Grilling vs. Barbecuing

Do you like to grill or do you prefer to barbecue? Did you know there was even a difference?

Chances are you’re a griller, which means you like to cook meat fast over a hot flame.

Barbecuing on the other hand is a slow process over a low indirect heat. This is the technique used to create melt-in-your-mouth pulled pork and fall-off-the-bone ribs.

How to Grill

The first thing you need is fire. And you have a few options. We’re going to start with the easiest method – gas grill.

You can pick up a simple gas grill for less than $150. You’ll also need a propane tank. Turn that bad boy on, push ignite and dinner is only minutes away.

A good gas grill will have a couple of burners, so you can adjust the heat. To start, we like to crank the heat to high to clean off all the leftover bits. Then, we adjust the temp for whatever we’re grilling.

Steaks and veggies do well with a high heat, but chicken and pork chops do better over medium.

We always recommend having an extra propane tank on hand. There’s nothing worse than running out of gas half way through grilling a turkey Thanksgiving Day.

One of the cheapest methods of grilling is with a kettle grill that uses charcoal. You can pick one up for about $40.

This method is a little more complicated because you will need to light the coals and adjust the heat using a vent system.

So why would anyone use charcoal?

Because it makes the meat taste so much better, assuming you don’t douse the coals with lighter fluid. Really, don’t do that.

We like using hardwood lump charcoal. It burns clean, lights quickly and imparts a hint of smokiness to whatever you’re cooking.

There are a couple of ways to light charcoal, but we’ve found the easiest method is with fire starter squares. You tuck one or two into the charcoal and light ‘em up. The flames will quickly spread. Let them burn for about 10 minutes before adding food to the grill.

There is one more grilling method that we can’t overlook – campfire cooking.

You don’t have to live in the middle of the woods to pull this off. A lot of people are adding campfire rings in their backyards nowadays. If you have one, you’ve probably cooked the traditional hot dogs and s’mores.

Now it’s time to take it up a notch. With a simple campfire cooking grate, you can turn that backyard kumbaya circle into an outdoor kitchen.

Before you get started though, there is one very important thing you have to do – know your wood.

Avoid using pine or cedar. Both contain a lot of sap, and before you know it, your food will taste more like air freshener. If you’re buying wood in packaged bundles, read the label. Some actually say, not intended for cooking. The best bet is to go with a hardwood like hickory, apple, pecan, cherry, etc.

Build your hardwood teepee, light the wood and once it starts to glow, knock down the teepee to create coals. Place the cooking grate on top and you’re good to go. You can throw the meat straight on the grate, and you can use cast iron pans to create side dishes.

Direct vs. Indirect

Once you’ve picked out your grill and fired it up, there is one more very important tip that is the difference between being an average backyard griller versus the grill queen (or king) of the block.

Know how to handle the heat!

Most people cook over direct heat. This means that they set the grill temp and place the food right over the fire. This is the method you’ll use the majority of the time.

Indirect heat, on the other hand, is when you have heat on only one side of the grill. If you’re using a gas grill, you simply turn off half of the burners. If you’re using charcoal, you push the coals to one side.

Then, you place the food on the side where there is no heat and close the lid. This creates more of an oven effect, and this is what advances you from griller to barbecuer.

How to Barbecue

Barbecuing is basically grilling slowly over indirect low heat.

Why would you want to cook the food slow and low?

Think of the barbecue as your outdoor slow cooker. When you put a roast in the slow cooker and leave it for 8 hours, it falls apart, creating a delicious dinner. Why? Because the meat’s connective tissue breaks down.

The same thing happens when you barbecue.

By turning off half of the grill, you’re able to reduce the temperature to about 250 degrees. If you place a roast over the indirect heat and close the lid, after a few hours, the meat is incredibly tender.

Unlike a slow cooker, most grill lids don’t lock in moisture, so sometimes barbecuers will place a pan of liquid in with the meat. You can use stock, juice, beer, wine or even just water.

Another option is to wrap the meat in foil during the final hour of cooking, so the meat bastes itself.

Safety tip: Unlike a slow cooker, it’s not safe to start the barbecue and head to work for 8 hours. We are talking about fire here, so you want to keep an eye on it every now and then.

How to Smoke

Once you master grilling and barbecuing, you’re ready for the final chapter of Girls Can Grill college – smoking.

Smoking is just barbecuing with the addition of flavorful hardwood. It uses the same indirect heat method.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, soak wood chips in water for about 30 minutes and then sprinkle them around the coals. As they heat up, they’ll release more smoke than fire, creating that real barbecue flavor.

If you’re using a gas grill, you don’t want to place the wood chips on the burner because it creates a mess in your grill. Instead, put the chips in a smoker box or even a packet of foil.

Experiment with different woods. In our opinion, mesquite has more of a bitter flavor; whereas hickory is a little smoother, and apple and cherry are sweeter.

When smoking, don’t overdo the chips. You only need them for about a third of the barbecuing time. Otherwise, your food tastes more like smoke than meat.

Now that we’ve walked you through all of the basics, browse around and test out a few recipes. We’re confident that you can grill up, barbecue and smoke a great dinner.