Grill vs BBQ: 4 Main Differences (Side By Side Comparison)

Grilling is a great way to relax, have fun, and cook at the same time. Either alone or in the company of the ones you love, having a barbecue is always an enjoyable and unforgettable experience.

Whether you are BBQ-ing on a charcoal, gas, electric, or infrared grill, it doesn’t really matter as long as you have fun.

But the terms grilling and BBQ (sometimes referred to as barbeque or barbecue) are often used interchangeably because people think they are the same thing. In fact, they are not.

The 4 main grill vs BBQ differences are:

  • The temperature
  • The type of food you cook
  • The cooking time
  • Whether smoking is used or not

All these differences are explained in detail. See them below.

As bonus material, I’ll explain what caused this mixup and some interesting facts about barbecuing.

What Is the Difference Between a Grill and a Barbecue?

Grilling Barbecue
Cooking Temperature High on direct heat Low on indirect heat
Type of Food Thin-sliced Thick
Cooking Time Fast Slow

Both of these cooking methods use a grill. Meals prepared in these methods will have the distinct barbecue flavor that you have come to love but these are the only instances where these cooking methods are similar. Grilling and barbecuing differ in many ways and I will highlight the difference between barbecuing and grilling in this article.

There are differences between charcoal and gas grills as well and you can learn about them to understand how these two grills work and what do you need to know about each of them to use your grill properly and with ease.

Is Grilling and Barbecuing the Same Thing?

Just like juices and smoothies, these two cooking techniques look similar to the untrained eye but are not the same.

1. The Cooking Temperature

This is one of the things that differentiate these two methods of cooking. The temperatures when you grill your meals are different from when you are barbecuing them and here is how this is the case.


When you grill your meals, you cook them with the direct heat generated within the grill. The glowing coal in your charcoal grill and the burning flames in your gas grill get quite hot and this heat is what cooks your food.

When you prepare your meals this way, they receive the heat from one direction and as such, you will have to turn the foods over several times so as to ensure that they cook properly on all sides. If you don’t do this, you’ll burn the food on one side while leaving it raw on the other.

The main methods through which heat reaches the foods that you are cooking are radiation and conduction.

The grill grates are also heated by the flames from the glowing charcoal or the gas burner and when meals are placed on the heated grates, they receive the heat through conduction. The heat generated within the grills burns the oils in the food which then drips to the glowing charcoal to produce flavorful smoke. This smoke adds flavor to the food that you are cooking and that is why meals prepared this way have a distinct flavor.

The temperature of the burning charcoal can reach 2000°F while that of the grill grates could be 500°F – 700°F depending on the amount of charcoal used.


What Temperature Do You BBQ At?

The cooking temperatures when barbecuing should not exceed 300°F which is less than the direct grilling method.

Barbecuing is not as aggressive as grilling. It cooks meals slowly using indirect heat. When barbecuing your food, the meals are far away from the source of heat so as to prevent them from burning up.

Most of the time the lid of the grill used to prepare the meals is closed so as to create a mini oven that will cook your meals slowly and indirectly. It also helps conserve energy when you are cooking. This way you will use less fuel.

The main method of heat transfer when you are barbecuing is convection whereby convectional currents circulate within the grill and transfer heat to the meals on the grill. Barbecue results in an even cookout as the heated air can reach all sides of the food.

2. The Foods Being Cooked

Each of these cooking methods is also ideal for different types and sizes of food. The different types and sizes of food have different cooking requirements and that’s why you should be careful when choosing between grilling and barbecuing.


What Foods Are Suitable for Grilling?

Since grilling relies on direct heat, it is only ideal for cooking tender and smaller cuts of meat. These include:

grilling meat and vegetables

The direct cooking style of grilling will cook these meals effectively but you have to be careful not to burn them.


Barbecuing cooks meals slowly using indirect heat and this is ideal for the heavy cuts that contain a lot of connective tissues. Cooking this type of food slowly will ensure your dishes are done properly and it will help soften them up.

What Is the Best Food to BBQ?

Shoulder parts, ribs, and briskets are some of the cuts that you can prepare this way if you want the best results when cooking. These parts have some heavily connected tissues and you will not be able to cook them properly if you use direct and high heat.

3. The Cooking Time

This is another factor that differentiates these two methods of cooking on a grill.


How Long Do You Grill Meat?

Grilling is quite fast as a result of the direct heat and you will be able to cook your meals in a short time. The average time is 5 to 20 minutes when you cook this way.


How Long Does It Take to Cook on a BBQ?

Barbecuing, on the other hand, takes its time to cook your meals and the cooking time can be more than two hours depending on what you are cooking. Some dishes can take the whole afternoon to cook, like ribs.

barbecue ribs

Take this into consideration when planning your day.


Depending on the type of grill, smoking is present in both cooking methods. The main difference here is how much present it is.


It is possible to smoke while grilling, and if you have a charcoal grill, you will taste the smokey flavor, but because of high temperatures and fast cooking time, the smoking effect is almost negligible.


Here’s definitely smoke, but no fire. Because the temperatures are much lower than grilling and therefore, cooking time is higher, there’s more time for the food to “absorb” the smoke.

TIP: To get the real smokey flavor, add aromatic wood like hickory, oak, maple, or mesquite.

Are you a fan of smoking? Then check out these best charcoal grill smoker combos for the best smoke-flavored burgers.

The Culprit That Started This Mix-Up

barbecue sauce

You weren’t expecting this, were you?

Emanuella Grinberg explains in this CNN article that barbecue sauces are the main reason that people think grilling and barbecuing are the same.

Note: Just because it says “barbecue sauce” on the label that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used when grilling. This is one of the most well-known mixups of the terms “grill” and “barbecue”. I’ve seen grilling sauces a few times, but not a lot.

Interesting Facts About Barbecuing

Which Is Correct Barbecue or Barbeque?

Barbecue or Barbeque? “Barbecue” is the standard spelling while “barbeque” is one of the variants. Technically, the correct English spelling is barbecue.

There are other variations of the word barbecue besides barbeque like:

  • BBQ
  • bar-b-q
  • barbie
  • braai

Now the real world is not the same as the English classes in school where you’d get an F if you misspelled a few words. So, it really doesn’t matter if you spell barbecue or barbeque because people know it means the same thing.

Why Is It Called Barbecue?

The word “barbecue” comes from the Caribbean word “barbacoa.” Originally, a barbacoa wasn’t a way of cooking food, but the name of a wooden structure used by Taino Indians to smoke their food.

Source: Today I found out

What Do They Call a Barbecue in South Africa?


Is Steak Considered BBQ?

Thin-cut steaks fall into the thin-cut foods category, so they are more suitable for grilling rather than barbecuing.

Grilling Is Not the Same as Barbecue

Grilling and BBQ-ing are different methods of cooking your meals but because they both use a grill, some folks use these terms interchangeably.

Now you know the 4 main differences of grill vs BBQ.

Are you going to barbecue or grill this season?

About Mario 135 Articles
I am the owner of the Kitchen Guru Ideas. I've set up this site so I can share my kitchen tips and hacks that have been passed on to me from my parents and grandparents and show you how a wonderful experience cooking is and not just a way to save money. Even in this hectic lifestyle, there is time to prepare and most important enjoy a home-cooked meal.

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