Grilling What is Grilling? A Definition and Comparison to BBQ

What is Grilling? A Definition and Comparison to BBQ

We all do it, we all love it, but what actually is grilling? How do you define it? How does it differ from BBQ? Let’s find out….

What is grilling? I’m sure we all know that grilling is a form of outdoor cooking — but what makes it so different from other cooking methods?

Growing up, grilling was a significant part of our summer. The smell of the smokey charcoal, the burgers’ beefy taste, and that sizzling sausage fresh off the grates create an unforgettable experience and meal.

This is what we’re hoping to pass along to our children and grandchildren in the future.

In this article, we’re going to look at the actual definition of grilling — we’re also going to distinguish the difference between grilling and barbecuing.

What is Grilling?

There’s no doubt about it, grilling is a science — and according to science, grilling is a fast, dry heat method that uses direct, radiant heat.

Compared to cooking in a pan or griddle, which is direct conduction heating — grilling, on the other hand, is thermal radiation.

When grilling on charcoal grills or gas grills, the temperatures can exceed 500 degrees Fahrenheit or 260 degrees Celsius. These high temperatures are what makes this method so quick — it’s crucial to watch whatever you’re cooking very carefully, or it might turn into a burnt mess in minutes.

According to Bobby Flay, the first time he cooked for his wife, he simply put three chickens on a rotisserie, closed the grill, and left it. Next thing he knew, he noticed smoke and flames coming from the barbecue.

It goes to show how quickly things can go wrong on a hot grill — what a story!

When grilling turns out as you had hoped, what is it that makes it so delicious? You see, when you grill food, the proteins and sugars will brown. This gorgeous coloration is what gives the food that extra flavor.

There’s even a name for it! The Maillard reaction — it’s what happens when the food begins to brown as it reaches and exceeds 310 degrees Fahrenheit or 155 degrees Celsius.

That’s enough science for today.

The bottom line is that when you’re grilling, you’re cooking on an open wire with the food below or above an open fire.

Generally, when the heat source is above the food, it’s broiling — when the source is underneath the food, it’s grilling.

Grilling vs. Barbecue: What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between barbecue and grilling is cooking time and temperature. As we explained above, grilling is fast, hot, and ready in a matter of minutes, whereas barbecue is a slow process that often requires hours of cooking over low, indirect heat.

As we discussed in detail in our guide on smoker vs. grill, the equipment needed also varies between the methods. In saying that, manufacturers do make this confusing as some smokers and grills can both grill and smoke.

Then there’s the difference in what meat works for each method.

Because grilling is fast and hot, lean, tender meat such as chicken, seafood, burgers, and steaks are better suited. The high, fast heat will quickly cook the meat to a safe internal temperature without leaving it dry.

On the other hand, fatty and tough meat should be cooked low and slow. The low heat will give the meat time to tenderize by breaking down collagen and other connective tissues while keeping the juices intact. Larger, inexpensive cuts, such as brisket, are perfect for barbecuing and smoking.

In Human History, Who First Started Grilling?

The first evidence of grilling dates back to Ancient Greece and the Mycenaean civilization, which was about 1600 B.C.

Archaeologists uncovered rectangular ceramic trays during excavations — these were reconstructed by assistant professor Julie Hruby at the Dartmouth College.

What Hruby uncovered was that these ceramic trays were, in fact, portable grills. The trays were meant to hold coals over which they could cook skewered meat — or as we know it, souvlaki or shish-kabob.

These ceramic grills were anything but lightweight — so the people used oxen to move the grills to where they needed to be. Fortunately for us, grills today aren’t as heavy as they were back then.

Are Hot Stones and Electric Grills Really Grilling?

Sure, you have a few racks in the oven, but does that mean you can grill in it? No. An oven bakes or roasts, but it won’t add flavor from an open flame or hot coals.

Then there’s the hot stone method that’s been popularized by hardcore woodsmen and women, survivalists, and even cavemen (way back in the days).

No doubt it’s a hardcore method where you heat a flat rock on an open fire until it’s scorching hot — you then move it to one side of the fire, toss the meat on and cook.

Is it hardcore? Yes. Is it grilling? No.

You see, the heat doesn’t come from the coals or the fire, it comes from the stone — similar to a skillet, which is where the famous George Foreman Grill enters the arena. After all, it’s a double-sided electric skillet — there’s no fire and no smoke.


Grilling is a simple method — after all, it is an ancient technique that has evolved through thousands of years.

It’s also basic — all you need is a grill, meat, and fire. Once you have the basics, you can learn new, exciting ways to grill, new spices and rubs, and different tools to improve your skills.

We love grilling because of how it transforms the food and the experience you and your family get out of it. So what are you waiting for? Go out there and fire up the grill!

What are your most memorable grilling moments as you grew up? Let us know in the comments below.

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Hi! My name is David and I'm the founder and primary writer for this site. I have been an avid grilling and barbecue enthusiast for over 9 years now and I started this website to share my knowledge and experience with those looking to get into this fun and tasty hobby.

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