Difference Between Smoking And Grilling

You might think of yourself as a barbecuing wizard after throwing too many barbecue parties in the backyard.

But did you know that various methods come under barbecuing? And yes, there are many differences between them.

Techniques such as smoking and grilling are often pushed under the term barbecuing. However, the two mainly vary quite a bit in terms of cooking.

So, if you’re interested in learning more, let’s look at how the two methods differ from each other. Apart from the differences, we will also be covering questions such as:

  • What is smoking?
  • What is grilling?
  • Are smoker grills worth it? 

So, stay tuned to get to the bottom of it!

What is smoking? 

Think of smoking as the extreme version or side of the barbecue. You cook the food with all the smoke from smoldering chips and chunks of apple, hickory, mesquite, or cherry, all of which contribute heavily to the flavoring of the food/meat. 

In addition, smoking even occurs at a much lower temp than barbecue, ensuring that the smoky flavor can infuse through the meat while also cooking the food entirely. Smoking temp ranges typically from 125 – 127F to help cook the food more evenly. 

Due to its low cooking temperature, smoking food can also take a long time, even up to a day, which is not unusual. You’ll also require some heavy expertise if you’re smoking food, as the method does not come easy.

What is grilling? 

Grilling at its core is all about ensuring the food is cooked quickly over scorching flame/heat (usually fueled by gas or charcoal). The hot and fast context of grilling involves cooking at around 350F and above for a short time (usually less than an hour). 

Grilling is also a smart option for items like chops and steaks, typically cooked somewhere between 450 to 500F, resulting in a shorter cooking time. Some of the best meats to grill include ribeye steaks, tenderest cuts, strip steaks, etc. This is because cooking them quickly is a great way to help preserve their tenderness and prevent overcooking – which is exactly the purpose of grilling.

Grilling does not require much expertise in terms of cooking. However, it mainly applies to grilling meat. Cooking delicate food items like vegetables or fish requires a bit of skill in managing the heat. 

Key differences between smoking and grilling

When it comes to the methods of smoking and grilling, the significant differences come in two forms: 

  • Heat levels
  • Cooking time

As mentioned earlier, grilling takes a shorter time as it is cooked over higher heat. Meanwhile, smoking uses low heat with a cooking duration ranging from an hour to weeks. Let’s have a detailed look at the differences. 

Cooking time

It is a given that smoking food comes with patience and having high-quality cuts of meat, which means smoking is not a practice. Throwing some wood chips atop hot charcoal and simply smoking the outside is not the way for smoked meat. It requires heavy skills and patience, so the process may often take days to complete. 

On the other hand, grilling is a speedy solution for many cooks. Since the food is cooked over high, scorching heat, cooking through the meat takes little time. The cooking duration can also depend on the rarity of the meat. As it comes in direct contact with heat, grilling also adds a charred surface to the food, which helps seal its natural juices. The method of grilling can be carried out in both gas and charcoal grills


The temperature of smoking happens in two different ranges. One is very low heat, ranging between 68°F to176°F and can take an hour to about two weeks. The second one is also a low heat setting but around the range of 126°F to 176°F, typically used in cooking more significant foods with smoked flavoring. The temp adjustment can also depend on the type of flavor you expect from the meat. 

Grilling is carried out in very high heat of 400°F to 550°F for only a few minutes. Due to its instant cooking time, grilling makes a great companion for tender cuts like pork chops, ribs, chicken, hot dogs, etc., and vegetables. 


The hot, intense temperature invoked in grilling ends up searing the exterior parts of the meat. This process helps maintain the juices and keeps them trapped within the meat, securing the important juicy flavor of steaks. Hence, fellow grill enthusiasts can rest knowing the grilled meat will have the flavourful juices intact, whether grilling sirloins, filets, ribeyes, T-bones, or new york strips. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to tenderness, smoking takes the win as grilling comes nowhere close to securing the delicious, tender taste that comes with smoking. Due to the use of high heat in grilling, the method cannot break down the tough and fibrous composure of the meat. However, due to low heat, smoking can break down these tough meats. 


Are smoker pellet grills worth it?

Yes. Grilling is excellent for cooking items like steaks, burgers, etc. If you’re eyeing a pellet grill, the equipment is worth the price, especially for those interested in baking and using other cooking methods beyond grilling. However, if you’re looking to get more from a grill, a pellet smoker is a definite winner.

Is smoking or grilling better?

Both methods offer very different outcomes in terms of cooking. Hence, both provide certain advantages and disadvantages over the other. For instance, grilling offers more moisture and flavor to the meat than smoking. While smoking provides more tenderness to the meat. Grilling is also considered a healthier option as it can burn off fats from the meat.  

Is charcoal better than an electric smoker?

It generally depends on convenience. If you’re after something that can provide more convenience, then an electric smoker ranks the best compared to a charcoal one. However, if you’re looking for that authentic smoky flavoring, then nothing can beat the efficiency of a propane smoker.