What Do You Call It?

This morning I shot six holes in my freezer.
I think I got cabin fever…
I gotta go where it’s warm!

BOAT DRINKS, Jimmy Buffett

We’ve had continuous snow cover for over 120 days, 78.7 inches this season, and another 4 inches expected within the next couple of days. I’ve given up trying to clear the deck and have had to satisfy myself with shoveling a path to the Big Green Egg.

It’s supposed to warm up a bit this week, but it’s still a little too cold to do a whole lot of outdoor cooking. So since I can’t do it, I might as well talk about it.

What do you call cooking food over a live flame? Is it a barbecue, grilling, or smoking? It all gets kind of complicated when you realize that what Southerners call barbecue (slow cooking over indirect heat), Texans call smoking. What us Northerners typically call barbecue (tossing brats and burgers on the grill), everyone else rightly calls grilling.  And what Texans call barbecue (slow cooking over direct heat) Southerners also call grilling.

I tend to lump it all under the slightly politically-correct sounding term  of “live-fire cooking.” While the term is accurate, it’s not very descriptive. So maybe it makes more sense to define my terms a little bit:

Smoking – any low and slow cooking where the idea is to preserve or season the food mostly with smoke rather than heat. This includes cold smoking (under 100°F) where the heat source is removed from the smoking chamber, and hot smoking (under 190°F) where you are still primarily smoking the food, but also adding just enough heat to make it safe to eat (think hams).

Barbecue – any low and slow (225-250°F) cooking where the smoke and the heat work together equally. Especially when the goal is to turn a tough cut of meat into something meltingly tender. Ribs and pulled pork are prime examples. Barbecuing may include using a moist heat (via a drip pan or by mopping the meat with liquid) or wrapping the meat in foil for part of the cook.

Grilling – hot and fast (350°F+) cooking over a direct or indirect fire. Smoke plays into the taste a little bit, but it’s usually smoke from dripping meat juices, not smoldering wood chunks. Think satays and carne asada in additional to the previously-mentioned burgers and brats.

So what kind of live-fire cooking do I do? In the end, I guess I’m more interested in how the food tastes than in how I got it there. When I can actually get out to the Big Green Egg, I do a bit of all of the above, plus a good deal of Dutch oven cooking, roasting, planking, and even some baking (the BGE is a VERY versatile cooker).

A lot of my cooks are kind of a hybrid with a raised direct set up – direct heat (no diffuser or water pan), but with a small fire and the grate raised up about 4 additional inches. This lets me grill foods at higher temps without burning them and barbecue foods low and slow while getting both the flavor of wood smoke and meat drippings. It also lets me put a pan of veggies under my chickens and roast both to perfection at the same time.

Well, all this writing about food is making me hungry. I hear we might hit 41°F this weekend! That’s almost shorts and t-shirt weather up here. Maybe Spring could just be right around the corner. I won’t believe it till it happens, but even a thin sliver of hope is welcome right now.

4 thoughts on “What Do You Call It?”

  1. I actually had a captivating conversation with a man much more learned that I about this very topic last weekend. Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn from Amazing Ribs has done a good deal of research about the term “barbecue” down to the point of searching primary historical documents. You will probably find this article he wrote about it interesting: http://amazingribs.com/BBQ_articles/barbecue_defined.html

    It sounds like you guys are snowed in big time. Stay away from Room 237!

    1. You got to chat with Craig?!? Very cool. I love his blog. I’ve read his barbecue definition and found it fascinating. He sure knows his stuff. I think I fall firmly in the Post Modernist Pitmaster (oooh, I like that term) category as I’m more concerned about putting tasty food on the table than I am about tradition.

      237 ;). The local stations here aren’t even allowed the show The Shinning from December through May. To be honest it’s not always this bad. Last year we had crocuses in bloom by now.

  2. I’m pretty much a griller. I think the terms people use are so confusing I don’t even mention anything but “grilled” in my blog. Where the hell do you live??????? Even in Colorado we’re having somewhat Spring like weather. The last of the snow has almost melted from my yard. One little patch left.

    1. Around folks who know me I just call it “egging” as that covers the different techniques.

      We’re in Minneapolis and are having the worst winter in probably 20 years. There are still 3-foot deep drifts on our backyard. Might be payback for absolutely glorious spring and summer we had last year.

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