When cooking meat outdoors, you generally have one two options: smoking or grilling. Both methods can result in a mouthwatering flavor that’s superior to cooking meat in an oven. While similar, though, smoking isn’t the same as grilling. Each method requires a unique approach that will affect the flavor, tenderness and even the shelf life of your meat. To determine which cooking method is right for, you must first understand the differences between smoking and grilling.

What Is Grilling?

Grilling is a cooking method that involves placing meat or other foods directly over a heat source, such as a bed of hot charcoal or burning firewood for cooking. Because the food is placed closed to the heat source, grilling cooks it at a high temperature.

Grilling temperatures vary depending on the type of fuel used, distance from meat to heat, position of the air vents and other factors. In most grilling cookouts, however, food is exposed to temperatures ranging from 300 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty hot to say the least. Even with thick hamburger patties, you can grill most meats in less than 30 minutes because of its high temperature.

What Is Smoking

Smoking, on the other hand, is a cooking method that involves exposing meat or other foods to smoke. Unlike grilling, smoking doesn’t expose to your food to direct heat. Food is typically placed away from the heat source to achieve a lower temperature, all while being exposed to lots of flavorful smoke.

While grilling temperatures can reach 600 degrees Fahrenheit, smoking temperatures are much lower. Like grilling, the exact temperature at which food is smoked varies. But for most meats, you can expect a smoking temperature of about 200 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smoking is a cooking process that’s as old as humankind itself. Archeological evidence suggests that humans have been smoking meat since the Paleolithic era. Back then, hunters would hang meat from large corded ropes in caves and huts while burning a fire nearby to produce smoke. As smoke filled the cave or hut, it naturally cooked the meat. While methods for smoking meat have since evolved, the process still relies on the use of smoke to cook meat at a low temperature.

Benefits of Grilling Meat

Many people prefer grilling over smoking because it’s faster. As previously mentioned, you can grill most meats in less than 30 minutes. For steaks, it may take less than 10 minutes. Since smoking is a slow-cooking method that uses indirect heat, it takes longer than grilling.

Another benefit of grilling meat is its ability to create a caramelized crust. When meat is placed directly over a heat source, the outside will cook more quickly than the inside. As a result, the outside of your meat will develop a charred, caramelized crust that prevents the meat’s moisture from escaping.

Grilling is also easy, requiring nothing more than a basic grill and some cooking wood or charcoal. Just toss some cooking wood or charcoal in the bottom of your grill, light it and you’re good to go!

Benefits of Smoking Meat

Although it takes longer than grilling, smoking your meat can offer a world of benefits. For starters, smoking increases the tenderness of your meat — even more so than grilling. The compounds in the smoke work to gradually break down the meat’s tissue. When you are finished smoking it, your meat will have a pull-apart tenderness. Grilling can also create tender meat, but it pales in comparison to the pull-apart tenderness of smoking.

You’ll probably notice that smoked meat is more flavorful than grilled meat as well. When you smoke meat, you’ll expose it to flavorful smoke. You can use either cooking wood, smoking chunks or smoking chips for this purpose. Regardless, the wood will release unburnt particles in the form of smoke that rises into your meat. Over time, this smoke will alter the flavor of your meat to reflect that of the wood. If you cook with hickory wood, for instance, your meat with have a slight hickory flavor. If you cook with white oak wood, it will have a milder white oak flavor. Feel free to experiment with different types of smoking wood to see what works best for your meat.

Furthermore, smoking preserves meat by killing germs that could otherwise cause foodborne illness. When stored in the refrigerator, smoked meat is typically good for up to four days. When stored in the freezer, it’s good for up four months. If you’re planning cook a large amount of meat, you can extend its shelf life by smoking instead of grilling it.

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