From Meat Smoking and Smokehouse Design: There is a significant difference between smoking, barbecuing, and grilling. When grilling, you quickly seal in the juices from the piece you are cooking. Grilling takes minutes. Smoking takes hours, sometimes even days. Don’t be fooled by the common misconception that by throwing some wet wood chips over hot coals you can fully smoke your meat. At best you can only add some flavor on the outside because the moment the outside surface of the meat becomes dry and cooked,a significant barrier exists that prevents smoke penetration. A properly smoked piece of meat has to be thoroughly smoked, on the outside and everywhere inside. Only prolonged cold smoking will achieve that result. Smoking when grilling is no better than pumping liquid smoke into it and claiming that the product has been smoked. Let’s unravel some of the mystery. All these methods are different from each other, especially smoking and grilling. The main factor separating them is temperature.
1. Smoking - very low heat, 52 – 140° F (12 – 60° C), 1 hour to 2 weeks, depending on temperature. 2. Barbecuing – low heat, 190 – 300° F (93 – 150° C), low and slow, a few hours. 3. Grilling – high heat, 400 – 550° F (232 – 288° C), hot and fast, minutes.
The purpose of grilling is to char the surface of the meat and seal in the juices by creating a smoky caramelized crust. By the same token a barrier is erected which prevents smoke from flowing inside. The meat may have a somewhat smoky flavor on the outside but due to a short cooking time it was never really smoked.
Barbecuing is a long, slow, indirect, low-heat method that uses charcoal or wood pieces to smoke-cook the meat. The best definition is that barbecuing is cooking with smoke. It is ideally suited for large pieces of meat such as butts, ribs or whole pigs. The temperature range of 190–300° F (88-150° C) is still too high for smoking sausages as the fat will melt away through the casings making them greasy. Barbecue is a social affair, people gather to gossip, drink, have fun and to eat the moment the meats are cooked. On the other hand, traditionally smoked meats are usually eaten cold at a later date. Although barbecued meats can be placed directly on the screen and cooked, in many cases they are first marinated. Marinades consist of many flavoring ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, and spices whereas traditional curing basically contains only water, salt and nitrite, sometimes sugar is added as well. To make great barbecued products the understanding of the following steps is required: controlling fire and temperature, moisture control, smoking with wood and the required time for barbecuing.