It’s Cookout Time! What Is The Difference Between Grilling and Smoking?

Warm weather is the ideal time to cook out.  More people cook outdoors in summer than any other time of the year.  However, summer temperatures are also ideal for bacteria and other pathogens (disease causing organisms) to multiply on food and cause food-borne illness.  Use these simple guidelines for grilling and smoking food safely outdoors.

Grilling is cooking food over direct heat.  Due to its close proximity to the heat, tender meats and poultry are best for grilling.  A grill can use either charcoal, wood or special rocks heated by gas or electricity.  Smoking is an indirect cooking method for large cuts of meat, whole poultry and turkey breasts.

A smoker is an outdoor cooker specifically made for smoking food.  Alternately, a covered grill with a pan of water underneath the meat or poultry can be used to smoke food.  Smoking is a slow cooking process that uses heat and moisture to impart a natural smoke flavor which makes it better for less tender meats.  Smoking requires the use of two thermometers and grilling requires the use of one thermometer.  For smoking, one thermometer is used to measure the air temperature inside the smoker.  The temperature in the smoker should be maintained at 250 to 300°F for safety.  Both smoking and grilling require a food thermometer to make sure the food has reached the proper minimum internal temperature to destroy pathogens that can cause foodborne illness.

For safety and quality, allow meat to rest at least three minutes before cutting or eating. 

Doneness temperatures depend on the food.  All poultry (whole, pieces and ground) should reach a minimum internal temperature of at least 165°F.  All ground meat (beef, pork, veal and lamb) mixtures such as hamburgers should reach at least 160°F.  Pieces of meat such as beef, pork, veal and lamb, either as steaks, roasts or chops should reach at least 145°F.  For safety and quality, allow meat to rest at least three minutes before cutting or eating.

When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, heat to 165°F, or until hot and steamy. Visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s website for detailed information on safe grilling and smoking foods.