1. The Process

Serves: 5



A lot of confusion surrounds the terms grilling and barbecuing, compounded by the fact that we use barbecue to refer to many different aspects of live-fire cooking: from a piece of cooking equipment (the grill) to one or more cooking methods (using that grill) to specific dishes, such as Texas- or North Carolinanstyle barbecue. We also use the term more broadly to refer to the act of cooking outdoors, to a meal cooked and served outdoors, and to a social gathering featuring barbecued food.

Much of the confusion lies in the fact that we often use the same piece of equipment (the "barbecue grill") for the high-heat direct method known as grilling, for the low-heat, smoke-cook method that constitutes true barbecue, and for the moderate-heat method known as indirect grilling.

All three methods, although related, are quite different. Understanding these differences will enable you to produce great fire-cooked fare every time.


Grilling is a high-heat cooking method done directly over live flames, cooking the food in a matter of minutes. The three operative concepts here are "direct," "high heat," and "minutes." Grilled food is cooked directly over and just a few inches away from the flames or glowing coals at a temperature in excess of 500°F (some restaurant grills achieve temperatures of 800° to 1,000°F). This high heat chars the surface of the food, sealing in juices and creating the smoky, caramelized crust we so prize in grilled fare.

True grilling is best suited to thin or small tender cuts of meat or other foods, including kebabs, burgers, sausages, steaks, and chops chicken pieces or breasts fish fillets, steaks, or small whole fish or shellfish vegetables even breads-in short, any food that benefits from relatively brief cooking over high heat. Time is of the essence since true grilling means the food will be cooked quickly, it should be done to order. Indeed, one of the greatest pleasures of grilled food is its immediacy: You literally watch it being cooked.

Grilling is by far the world’s most common live-fire cooking method, practiced on six continents in restaurants, street stalls, and backyards, by rich and poor alike. Grilling is essentially the same, whether it’s done over a campfire-size pit in Argentina or on a shoebox-size saté grill in Bali.


Barbecuing lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from true grilling. It is a long, slow, indirect, low-heat method that uses smolder-ing logs or charcoal and wood chunks to smoke-cook the food, usually some sort of meat. "Indirect" means that the heat source is located away from the food to be cooked. In traditional American pit barbecue, the heat source is a separate firebox, which is attached to but not part of the actual cooking chamber. When barbecuing is done on a charcoal or gas grill, a low fire is maintained on one side or around the periphery of the grill and the food is cooked on the other side or in the center.

When I say slow, I mean slow. Kansas City’s famous KC Masterpiece restaurants cook their baby back ribs for 10 hours, their pork shoulders for 16 hours. When I say low, I mean low. The temperature of the pit at Dallas’s legendary Sonny Bryan’s never rises above 225°F. Low heat generates smoke (the wood smolders, it doesn’t burn), and this smoke gives barbecue its characteristic flavor. Smoke is a natural preser-vative, and in the days before refrigeration it was probably used first and foremost to keep meats and seafood from spoiling.

The long, slow, low, indirect heat of barbecue is ideally suited to large pieces of meat, like whole pigs and turkeys. It’s also perfect for cuts with lots of tough connective tissue, like brisket and spareribs. Barbecue was traditionally associated with the poorer echelons of society. Unable to afford the prestige cuts, they created a cuisine based on inexpensive cuts, meats that are revered as barbecue today.

Barbecuing is primarily a New World phenomenon, originating in the Caribbean and reaching its apotheosis in Texas, Tennessee, Missouri, and the American South in general. The poulet boucanée (Buccaneer-Style Chicken) of the French West Indies is a sort of barbecue. So is Jamaica’s jerk, although the meat is cooked directly over live, albeit low-burning, coals.

Indirect Grilling

Indirect grilling is a hybrid method, invented in this century, that bridges the gap between barbecuing and grilling. As in barbecuing, the food is cooked adjacent to, not directly over, the coals. But the cooking takes place in the same chamber as the fire and the temperature is usually higher-generally 350° to 400°F. Wood chips or chunks are often placed on the coals or other heat source to generate smoke, as with barbecue. But just as often, indirect grilling is done without smoke.

When indirect grilling on a charcoal grill, the coals are placed on the sides or periphery of the firebox the food is in the center of the grate. With a gas grill, the burners on one side (or the front and back of the grill) are lit and the food is placed over the nonlit burner.

The beauty of indirect grilling is that it turns your barbecue grill into a sort of oven. This enables you to cook large cuts (prime rib, turkey, whole fish) or fatty cuts of meat (duck, chicken, ribs) without burning them.

Indirect grilling gives you the best of both grilling and barbecuing-the charcoal flavor of the former, the tenderness and smokiness of the latter-without the drawbacks. Indirect grilling is a lot more forgiving than direct grilling in terms of timing and temperature control. And it’s a lot faster than true barbecue, which can take 6 to 12 hours.

The majority of the recipes in this book, as in the world of barbecue at large, are grilled.

A substantial number call for in-direct grilling. Several recipes, like the Texas Brisket and the North CarolinanStyle Pulled Pork Shoulder, are cooked long enough and at a low enough heat to qualify as true barbecue.

This 1. The Process recipe is from the The Barbecue Bible Cookbook. Download this Cookbook today.

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