Barbecuing vs Smoking vs Grilling: What’s the Difference?

Making delicious food at home is something that anyone can learn how to do, and there are plenty of popular ways to approach cooking. Barbecuing, smoking, and grilling are all popular ways to make delicious food on your grill. Each cooking method will give your food a different outcome and taste.

In a nutshell, grilling means hot and fast cooking over an open flame. Barbecuing means low and slow cooking over indirect heat. Smoking refers to slow-cooking while adding a delicious smokey flavor using your favorite wood chips. In this article, we are going to explore the differences between these mediums—and how you can use them to make tasty dishes at home!

Barbecuing vs Smoking vs Grilling

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    What is Barbecuing?

    Barbecuing is commonly mistaken for grilling. When most people think of hosting a barbecue, they imagine someone running the grill. Though you can indeed use certain grills to barbecue, barbecuing itself is actually a standalone process.

    When barbecuing, cooking temperatures are generally lower than they are while grilling. Most barbecuing starts around 185F, and it is not common to go over 275F while cooking. You might wonder why the temperatures are low, and that is because barbecuing is not a fast process. True barbecuing takes time.

    Barbecuing is not just preparing food at a barbecue. When you barbecue, you cook over an indirect heat source. It is actually a very popular slow-cooking method that is designed to create perfectly tender meat. In most cases, barbecuing focuses on food options that only get better as more time passes. Items that are not fit for slow cooking will not be a good match for barbecuing.

    What Types of Meat Are Best for Barbecuing?

    Since barbecuing is a slow-cooking method that can be fairly concentrated, it isn’t always the best option for vegetables. However, meat can be a really wonderful match for barbecuing. When you barbecue meat, you can create tender and flavor-packed meat that is perfect for eating alone or as a full meal.

    Common Barbecued Meat Options Include:

    • Pork (pork ribs, pork butt, and pork shoulder are among the most popular options)
    • Chicken (leg quarters, thighs, and breasts)
    • Beef (sirloin, ribeye, and filet)
    What Types of Meat Are Best for Grilling

    What is Grilling?

    Grilling is the act of cooking over a fire. In most cases, grilling temperatures start around 350F and go up from there. Most people don’t recommend grilling at over 500F.

    The primary use for grilling is to cook meat and vegetables fairly quickly. Since grills can operate comfortably at high temperatures, they can help you to prepare food in a short period of time—even thick cuts of meat. Grills are also commonly known for grill marks and can be used to create a charred exterior for flavor.

    What Types of Meat Are Best for Grilling?

    There are many popular meat and vegetable options that people love to prepare on grills. In reality, you can cook just about anything on the grill as long as it comes in a reasonable size. Most commonly, people will prepare burgers, steaks, and brats on the grill.

    Grilled Meat Options Include:

    • Steaks (New York strip, bone-in ribeye, flank steak, and skirt steak)
    • Burgers (beef, bison, lamb, and turkey)
    • Chicken (thighs, breasts, wings, and drumsticks)
    • Turkey (drumsticks)
    • Hot dogs and Brats
    What Types of Meat Are Best for Barbecuing

    What is Smoking?

    Smoking is a popular cooking method that is only growing in popularity with each new recipe that comes out. When smoking, meat is cooked using smoke in a closed chamber. The temperature range for smoking tends to be between 125F and 175F for hot smoking and between 68F and 85F for cold smoking.

    Similar to barbecuing, smoking is a slow-cooking method. In fact, cooking in a smoker can take anywhere from a few hours to over 24 hours depending on what you are making and how tender you want the meat to be.

    For some dishes, smoking can be paired with other cooking methods to put a final finish on the food. For example, you might allow a type of food to cook for several hours before you crank up the heat to provide a final finish or crispy exterior.

    Overall, smoking is a long process, but it imparts a special kind of flavor that nothing else offers. Using differently flavored wood chips, you can choose what flavor is cooked into your meat. This makes it a highly versatile and surprisingly simple process to make food that is tender and full of flavor.

    Related reading: The ultimate meat smoking times and temperature guide

    What is the Difference Between Cold Smoking and Hot Smoking?

    Many people who learn about smoking as a medium are surprised to learn that there are two types of smoking—hot smoking and cold smoking.

    Hot smoking is the process that most people are familiar with. It involves cooking food at a higher smoking temperature. Like other cooking methods, this method is designed to cook raw meat completely, all while giving it a great flavor. Hot smoking is the best way to prepare delicious meats using your favorite Z Grills wood pellet grill.

    Cold smoking, on the other hand, is a process that focuses on cured meat. Cured meats are able to reduce moisture and are also known for their great flavor. You do not use cold smoking to cook. You just use it to fill foods with the flavor from the wood pellets. When you cold smoke meat, you can add more flavor without the full cooking process.

    What Types of Meat Are Best for Smoking?

    Smoked meats are an easy favorite for the average table, whether you are cooking at home or going to a restaurant. Though most meats can be smoked, the best meat for smoking is cuts of meat that have a lot of fat.

    Common Smoked Meat Options Include:

    • Beef (brisket and spare ribs)
    • Pork (pork butt, pork ribs, and pork shoulders)
    • Chicken (wings, legs)
    • Salmon
    What Types of Meat Are Best for Smoking 1

    What Method is Best for Me?

    Choosing the right cooking method is all a matter of comfort and flavor preferences. Anyone can learn all three of these methods, and all three provide delicious food options.


    For those who are cooking with a time limitation, grilling is the fastest option. This approach to cooking allows you to cook a lot very quickly.


    Barbecuing is great for those who want slow-cooked tenderness but aren’t quite comfortable with smoking yet. This medium can act as a good option before you learn how to smoke meat.


    Out of the three options available, smoking is the option that requires the most expertise and offers the most variety in flavor and finish. If you like wood-fired flavor, smoking is absolutely the best option available.

    Z Grills has a variety of incredible smoker options that make it easy to start smoking—even if you are a beginner. With Z Grills wood pellets, you can include different flavors, like oak, fruit, hickory, and more. Every pellet contributes its own flavor, allowing you to turn one simple process into a bunch of different meals. Check out our offerings at Z Grills today!

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    About The Author

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    Z Grills

    Z Grills is a grill manufacturer with over 30 years of experience within the industry. With over 650,000 pellet grills sold and 85 million cooks made, trust us.

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