The Key Differences Between Smoking And Grilling

In the summertime, and especially around Independence Day, people want to grill out. Steaks, dogs, brats, burgers, and yes, even fish and veggies are on the menu. Yet, there are two ways to prepare these foods. You can grill them, as most people do, or you can smoke them. These two processes are vastly different, and you need to know how different before you walk into a grill dealer to buy a new grill, a new smoker, or a smoker and grill combo in one. 

Grilled is Grilled, or Is It? 

Grilled food is placed on a grill to cook. Yet there are several different kinds of grills, too. Cook with charcoal briquets, cook with propane, cook with natural gas (as on a camp grill powered by the gas), and cook with wood. People love cooking with wood as it adds a smoky flavor to meat, fish, veggies, and even pizza. Is it grilled if you use wood, or is it smoked? Well, that actually depends on the equipment. If your grill allows the use of wood chips and it is just a grill and not a combo unit, then yes, your food is grilled. If you are using a grill-and-smoker-in-one, it may be smoked, if you have the grill on "smoke" function, or if you are actually using a hot smoker.


A hot smoker, which is the only kind of smoker that also partially to totally cooks meat as the meat is being smoked for flavor, does so by heating up an enclosed space and aerating flavored liquid smoke or a safe smoking product throughout the chamber. This process takes the better part of one day, versus the few minutes that it takes to grill food. If you want to smoke food and then grill it, you could, but then you may need less time on the grill when your food has been in the smoker for most of the day.

The only exception to this rule is if you are smoking a very thick cut of meat, like a fat leg of lamb or a thick cut of ribs. Then you will need to check the temperature of the meat at its thickest point to make sure the temp is above 165 degrees (i.e., safe consumption temperature for meats). If the temp is not at or above 165 degrees, you will need to grill or roast the meat anyway.