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What Is Barbecue

Many people misuse the term barbecue. It has come to be applied to anything cooked on a grill, or even in the oven if a spicy tomato based sauce is applied. Barbecue is not a dish, or a cooking device, it is a method of cooking.

There is a distinct difference between grilling and barbecueing, however. Grilling is done over the direct heat of a fire. The object is to sear the outside and concentrate the juices on the inside. The grilled flavor is caused by the searing, or browning, of the outside of the food. The process is similar to that which forms the brown crust on a loaf of baked bread. Grilling is a healthful method of cooking because additional oils or fats are seldom used, and as the food cooks the fat renders out and drips through the cooking grate.

Barbecue on the other hand is the process of cooking meat at low temperatures for long periods of time. The best definition I have seen comes from Chris Schlesinger, owner and chef of The East Coast Grill restaurant in Cambridge, MA.

Weber Bullet Water Smoker
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BBQ Pit by David Klose, Houston, TX

Barbecue Defined

A process whereby a large cut of tough meat is cooked by the smoke of a hardwood fire at low temperatures (210 degrees or less) for a long period of time, with doneness determined by the meat's tenderness.

Chris Schlesinger, Foreword to Smoke and Spice

It's not difficult to get a spirited debate started as to whether true BBQ can be cooked on a standard grill. Of course, for that matter, it's not very difficult to get a heated debate going about nearly any aspect of BBQ. There are some techniques that can be used to achieve some pretty admirable results with a standard grill. As for the stuff cooked in the oven, or the crockpot, soaking in BBQ sauce, it is just plain old baked or stewed meat. It bears no resemblance to real BBQ whatsoever, so don't kid yourself.

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