What Is The Difference Between Grilling And Barbecuing?

Published Categorized as Grills and Outdoor Cooking, Guide

Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.

For most of us, we usually use the terms grilling and barbecuing interchangeably. Technically speaking, these are two different things. And unless you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you may not be aware of the difference between them. 

So what is the difference between grilling and barbecuing? Wonder no more and keep on reading to find out what separates the two cooking methods apart.

Table of Contents

What Is Grilling?

Grilling is a cooking process where the surface of the meat is charred to seal all those nice juices in. This method of cooking is excellent for tender pieces of meat like steak, ribs, pork chops, beef loin strip, and chicken. 

Moreover, it is used across the globe in various cultures using the same essential guidelines. In the United States, grilling is typically done through gas or charcoal grills. There are even infrared grills available, which are an expensive option.

Heat is key in grilling. Here you cook meat over a direct source of heat for a short period. And since the cooking time is less in comparison to barbecuing, both the position of your food and heat level will make a massive difference. Hence, it is vital to understand the difference between indirect and direct heating.

Grilling Using Direct Heat

This kind of grilling simply means that you directly place the meat over a heating source. It’s perfect for grilling smaller pieces of meat quickly at high temperatures. 

You can use the method to cook pork chops, burgers, chicken, fish, and hot dogs. You’ll be able to easily achieve that crispy outer layer while the center is nice and juicy. 

When applying direct heat to your foods, make sure to close the grill’s lid for as long as possible. Doing so will preserve moisture and prevent your food drying.

Grilling Using Direct Heat

Grilling with indirect heat can be pretty tricky to perfect. Nonetheless, once you’ve mastered it, you’re well on your way to becoming a pitmaster. The main concept of this grilling technique is to slowly cook your meat over a close heat source but not below your meat. 

This works well on a gas-based grill and ideal for food like chicken and turkey. For two burners, turn on one burner and set it to medium heat. You will then cook on the other burner without any heating source. To ensure heat does not escape and to lock in moisture, make sure to keep the lid on your grill.

This same concept is also applicable to charcoal grills. Simply push the warm charcoal on one side, and then place your meat on the side with no heat.

What Is Barbecuing?

Barbecuing is when you cook your food slowly at low temperatures for a long period. This unique way of cooking is used worldwide. And although it may vary in certain aspects, the characteristics are pretty much the same.

It’s great for mutton, chicken, turkey, pork, and other tough meats. The cooking time may take hours. However, the low and slow process will cook your meat thoroughly. Likewise, it will give the meat’s fat content time to render or melt. The result is juicy and tender pieces of meat that barbecuing is famous for.

When barbecuing, your heat source will come from a chamber. and you place your food at a distance from it. The most common heat sources for this type of cooking is wood and charcoal, which gives meat that distinct smoky flavor.

Factors That Differentiate Grilling And Barbecuing

The only things these two styles of cooking have in common are a grill grate and heat source. Aside from that, you can distinguish them from the following ways:

  • Heat and temperature
  • Cooking time
  • Smoke
  • Meat cuts

Heat And Temperature

Heat and temperature will play a major role in how your meat will taste afterward. 

When grilling directly from heat, you usually deal with very high temperatures ranging from 375F to 650F. The tremendous heat will radiate from the source to produce extreme temperatures on the grate of your grill and travel upward to your foods. Flipping is vital here for consistent cooking since you only have heat coming from the bottom. 

Meanwhile, barbecuing uses convection cooking at low temperatures, which is about 160F to 250F. This enables you to achieve flavorful and tender pieces of meat. 

The convection method involves indirect heat to cook your food from every angle. Unlike grilling, this takes longer. But that smoky goodness taste is surely worth the wait, right?

Cooking Time

Cooking time is one of the biggest differences between grilling and barbecuing. Grilling is very convenient. You can enjoy your favorite meat right away. 

The majority of meals will only require about 5 to 20 minutes of grilling time. Thus, the method is straightforward and fast and great for weeknight dinners or weekend parties with friends.

On the other hand, barbecuing can take anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. Time and preparation are important if you want to serve a good bbq. Again, the key here is low and slow for that delightful tender and smoky meat. 


Bbq always uses smoke from mesquite, hickory, and other aromatic woods. The type of wood you need to use will depend on your preference.

Grilling is non-smoke. It uses high temperatures that generate flare-ups instead of significant smoke. Also, your meat will not be on your grill long enough to acquire a smoky taste.

Meat Cuts

Different meat cuts need various levels of heat to cook well. Since grilling applies extreme heat, meats will cook fast. Hence it is best for thin or ground cuts that are naturally tender like steak, pork chops, and burgers. Seafood and chicken breasts are also perfect for grilling. 

Tough, large, and sinewy cuts of meat full of connective tissues like brisket, ribs, pork shoulder, and butts, are great for barbecue. Its low and slow cooking process can turn these pieces of meat into juicy, tender, and mouthwatering feast. 


Now that you know what is the difference between grilling and barbecuing, which one do you plan on doing this weekend? Both methods of cooking enable you to craft sumptuous meals that the entire family will enjoy. 

If you have plenty of time, you may want to consider barbecuing. Just make sure to prep your bbq ahead of time. But if you want a quick way to satisfy your cravings, grilling is the way to go.

So, now that you know the difference you can get and start making delicious food with our grilling recipes guide or just go on and start cold smoking meat.