We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

What’s the Difference Between Barbecuing and Grilling?

Someone grilling vegetables
Kamil Macniak/Shutterstock.com

When it comes to outdoor cooking, the terms “barbecue” and “grilling” are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different cooking methods. Barbecuing and grilling each have unique characteristics and techniques, and knowing the difference between them can help you achieve the perfect cookout.

What is Barbecuing?

A barbecue grill outside
Pasko Maksim/Shutterstock.com

Barbecuing is a slow-cooking method that involves cooking food over low heat for an extended period of time. The heat source for barbecuing is usually charcoal or wood, which is burned down to embers before the food is added to the grill. You can purchase different kinds of wood chips to give your meat different delicious BBQ flavors.

The process of smoking the food is as important as the cooking, as the smoke adds a distinct flavor to the food. Barbecuing is often associated with meats such as brisket, ribs, and pulled pork, but vegetables and fruits can also be barbecued. The low heat of barbecuing makes it ideal for tough, fatty cuts of meat that need to be cooked slowly to break down the connective tissue and render the fat.

Barbecued meats are typically treated with a marinade, sauce, or rub before cooking. The slow BBQ process allows these flavors to infuse the meat while cooking and creates a delicious final product.

Capital City Mambo Sauce

Two top-rated barbecue sauces.

How to Barbecue

Ribs being barbecued

To barbecue, you will need a grill with a lid, a source of heat, a rack that separates the meat from the heat source, and wood or charcoal for smoke. Once you have all of your supplies, prepare the grill by building a fire underneath the grill rack and leaving some space empty to allow for an indirect heat zone.

Cuisinart CCG190RB Inch BBQ,

Great for beginners.

Different meats will require different internal barbecue temperatures, so it is important to follow a recipe if you are new to this cooking method. Most foods will give the best results when cooked between 225°F and 275°F. You can keep an eye on your barbecue’s temperature with a special thermometer.

BBQ Thermometer Temperature Gauge

These will help you regulate the temperature inside your barbecue.

Once your barbecue has reached the recommended temperature, you can place your meat on the grill, close the lid, and allow it to cook. Many recipes will require that you check to baste or turn your meat during the cooking process. You can also cover the meat in a great BBQ rub before cooking for extra flavor.

Cook until your meat has reached a safe internal temperature, which will usually be between 145°F and 165°F, although this will vary depending on the meat you are cooking and how rare you want it. When your meat has finished cooking, it should be allowed to rest for several minutes before serving.

Alpha Grillers Instant Read Meat Thermometer

Make sure your meat is safe to eat.

What Is Grilling?

An outdoor grill
Arina P Habich/Shutterstock.com

Grilling is a high-heat cooking method that involves cooking food quickly over direct heat. Grilling can also be referred to as barbecue grilling or BBQ grilling. The heat source for grilling can be gas, charcoal, or wood, and the food is typically placed directly on the grates of the grill.

Sophia & William 4-Burner Propane Gas Grill

An affordable grill for every home.

Grilling is ideal for tender cuts of meat, such as steak, burgers, and chicken breasts, that cook quickly and benefit from the high heat. Vegetables and fruits can also be grilled, as the high heat caramelizes their natural sugars and adds a smoky flavor.

Unlike barbecues, grills are typically set at a high temperature between 450°F and 500°F. Grilling often leaves charred marks on meats and vegetables, which look nice and add flavor.

Alpha Grillers Grill Set Heavy Duty BBQ Accessories

All you need to barbecue and grill.

How to Grill

Burgers on the grill
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock.com

To grill, you will need a grill with grates and a source of heat, such as gas, charcoal, or wood. Preheat the grill to your desired temperature, either by turning on the gas or lighting the charcoal or wood. Brush the grates with oil to prevent food from sticking.

AIZOAM Grill Basket Stainless Steel BBQ Grilling Basket

This is helpful when grilling smaller items.

Place meats or veggies on the grill over the direct heat source and cook until the desired level of doneness is reached. Again, you will want to look for an internal temperature between 145°F and 165°F depending on the type of meat you’re cooking. Make sure to flip your meat or veggies once halfway through the cooking process.

Basting your meat or adding a sauce will greatly improve the flavor, but you should wait until the last few minutes of cooking to avoid the sauce burning from the high heat. When the food has finished cooking, remove it from the grill and let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Wicker's Marinade (Original, 64 Ounce)

A delicious marinade you can put on everything.

What Are the Key Differences Between Barbecuing and Grilling

A family grilling outside

In summary, the main difference in the BBQ vs. grill debate is the cooking method and the type of heat used. Barbecuing is a low and slow cooking process that uses indirect heat and smoke to cook tough cuts of meat, while grilling is a high-heat cooking method that uses direct heat to quickly cook tender cuts of meat.

Another key difference between the two is the type of food that is typically cooked. Barbecuing is often associated with large cuts of meat, such as brisket, ribs, and pork shoulders, while grilling is often associated with smaller cuts of meat, such as burgers, steaks, and chicken breasts. That being said, you are free to barbecue or grill pretty much any type of meat if you want.

Barbecuing and grilling also use different kinds of equipment and tools. Barbecue grills often have a lid and are designed to be used with charcoal or wood for the slow-cooking process, while grills for grilling typically do not have a lid (or if they do, the lid is usually not used) and can be fueled by gas, charcoal, or wood.

Both barbecuing and grilling have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Barbecuing takes more time and preparation, but it results in flavorful, tender, and moist meat. Grilling is quick and easy, but it requires more attention to prevent overcooking or drying out the meat. The method you use will depend on the type of meat you are cooking and how much time you have on your hands.

While both barbecuing and grilling are popular outdoor cooking methods, they are distinct in their cooking technique, heat source, and the type of food typically cooked. Knowing the difference between the two can help you choose the right method for the best cookout recipes.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on one thing: making your life outside of work even better. Want to know more?