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BBQ vs Grilling

There seems to be a lot of versions of how barbecue got started and even the source of the word itself. Big deal, take your pick and have fun with whichever version you like. Just don’t get upset if someone disagrees, because you’re likely to both be some right and some wrong… but it just doesn’t matter to me whether the word ‘barbecue’ came from the Taino word barabicu, which means "sacred fire", or the French barbe-a-que, which means "from snout to tail". Just as jazz music is a truly American form of music, barbecue is the one truly American form of cuisine.

People that aren’t "in the know" often call any outdoor cooking ‘barbecue’. Barbecue is a lot like any esoteric endeavor, whether it’s wine, coffee, photography, etc… When someone first gets involved, they learn all kinds of stuff that is different than what they thought before they got involved in the subject that now interests them. The first thing likely to hear a new barbecuer do is to automatically correct anyone that grilling barbecuing. This is kind of silly usually, as the intent is often to show that the person doing the correcting has more knowledge than the obviously unknowledgable person that called it ‘barbecuing’.

Ok, so what is the difference between grilling and barbecuing? It’s actually fairly simple:

* Grilling is basically considered to be cooking over a direct fire, whether from wood, charcoal or gas, on a grate. Grilling uses radiant heat to cook lower fat foods quickly.

* Barbecuing is cooking using indirect or convection heat at lower temperatures (usually 200-250 degree F). Both higher and lower fat foods can often be barbecued.

One of the big differences, to me, between barbecued and grilled foods is the wood smoke. Wood smoke used for grilling is great, but there’s usually not enough exposure to really tell a difference in which wood was used. Barbecuing applies wood smoke as a seasoning, and the longer exposure results in different flavor from different woods.

Traditional barbecue is done with high fat foods that require time to convert collagen to gelatin so that the meat goes from being tough to pull-apart tender. The traditional meats include whole pig, pork shoulder, ribs (both pork and beef) and beef brisket. These meats often are almost impossible to eat if not given the time and appropriate heat to melt the connective tissue. Lower fat meats can also be barbecued, but care must be taken to ensure the meats don’t dry out.

Barbecuing is often refered to as ’smoking’; this isn’t wrong, and most people understand what is meant. There are two types of smoking, however: hot and cold smoking. Hot smoking is barbecuing, while cold smoking is done with smoke that is under 80 degrees F. The difference is that the food is not cooked with cold smoking; it’s cured. Typically, smoked salmon is cold smoked, as are smoked cheeses.

In summary, there are differences in grilling and barbecuing, but most people don’t care… Outdoor cooking is an obsession that is only getting bigger, and is accessible to both rich and poor. If you’re just getting into outdoor cooking, there’s a wealth of info out there in books and on the internet… just jump in and enjoy!