is often debated; some spell it barbeque, others bar-b-q, and many just BBQ.

Compromising with the entire disagreement and debates, barbecue is said to be started by the Arawak of South America who used “barbacoa” to roast meat. Barbacoa was a wooden structure and is a Spanish word. This wooden structure continued for centuries and in course of time added a pit-style technique which is still seen in the southeastern US. Barbacoa was originally used to cook hog or meat and other foods through a slow process by supplying heat from below. Over time, different foods were cooked following the same process and the recent additions were hot dogs and hamburgers.

Later charcoal grill replaced barbacoa which was invented by George A Stephen the founder of Weber Stephen Products Company. Eventually, BBQ lovers started using grills instead of barbacoa and pit-style techniques. In the process, gas grills, electric grills, infrared grills, hybrid grills, commercial grills, etc. came to the market.

Contemporary BBQ follows the same technique of slow cooking by applying heat from below or above. However, BBQ became so popular that it has spread across the world. In different parts of the world as well as in different regions of a country BBQ lovers added different methods or styles with the main technique based on the locally available ingredients. BBQ and its different styles or types, especially in the US are as follows:

The Original Style/Process of BBQ Cooking

The contemporary BBQ still broadly follows the slow cooking process providing heat from below. However, the process of preparation and marinating varies in different regions. The ideal preparation of BBQ starts with thawing the meat or chicken or fish etc. in the fridge overnight. Then the meat is cut into pieces and seasoned and marinated.

Most people use tenderizers and different kinds of BBQ sauces to ensure flavor. Veggies can be added to the meat to increase the taste. Then the entire ingredients are put into the grill in batches and cooked slowly not by flames but only by the low temperature generated in the grill. Below are some of the most popular barbecue recipes:

  • Lamb burger.
  • BBQ ground chicken tacos.
  • Balsamic BBQ chicken.
  • Baked BBQ tofu.
  • BBQ carrots.
  • Korean BBQ short ribs.
  • BBQ quail skewers.
  • BBQ chicken burger and slaw.
  • Grilled vinegar potatoes and chicken kebabs.
  • BBQ pulled pork sandwich.
  • BBQ beef ribs.

The Texas Barbecue

The Texas barbecue means the central Texas style of barbecues as you can find slightly different types of barbecues in other parts of Texas. Texas barbecue is famous for its beef brisket BBQ that is slowly cooked on the grill for hours. Beef is available abundant in Texas and it is cheaper which is why beef brisket BBQ is common in Texas.

Texas BBQ follows almost the same process as original BBQ methods with few variations. The brisket is seasoned with salt and pepper and then cooked for around 10 to 12 hours slowly. People also add sausage and some spices to the BBQ. Besides brisket, you can also find turkey breast BBQ and pork spare ribs BBQ in Texas. However, adding sausage to BBQ is not common and some restaurants do not serve sausage at all.

The South Carolina BBQ

South Carolina BBQ uses hog, especially pork shoulder. The main difference between South Carolina and North Carolina BBQs is the addition of mustard sauce which gives a completely different taste and flavor. Mustard is usually thinned with cider vinegar and used with a lot of brown sugar to prepare the BBQ in South Carolina. The process of cooking South Carolina BBQ is similar to the original style of original BBQ cooking.

North Carolina BBQ

Though the ingredient used in North Carolina BBQ is similar to South Carolina which is pork but with a slight change. The eastern part uses chopped or pulled whole hog whereas the rest of the state use pulled hog and ribs. Most restaurants in North Carolina also serve BBQ with vinegar-based sauce added with spices like pepper, black pepper, cayenne, etc.

Kansas City BBQ

As Kansas has abundant of all types of meats like chicken, beef, pork, etc. you can find BBQs with all types of meat ingredients. The main attraction of Kansas City BBQ is adding BBQ sauce which is thick and sweet with molasses, tomato, and brown sugar. The process of cooking this BBQ is almost similar to other styles. The Kansas City BBQ Society and The American Royal organize the world’s largest BBQ competition where you can taste world-class BBQ.

