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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!

General BBQ Tips

When roasting or grilling with a BBQ pit closed, open a can of beer and place the beer over the hottest part of the fire. The beer will boil and super saturate the air inside the pit with water vapor, beer flavors and alcohol. This will help in keeping the roasting meats moist, while adding flavor to the meat.

“Blasting” is the preferable method to remove fats from ducks, geese and beef rib roast. The oven or BBQ pit should be preheated to it’s highest setting (usually +500F). Place the meat on a roasting pan and rack assembly, sear the meat for 20 - 30 minutes in this heat. After a cooling period of 20 minutes or so, the meat can be roasted or grilled as required. Reserve the drippings for Yorkshire Pudding and other recipes.

Whenever barbecuing, use tongs to turn the meat. A Chef’s fork should never be used. For it will punch holes in the flesh and allow the natural juices to escape and loose flavor and become chewy.

When grilling meats, it is usually best to turn the meat only once. If the meat is turned over several times it will not “mark” the meat properly. A Chef tries to use the grill to sear “grill marks” into the flesh and therefore will try not to turn over or move the meat during cooking. Prior grill planning is of the utmost importance.

When grilling meat to a medium or greater doneness, use the lid to assist in cooking. This will decrease the cooking time by applying heat to all sides of the meat at once. The lid will also inhibit the flare-up of an open flame by starving the coals for oxygen.

When grilling New York Strips (1 -1/2” or thicker) it is sometimes possible to grill all four sides of the steak. Try it! It adds extra char flavor and produces much more even cooking.

Basting renews flavors to grilling or roasting meat. Basting will also rejuvenate dried meat during the cooking process. A roast or turkey will become dry if it is not basted several times during the cooking process.

A “bouquet garni” can be used to baste barbecued meat. Select several 5 to 7 inch long fresh herb stems, such as basil, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon. Use a small piece of cotton twine and tie the bouquet together, then use this to flavor the meat with extra marinade during the cooking process.

Be careful when basting meat over very hot coals. The oils in a marinade will drip on to the coals and create a flash fire.

Cooked meat should never be returned to a cold marinade. If you desire to use the marinade for a sauce after the meat cooking process, then heat the marinade in the microwave or in a sauce pan on top of the grill. A used marinade has uncooked blood in it from the saturated meat. These juices harbor bacteria and microbes, do not reuse a marinade you can die!

Most grilling is done over the hottest of fires. This will seal in the juices, reduce cooking time, use less coals, and produce the most desirable of flavors.

Tomato and/or sugar based BBQ sauces should be added only at the end of the grilling process. These products will burn easily and are seldom considered an internal meat flavoring. Once added, the meat should be turned often to minimize the possibility of burning.