Are you Barbequing or Grilling Your Food, What Is the Difference?

Barbecue and grilling have been around since prehistoric times, but how grilling and barbecue became connected is a debate, with no clear answers.

The only thing historians seem to agree upon is how the word barbecue has evolved. The word “barbacoa” was used by Native Americans, for a raised wooden rack which had multiple uses. One of the uses of this rack was to cook meat for a long period of time, over a very low flame.

After Columbus’s arrival to the Americas, there was an exchange of plants, food, animals, and ideas between the Old World and the New World. Through this exchange, barbacoa was also introduced to the Old World. Even though people in the old world were aware of and using low-fire cooking methods, there was no real name attached to it.

Over a long period of time, settlers and explorers, began associating barbacoa only with food. This eventually led to the change in the original meaning of the word, barbacoa, to reference only a method of cooking.

How Did Barbecue come to America?

Virginia which is established in 1607, and Massachusetts which was established in 1620, were the first two English settlements in North America. Even though barbecue was popular initially with both the settlements over time it only remained predominant in Virginia.


Barbecue has been a Southern tradition since their establishment in the New World. The rest of people around the country did not really understand what the barbecue was all about. They found the cooking method difficult and did not appreciate a long time it took to cook the meat.

However, as with any new idea or product, it takes some time to learn and appreciate it. As such, as time went by the people in the North also started taking an interest in the barbecue method of cooking.

Different Types Of Barbecue

Since there are different methods of cooking a barbecue, it has evolved to 4 main styles that are categorized by regions: Memphis, North Carolina, Kansas City, and Texas.

Carolina style pit barbecue was a direct descendant of the original American barbecue. The pit barbecue originally starts with the whole hog cooked over 14 hours over low flame charcoals, producing a scrumptious meal of pulled pork. The pulled pork has a generous splash of vinegar and is eaten with a hamburger bun and coleslaw.

Even, the sauce from the different parts of Carolina varies, giving the barbecue a distinctive taste based on the region. West Carolina uses sweet tomato and vinegar sauce while South Carolina uses mustard-based sauce.


When you’re thinking of pork ribs with tomato-based sweet-and-sour sauce, then you are looking at a Memphis-style barbecue.

Beef barbecues that are dry-rubbed and smoked over a low flame and served with a tomato-based sauce originated from Texas.

Kansas City has evolved its own barbecue style with beef and pork. They eat their barbecue with a hot-sweet tomato sauce

The Birth of the Grill

It was a time of prosperity in America during the post-war years. Many Americans moved into houses in the suburbs. The availability of the backyard gave the adults and kids the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. To enhance this experience the “grilling” craze, of being able to entertain friends and family while cooking outdoors, spread like wildfire.

There were 2 other factors that also aided in the explosive interest in grilling. The first factor was the coal industry. Wood was the preferred fuel for barbecuing during the early days in the South until it became a national phenomenon.

Just like everything else, as soon as interest grows there will be people who see the business opportunity. Henry Ford saw this opportunity and started producing charcoal briquettes, to be the new fuel of choice for grills. He had an added advantage as he was able to use the scrap wood from his automobile business to produce the charcoal briquettes. It was a win-win business model.


He eventually sold his charcoal business. This business is currently one of the top charcoal producing companies in America. This company is none other than Kingsford.

The next critical factor that propelled the grilling craze was the availability of pre-made grills. Prior to World War II, there were not many companies selling ready to cook grills. The grills that existed were mostly DIY grills, made by enthusiasts following instructions from cookbooks and magazines. It was only after World War II that ready-made grills became largely available.

It was George Stephen, who saw the opportunity and developed his dream into a reality. Weber Bros Spinning Co. was a company producing harbor buoys. As soon as, George Stephen took over the company, he set about inventing what came to be known now as the Weber Kettle grill. The Weber grill was born from a buoy in 1952.

Weber was the company that revolutionized this grilling industry. There were other grills in the market during this time but none of them had a cover for the grill. Weber produced the grill that had a cover, which helped contain the heat and efficiently cook the food. The cover also protected the food from the natural elements.

Due to the growing trends, the food industry saw the opportunity to promote the grilling obsession.  They jumped in every spring and summer showing advertisements of people grilling and having a good time with their family and friends. They also promoted recipes the people can cook with the grills. All this led to the steady increase in the American grill culture.

Barbecue Or Grill

As you can see from above, how the word barbecue has slowly evolved to also mean grilling. Unfortunately, there is a large difference in the meaning of barbecue and grill.

A barbecue is an event where many people gather to eat meat which is cooked over a long period of time, sometimes as long as 12 to 16 hours over the low fire. The meat is usually dry rubbed with special seasoning before the cooking process. The seasoning, smoke, and juices from the meat infused together to produce a meat that this tender and juicy.

BBQ grills

The barbecue method of cooking also does not need an expensive cut of meat, as it is cooked for such a long time to point the meat falls off the bone.

A grill is an event where many people gather together to eat food that is cooked over an open fire. The meat can be either cooked with minimal seasoning or marinated with herbs and spices and allowed to soak in the same marinate for a couple hours before it is cooked. The time taken to cook the meat is relatively short compared to the barbecue method.

As the grill method of cooking became popular, the actual meaning of the word barbecue became unclear.

Different Types of Grills

There are currently so many varieties of grills from so many manufacturers, to cater to this very popular outdoor living experience.

The Charcoal Grill Evolution

You have the old trusty charcoal grill that gives you the strong smoke flavor. There are so many design enhancements and features on the current charcoal grill that the cooking possibilities are almost endless.


Some of these charcoal grills have now evolved to having movable charcoal trays, which can be moved closer or further from the food being cooked. There are also grills with damper designs to aid in the temperature control in the grill.

The Gas Grill Evolution

As there was a demand for more convenience and people were not willing to wait for the charcoal to build up the heat; the gas grill came into existence. The gas grill currently has two sources of fuel one being propane gas in the other natural gas. Again, there are so many models with so many design enhancements that the choices you have are endless.

gas grill

Even with the gas grill, you are able to infuse the smoke flavor into the food by having either a built-in smoker unit or an optional smoker box.

The Evolution Of The Dual Fuel Grill

As you would have guessed, there was a demand for a grill to has the convenience of the gas grill and the low-temperature ability of the charcoal grill.

Due to this demand, dual fuel source grills came into existence. These grills are a gas charcoal combination grill. One section of the grill works with gas in the other section works with charcoal. Both sections are separate compartments joined together in the middle.

This grill is ideal for a person who knows and values, the difference between a grill and a barbecue and wants to cook the food in a certain way to derive a certain flavor.

The Portable Grill

As you can imagine, people wanted the ability to bring the grilling experience wherever they went. Thus, the portable grills hit the production line. The portable grills come in different fuel sources being charcoal, gas or electric.

portable grill

It depends on the person’s preference and cooking style, which determines the type of portable grill that is finally purchased.

The Electric Grill

The Electric grill gives you the convenience of not having to worry about charcoal or gas to start cooking. You also don’t have to worry about clearing the ash after using a charcoal grill or the fire risks of a leak from the gas grill.

electric grill

The electric grill gives you very accurate temperature control and heats up very quickly. It is a slightly more expensive grill to operate, but as there was a demand, they were made available.

Final Note

Due to the unification of the word barbecue and grill, it is now quite common to hear people say, “Let’s go for a BBQ “. When you arrive at the BBQ you most likely find a person happily grilling food on a grill.

When these words are uttered nowadays, barbecue, BBQ, BBQ grill, barbecue grill or grill they seem to be used interchangeably. All it means is, it’s an invitation for friends and family to gather to have a good time.