Part I: Difference between grilling and barbecuing

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Since we are now in a season of warmer weather, no doubt many more people will be firing up their grills or barbecue pits. In some cases, there is still some confusion as to what is grilling and what is barbecue. Perhaps I can help sort out the differences.

If you are interested in preparing good barbecue at home, I hope that you can pick up some tips here as I share my experiences with you. Pre-Katrina, my son and I competed in nationally sanctioned BBQ contests. We were in one of the hour long BBQ shows on the Food Network in 2004. I was also a certified judge and judged contests until recently. With the help of family and friends, we donated our time and use of cooking equipment for charity and other special events, at times cooking as many as three to four thousand servings.

A gas grill is so named because it is a “grill” and not a barbecue pit. Grilling is cooking meat with direct heat, with the cooking surface being within three inches, or so, above the heat source or fire. The heat source can be gas or charcoal. Barbecue is cooking with indirect heat and the cooking surface being several more inches from the heat source. The heat source is often in a separate chamber from the meat. This is called “low and slow cooking” since the temperature is usually 175 – 225 degrees and meats cooked up to twelve hours. The heat source is charcoal or wood or a combination of the two.

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Starting almost 65 years ago, I helped my dad barbecue in our backyard using pits that he made in his welding shop. They were always made of heavy steel and not the lightweight materials used in so many grills/pits today. The heavy material holds the heat better, you use less fuel and it takes less time. They also last longer if you take care of them.

For the past 30 years or so, I have been barbecuing in a pit that I had custom made from a used 250-gallon propane tank. It has twenty-eight square feet of cooking surface and has had literally tons of meat cooked in it.

As with any endeavor, technique and the tools you use are of utmost importance. You can buy the tools you need but you must develop your own technique. For starters, I suggest a BBQ pit such as those that are made of heavy steel. Lighter weight models are available at many stores but the heavy-duty type is much better. They look similar to a 25 – 30 gallon barrel with a four-gallon can on one end and a smoke stack on the other end.

You may use these units for grilling or barbecuing. For cooking at home, I use one of these smaller pits, the cooking surface is 435 square inches in the cooking chamber. A cooking surface is available for the “four gallon bucket” chamber, which is the firebox. You may grill small amounts of steaks or burgers or chicken in this chamber and larger amounts in the other chamber.

Some models of this type have a smoke stack that is only four or five inches tall. You need a smoke stack that is closer to two feet tall in order to get a better draft through your smoker.

There are egg shape smokers on the market, which are very good. They cost more but will last 20 years or longer if you take care of it.

By Jim Towler.