Grilling vs. Smoking: What's the Difference?

Chicken being cooked on a grill

If you’re trying to decide between smoking meat vs. grilling it, you’ve come to the right place! While both cooking styles share some common traits, there are key differences you should know about before your next backyard BBQ.

Grilling and smoking both have their own unique benefits, but it’s important that you understand the ins and outs of both methods, not only so you can nail the perfect flavors, but to plan your time accordingly. You don’t want to keep hungry guests waiting!

As experienced grill masters with a deep passion for the art form and the lifestyle, we’re always happy to share our expertise. Let’s compare grilling vs. smoking so you can determine which approach is best for your next carnivorous feast!

Fast Facts

Let’s kick things off with basic definitions of both cooking styles. From there, we can dive deeper into their distinctive characteristics.


Grilling refers to putting food on a grill’s grate and applying direct or indirect radiant heat at high temperatures, typically ranging from 300°F to 650°F. The process is much quicker than smoking due to close contact with flames. 

The extreme radiant heat caramelizes the meat’s exterior for a beautiful, golden brown crust that locks in moisture for juicy food that melts in your mouth. Many grillers also enjoy getting some black char on their grilled foods.

In short, when comparing grilling vs. smoking, grilling means cooking food over a flame quickly at high temperatures.


The obvious difference between smoking meat vs. grilling is that smoking uses much more smoke! The meat is cooked at low heat in a smoky environment for a very long period of time, naturally infusing it with a smoky flavor.

Smoking is usually performed at temperatures ranging from 200°F to 250°F, but some cold smokers go as low as 68°F. Smoking is low and slow cooking taken to the extreme—it’s not uncommon to smoke meats for 24 hours or more.


If you’re choosing between grilling vs. smoking, you should also be familiar with your equipment options. Some appliances can play double duty as both grills and smokers, but many are dedicated to one cooking style or the other. 

Grill Styles

  • Gas grills are known for their convenience, ease of use, and versatility. They give the user significant control over the amount of heat.
  • Charcoal grills use a fuel source such as charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal to cook food over a flame and/or embers. This style is known for its rich, robust flavor, but the user has less control.
  • Electric grills are often used by people who need to keep their grilling activities indoors.

Smoker Styles

  • Smoker grills allow you to switch between grilling vs. smoking because they have built-in firebox chambers for smoking meat with wood chips.
  • Vertical pellet smokers are dedicated only to smoking meat vs. grilling it. They’re fine for smoking, but you can’t grill with them.
  • Smoker ovens are often used by people who need to keep their smoking activities indoors.

Types of Food

Burgers being cooked on a grill

Most meats can be grilled or smoked, but choosing the best tool for the job naturally yields the best results. It’s very hard to go wrong with the classic grill, but some foods can really shine when smoked.

For example, if you’re planning to cook a whole hog, choosing between grilling vs. smoking is pretty straightforward—smoking is the classic method. However, if you’re having some burgers, hot dogs, or chicken, grilling usually makes more sense.

It’s up to you to decide whether you want grilled or smoked foods. But because of the time commitment involved with smoking, grilling is much more common. Smoking is often reserved for big cuts of meat and special occasions.

Many backyard BBQ enthusiasts use their grills daily for all types of foods, only busting out their smokers a few times a year. Of course, there are plenty of everyday smoking enthusiasts out there, but grilling is the classic because it’s convenient, practical, and versatile.

Environmental Impact

If you compare the environmental impact of grilling vs. smoking, it’s clear that grilling wins. While both methods do release pollutants, the inherent nature of smoking makes it significantly more detrimental.

If you decide to go with grilling, try the FlavrQ Grilling System with your gas grill. It’s much more eco-friendly than conventional charcoal and delivers delicious charcoal grilled flavor without sacrificing gas grill convenience.

Our ChipCharwood® (only compatible with the FlavrQ Grid) is derived from sustainable, rainforest-friendly, FSC-certified Canadian sugar maple wood. We don’t use any pesticides or chemicals, so you can feel good about using an all-natural fuel that’s better for the planet and your health.

Taste, Texture, and Appearance

A person putting BBQ sauce on grilled ribs

Last but certainly not least, when comparing grilling vs. smoking, you’ll want to consider taste, texture, and appearance. After all, that’s what cooking food is really all about, right?

With grilling, anything is possible. You can make savory meats, sweet desserts, and everything in between. You can give your food a flame-kissed sear and seal that locks in juicy goodness. You can also get a beautiful look with appetizing flash marks and a golden brown hue.

Smokers are one-trick ponies, but it’s a good trick! Smoked food has a very pronounced, smoky flavor that can even be overwhelming to some palates—for better or worse! 

The fall-off-the-bone texture you get with smoked meats tends to be very soft and succulent, but it can be dry if smoked for too long. Accidental jerky, anyone? The appearance can vary widely.

Unleash the Grill Master in You

Now that you know all about grilling vs. smoking, it’s time to plan your next feast! If you’re still stuck choosing between smoking meat vs. grilling it, we highly recommend grilling. It’s the beloved classic for a reason!

If you’re using a gas grill, you can instantly level up your grilling game with FlavrQ products. Our Starter Kit has everything you need to start grilling like a pro. Learn about how it works, and read our customer reviews to get a taste of the system’s power. 

Once you taste the difference, you’ll never want to cook another way again. Enjoy the juiciest and tastiest food at home with FlavrQ!