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Smokers, Grills & Barbecues (Part I)

For anyone unfamiliar with smokers and smoking food, it may be easiest to describe the process as it relates to grilling, because that’s what the majority of us do when we’re cooking outside.

While we tend to lump smoking in with grilling (and even barbecuing, which is another thing entirely), they aren’t really all that similar. Here’s the beef on the different ways you can brown your brisket:


You know this one. Grills are the gold standard when it comes to outdoor cooking, in part because it’s so easy to do. Light the coals or the gas, heat it up and throw the food on. Done and done, and done fairly well without too much effort.

What sets grills apart from smokers and barbecues is temperature, the location of the heat and cooking duration. Grilling utilizes high, direct heat to sear foods fast. Chicken and bone-in meats might take a little longer, but your grill times should generally be pretty quick.


Barbecues are similar to grills – and often include the grill grate – but are enclosed or lidded to capture indirect heat and smoke.

“Low and slow” cooking is what separates barbecuing from grilling, even if you’re using the same apparatus. It takes a lot more time (and patience) to barbecue meats, and barbecues are often much larger for this reason; so you can make up in quantity what you lose in time.


True smoked meat requires even more time than barbecue. It also requires a smoker, which is different than a grill/barbecue. You may technically be able to smoke meat with a grill, and you can add smoke flavor with wood chips, but “real” smoking would take a lot of charcoal or gas, and a lot of time, without a way to capture and hold the smoke.

Smokers use a combination of dehydration, smoke and low, indirect heat to cook meat. The process is ancient in origin, and relies on phenols in the smoke to create an antibacterial barrier in addition to the cooking process.

In Part II, we’ll take a look at different kinds of smokers. 

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