Outdoor Cooking: Grilling vs. Barbecuing vs. Smoking

outdoor cooking

In conversation, you probably hear smoking, grilling, and barbecuing used interchangeably, and that’s confusing. Because while similar, these three methods for outdoor cooking are actually very different and designed for different purposes. And that’s intimidating, especially if you are new to outdoor cooking. Do you know when to use each method? We want to help demystify these different methods and clear up any confusion so you can nail that next neighborhood cookout. Ready? Here we go!

The biggest difference between these three methods is the heat level. Grilling means cooking smaller cuts of meat (burgers, hot dogs, and steaks) or fruits, or veggies hot and fast over a large flame, usually at temperatures above 350℉ (up to 700℉). Barbecuing means cooking larger cuts of meat (we are talking rib roasts, pork shoulders, and brisket) much slower over a smaller flame, with temperatures usually staying between 225 and 250℉. And smoking is like taking barbecuing to the extreme, essentially cooking food with the heat and smoke from wood chips, chunks, or pellets at temperatures as low as 125 to 175℉. 

hot & fastlow & sloweven lower & slower
direct heatindirect heatindirect heat
350℉ or abovebetween 225 and 250℉as low as 125 and 175℉
small, tender cuts of meatbig, tough cuts of meatbig, tough cuts of meat
takes just a few minutes takes several hourstakes up to 24 hours

Those are the big differences between grilling, barbecuing, and smoking. That said, there is some overlap with all of these methods. It turns out you don’t necessarily need three separate appliances–one for grilling, one for barbecuing, and one for smoking. There is a way to get a balance between all three when you invest in the right tools. Enter the automatic pellet smoker. 

grilling veggies

We get it–using a pellet-fed smoker can be intimidating. It’s not what you are used to. It’s too single-purpose. It is too much of a time commitment. For a while, we made all of those very same excuses. But with the Traeger grills, smoking isn’t exclusively for backyard barbecue pros. If you can use an oven, trust us, you can use a smoker. It’s that easy! Once we tried it we were sold. And now the Traeger is how we do almost all of our outdoor cooking. 

outdoor cooking veggies

It is the happy medium between grilling, barbecuing and smoking. With a pellet smoker, like a Traeger, you can grill those smaller cuts of meats as well as some fruits and veggies. You can also maintain the consistency of the temperature to essentially create an outdoor oven. And the aromatic smoke encapsulates the meat (or whatever it is you might be cooking), soaking into the fat and cooking it to perfection. You can also get those lower temperatures and longer cooking times to take a big, tough cut of meat, make it meltingly tender, and infuse it with an unmatched smokey flavor. 

smoking meat

Yep, you can use this tool to grill up smaller cuts of meat or for smoking those larger hunks (we can’t wait to share our ideas for a pork butt). Did you know you can even use the pellet grill for almost all of your favorite sides and desserts? Asparagus, smoked potatoes, grilled pineapple, brownies, pie, etc. All of these are things you can make in your smoker while you are waiting for your meat to finish. It’s awesome to be able to take your kitchen outside on those hot, hot days. And we can’t wait to share some of our favorite recipes for outdoor cooking. Let’s do this together!

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