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

cooking meat on a grill

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:

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
Smoking

Both of these cooking methods use a grill.

Meals prepared with both methods have the distinct barbecue flavor that you know and love but these are the only instances where these 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.

Grilling is done at a much higher temperature than barbecuing.

Grilling

grilling burgers on high heat

When you grill your meals, you cook them on direct heat.

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.

In this case, the heat is coming from one direction. You need to turn the food over several times so it will be properly cooked on all sides.

If you don’t do this, you’ll burn it on one side while leaving it raw on the other.

The temperature of the burning charcoal can reach 2000°F / 1093°C while that of the grill grates could be 500°F – 700°F / 260°C – 371°C (this mainly depends on the amount of charcoal used).

Barbecuing

checking temperature of BBQ leg of lamb
What Temperature Do You BBQ At?

The cooking temperatures when barbecuing should not exceed 300°F (149°C) which is much less than grilling.

Barbecuing is not as aggressive as grilling. It cooks meals slowly using low indirect heat.

When barbecuing your food, the meals are far away from the source of heat. This prevents burning.

Most of the time the lid is closed. This helps in retaining heat and smoke when you are cooking.

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.

Grilling

What Foods Are Suitable for Grilling?
grilling meat and vegetables

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

  • Thin-sliced steaks
  • Seafood
  • Pork chops
  • Chicken
  • Burgers
  • Vegetables

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

Barbecuing

ribs on a charcoal grill

Barbecuing cooks meals slowly using indirect heat and this is ideal for the heavy cuts that contain a lot of connective tissues.

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

egg timer

Grilling is much faster than barbecuing.

Grilling

How Long Do You Grill Meat?

Grilling is quite fast as a result of the direct high heat and you will be able to cook in a very short time.

The average time is 5 to 20 minutes.

Fun fact: grilling on an infrared grill is even faster compared to traditional gas and charcoal grills.

Barbecuing

How Long Does It Take to Cook on a BBQ?

Barbecuing, on the other hand, takes its time and the cooking time can be at least 2 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.

4. Smoking

smoking ribs on weber charcoal grill

Depending on the type of grill, smoking is present in both cooking methods.

The main difference here is how much present it is.

Grilling

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.

Barbecuing

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” 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?

Braai.

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 cooking methods but because they are both done on a grill, some folks use these terms interchangeably.

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

Are you going to barbecue or grill this season?

About Mario 136 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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