The Raging Debate On The Difference Between Barbecue And Grilling

At least according to most people in the South.
A traditional platter of Texas BBQ.
BDphoto via Getty Images
A traditional platter of Texas BBQ.

Since the very founding of our nation, there’s been a noticeable difference between life in the South and life in the North. And that difference becomes even clearer in the warmer months when folks start cooking meals outside. We’re talking about barbecue.

Barbecue, the coveted cooking method so many of us hold dear to our hearts, is in fact not the same in the mind of a Northerner and that of a Southerner. In the North, the two terms can often be used interchangeably. But in southern or south central states, you had better be talking about meat that’s been cooked low and slow if you use the word barbecue. Just because you’re cooking something on the grill, they say, does NOT mean you’re barbecuing. But don’t take our word for it. Matt Moore, food writer and Southern gentleman, says it best in his book The South’s Best Butts:

“For the Yankees, BBQ in the South is not to be used as a verb. Rather it is a noun. Throwing meat on a grill and slathering it with sauce is never referred to as barbecuing, or barbecue, by any true Southerner. In fact, if you invite me to a barbecue and you don’t serve me slowly smoked pig, I will refer to you properly and promptly as a Yankee. So, instead, when you grill your hamburgers, brats, pork chops, or steaks, invite us to a cookout or simply tell us you are grilling out. Got it? Good.”

So if you’re making burgers, you’re grilling. If you’re cooking a steak, you’re grilling. But if you’re spending hours slow cooking some pork butt, you’re making barbecue. There is another side to this opinion, though, and it might come as a relief to all of you guilty of “barbecuing” your hamburgers.

According to Meathead Goldwyn, best selling author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, barbecue is too global for the South to reserve it to use for their own specialty.

Meathead told HuffPost: “The ‘that is not barbecue’ statement makes my blood boil. I spent 20 years in the wine world as the wine critic for The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and others, and I hate seeing barbecue getting snobby like wine. The divide is false and it is a myth.”

The fact is that there are many forms of barbecue around the world and it is the presence of smoke that unifies them all,” he writes on his blog Amazing Ribs.

He also made a graphic to illustrate his point:


Meathead elaborates, “Barbecue around the world is far too complex and wonderful to be oversimplified like that. It was not invented in the U.S., and it is not exclusive to the U.S. Barbecue is a big word that encompasses grilling and many cooking methods as shown in the illustration above.”

Whichever side of the line you stand on when it comes to barbecue, we can all agree that anything that comes off the grill ― so long as Governor Scott Walker has nothing to do with it ― is worth celebrating.

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