So you figure it might be time to get the “rub” on smoking meat, fish and poultry--and you're not referring to the latest seasoning that literally gets rubbed into food. You're curious about the difference between smoking and grilling food and perhaps whether you should purchase a smoker. When you compare and contrast both techniques, you can see how different they are and why certain foods are usually better suited to one technique or the other.
Smoke It Slowly
Smoke food when you have time to tenderize it and imbue it with a smoky or “outdoorsy” flavor. Think of a smoker as similar to an outdoor oven, only with wood chips or flavored briquettes placed over warm coals that bathe the food in flavor as it cooks. Some common flavored wood chips include apple, cedar, cherry, hickory and pecan. Smokers come in all shapes and sizes, with some running on gas and others on charcoal.
Smoke foods such as brisket, ham, ribs and roasts -- the tougher meats that you might cook slowly in an indoor oven or an electric slow cooker.
Place food in a smoker so that the temperature ranges between 200 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit; cook it for at least 2 hours and no longer than 24 hours. Once you place food in a smoker, you can generally let it cook away and perhaps stir the coals only once. Whereas grilling is sometimes a high-maintenance activity, smoking requires little-to-no tending.
Grill It Quickly
Grill food when you want to cook it quickly, perhaps even in a matter of minutes. Grilling seals in the juices of meat while browning or caramelizing the surface.
Grill foods such as chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, pork chops and steaks. Marinades can provide added flavor to these foods, especially if you allow the meat to refrigerate in the marinade for a few hours or overnight.
Grill food either directly or indirectly over a flame, turning it at least once to ensure consistent cooking on both sides. While you cannot sear food in a smoker, you can easily create a crispy exterior on food when you grill it.
Tips & Warnings
- No matter how proficient you become with a grill or a smoker, you should always test the internal temperature of food with an instant-read thermometer, just to be on the safe side. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that steaks, roasts and chops be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F; ground beef, pork, turkey and lamb, 160 degrees F; ground turkey and chicken, 165 degrees F; and chicken and turkey, 165 degrees F.
- Welcome to the Cookout: BBQ, Smoking and Grilling Definitions
- BBQ Smoking Site: What's the Difference Between BBQ Smoker and BBQ Grill Cooking?
- Meats and Sausages: Barbecuing
- Bradley Smoker: Grilling vs. Smoking
- Serious Eats.com: Guide to Grilling: Why You Should Really Own a Smoker
- Grilling With Rich: Cold Smoking v. Hot Smoking
- Food Safety.gov: Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures
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