Memphis BBQ

Memphis also organizes BBQ competition promoted by Memphis BBQ Network which is judged on three categories namely pulled pork, pork ribs, and whole hog. Pork is the main ingredient used in Memphis BBQ. The spice rub is commonly applied on the meat which tastes heavy instead of sugary sweet like other styles. Some spice rub recipes include as many as 40 or more different spices.

Grilling – To Understand BBQ vs Grilling vs Smoking


You need to have a basic understanding of grilling and smoking to internalize bbq vs grilling vs smokingGrilling is defined as a form of faster cooking method, especially for meat as well as vegetables by direct and radiant heat or flame supplied from below, above, and side. Grilled recipes are cooked on a grill which is a cooking device with a set of open wire grids that produces heat from above or below.

After the marination of meat, especially poultry, beef, pork, and fish, cooking is done using a frying pan or grill pan made out of cast iron. Food cooking is done through thermal radiation in a grill which can produce a temperature of up to 260C. Meat and other foods get roasted on the grill with a special taste and flavor through a chemical process called the Maillard reaction.

The usual process followed to grill the foods are:

  • Patting the meat using paper towels or any dry towels to dry the meat and remove moisture.
  • Seasoning the meat with pepper and salt.
  • Cooking the seasoned meat by placing them in the crates of the grill and leaving them until they naturally release from the crates.
  • Resting the cooked meat for around 10 minutes once they are removed from the grill to allow them for a process called “carryover cooking”.

Smoking – the Oldest Method of Food Preservation/Processing and Cooking


The smoking of meat and fish is the oldest method of food preservation or processing and cooking started during the Paleolithic era. Smoking cooks the meat through a process of Maillard reaction and then if cured it preserves the meat. Contemporary smoking can be done in different ways called cold smoking primarily to preserve the meat, and hot smoke to cook the meat or fish through a slow process. 

Smoking is usually done by using wood pellets or hardwood in a smoker but you can also smoke by electric smokers, gas smokers, drum smokers, water smokers, etc. There are various popular smoked meat recipes like American smoked BBQ, African fish smoking, country ham, finnan haddie, katsuobushi, pastrami, zhangcha duck, etc.

The process of hot smoking involves low temperatures and smoke leading to a slow cooking process. Pork butt, spare ribs, and briskets make the best smoking recipes which undergo trimming and seasoning before feeding into the smoker. After cooking for long hours up to 10 to 12 hours including resting, the smoked recipe is ready to serve.

Difference Between BBQ, Grilling, and Smoking

As part of BBQ vs grilling vs smoking, there are many similarities between the three different types of cooking despite many differences. The basic differences between these three types of cooking are as follows.

  • BBQ is cooked in indirect heat at a lower temperature of 195 F. to 300 F. and cooks slowly whereas grilling is in direct heat or flame with the highest temperature at 400 F. to 500 F. and cooks faster. On the other hand, smoking is a combination of smoke and heat, and hot cooking is slower with low heat at around 126 F. to 176 F. However, cold smoking is a very lengthy and complex process.
  • Some ingredients like cuts of meat like ribs, beef brisket, pork shoulder, etc. are good for BBQ whereas steaks, hamburgers, pork chops, and seafood are good for grilling.
  • Grilling is the fastest compared to BBQ and smoking, and BBQ takes less time to cook than smoking. BBQ and grilling are comparatively simple and easy whereas smoking is complex and takes a very long time even days together depending upon the type of meat. 

BBQ, grilling, and smoking have many similarities like they are all outdoor cooking. Almost all three methods use spices and sauces. However, when it comes to taste and flavor, all three types of cooking as well as their different recipes have their own delicious taste and flavor incomparable to each other. 

Jelina, a Fanatic BBQ Lover, has worked with many BBQ brands. She is also working on a startup on her own, meanwhile, in her part-time, she helps the Homeycart team by providing the most helpful content. She shares her knowledge and combines it with the Homeycart team's research which helps people choose suitable grills as well as solve many other important issues. You can follow Jelina Roy on Twitter and Pinterest.

Leave a Comment