I’m going to share with you the differences between GRILLING and BBQ. I’ve learned these over the past fifteen years, and want to open up a discussion. Try not to get butthurt and remember that we’re talking about one versus the other. NOT what REAL BBQ is or what REAL GRILLING is. These differences come from conversations with Pit Masters and grillers from around the US and the world.
The origins and evolution of these forms are being rediscovered. Yet, I would like us to agree that there is some common ground for categorizing one vs the other. I do think the differences are simple and not very complex.
Most of the information I’ve gathered has been from research, listening, hosting panel discussions (Butcher’s Ball Podcast), engaging, and primarily shooting the shit with some of my favorite cooks. Please feel free to reach out if wanting to provide insight and engage in the conversation. I don’t understand the dissonance in this conversation when speaking with experience. Frankly, these are two VERY different styles of cooking meats.
Let’s start of with the most controversial: BBQ
From what I’ve gathered, BBQ has three important factors. Low heat. Long cooking times. And tough cuts of meat.
That’s it. The debate between using specific seasonings or sauces, I leave for the EXPERTS in BBQ. Brisket or whole hog, with or without sauce, are both very delicious. I respect both forms. From Texas BBQ to Carolina BBQ.
The history here is quite fascinating. It was explained to me by Texas Monthly BBQ Editor Daniel Vaughn while hosting a Panel Discussion at the 2019 Butcher’s Ball in Texas.
My understanding is that BBQ dates pretty far back. The most examinable peoples, in Texas for example, would be Mexicans in South Texas, Slaves (later emancipated) in East Texas, and Germans and Czechs who settled in Central Texas. All these groups would take tough cuts of meat and smoke them in efforts to break them down and preserve the meats for later usage. Since the more expensive cuts were given to the wealthy, the butchers would keep these cheaper cuts, and had to find ways to consume it.
Luckily for us, these minority groups were able to make something out of nothing. Now people like us are THANKFUL that they created such a tasty cuisine.
Obviously this is a quick history lesson, but at least we agree on the simplicity of what is considered BBQ no matter which region of the BBQ world you’ve been born into.
Now, onto what my focus is in: GRILLING
Grilling also has three main pillars that help it differentiate from good ‘ol BBQ. It’s almost the exact opposite of BBQ. It consists of: High heat. Fast cooking times. And not-as-tough cuts of meat. See, not that complicated.
In grilling, there isn’t much debate about sauces or seasonings as there is in BBQ. There really isn’t a debate about what is traditional grilling. I do believe, and correct me if I’m wrong (but I doubt it), grilling (or primitively speaking, cooking meat over fire) dates back when cavemen first learned to wield fire. Way before we learned about smoking meats. Fast forward a bit, and there are records found in ancient civilizations of people cooking meat over fire.
Grilling involves thinner cuts of meat that break down WAY easier and come out more tender in a much shorter amount of time. These cuts of meat were butchered from animals like the cow and sold for a good price. These cuts being smaller and thinner than briskets or whole hogs would take a much shorter time to cook on high heat. Reaching perfection (medium-rare) just in time for dinner.
Before concluding I want to add two curve balls, because what’s a good discussion without some controversy we can argue about?
1) While the source of heat is very important to consider in both forms, I believe it’s more important in BBQ because those cuts need some good smoking to them. As those cuts sit in that pit for long amounts of time you want the smoke to compliment the meat. You want them to have a healthy relationship and work for one another. So, it’s important to have a good, tasteful smoke touching your meat.
2) Though you can smoke a lot of different foods, I do think grilling has more versatility to it. Don’t start yelling-I’m not talking about meat here, rather other foods like vegetables, seafood or even pizza. Since most foods don’t need hours and hours of cooking, one can pretty much grill anything if there is an understanding between the heat and the griller.
*We’ll expand and argue over these two curve balls on a later date...just @ me.
Anyways, as simple as this comparison might be, I think it highlights the fact that while a Pitmaster or Grill Master may go deep into either form of cooking, it’s easy to differentiate one from the other. Both have their place in my heart and in my backyard.
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