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Barbecue Battle: Low and slow versus hot and fast

Barbecuing versus grilling. It’s a discussion that sparks controversy – one that begins with the very definition of the word barbecue.

Cooking over a live fire historically has been defined as “barbecue” – a cooking technique practiced around the world that has evolved and been revered as an American classic. But that classic is defined by region and subtle nuances such as the use of wood types, spices and sauces.

When I was a kid, my dad “barbecued” on a brick backyard pit. Back then, it was all barbecue. But it wasn’t. Most of the time, we actually were grilling. Grilling is barbecuing.

The two terms and their differences can be confusing. But, in honor of the Wildwood BBQ Bash, we decided to seek clarity.

“Barbecuing is cooking low and slow. That’s what you need to cook meats like ribs, pork shoulder and brisket. Grilling is cooking hot and fast,” explained St. Louis Home Fires Owner and St. Louis BBQ Society Founder Frank Schmer, who has watched the St. Louis barbecue culture explode over the past 15 years.

“Back in the day, people grilled more than they barbecued – grilling brats, hamburgers and steaks,” Schmer said. “With the beginning of competition barbecue, barbecue has gotten big, especially with the invention of the new smoker grills, especially the pellet smoker/grills. It’s made it easier to barbecue because pellet smokers are low maintenance and provide great results. They’ve leveled the barbecuing playing field.”

Barbecue is all about slow cooking, taking the time to develop tenderness without sacrificing moistness and achieve that smoky flavor cue fans crave.

Travis Clark, the reigning world barbecue champion, loves to both barbecue and grill. Both feed his passion to cook with fire. When he barbecues, he goes old-school, on an offset wood-fired pit; however, before he learned to barbecue, he grilled.

“What’s good about grilling [is] you can cook a meal in a matter of minutes,” Clark said. That’s a great trait, indeed.

But for those looking to bridge the gap between low-and-slow barbecuing and quick grilling, there are options. Perhaps the best one is indirect cooking on a classic kettle-style smoker grill.
The indirect method, which is similar to roasting, is achieved by arranging hot coals evenly on either side of the charcoal grate.

A drip pan placed in the center of the charcoal grate between the coals is useful to collect drippings that can be used for gravies and sauces. Drip pans also help to prevent flare-ups. For longer cooking times, water should be added to the drip pan to keep drippings from burning.

When cooking indirectly, the food is placed on the cooking grate directly over the drip pan or in the space between the coals. You want the heat to surround the food, not come into direct contact with it.

Placing the lid on the grill and lifting it only to baste or check for done-ness at the end of the suggested cooking time, is another important rule that helps to bridge the ‘cueing and grilling divide.

Grilling enthusiasts can get similar results in terms of tender, juicy meat by using direct heat and a closed grill.

To grill using the direct method on a charcoal grill, spread prepared coals evenly across the charcoal grate. Set the cooking grate over the coals and place food on the cooking grate. Place the lid on the grill and lift it only to turn food or to test for done-ness. Variables such as the height between the coals and the food and the number of coals used can help to produce an outcome that is faster than barbecuing but delicious nonetheless. Direct grill without using the lid produces a result similar to broiling, which also is not a bad way to go.

St. Louis Style Pork Spare Ribs with Coffee Cocoa Dry Rub

Recipe courtesy of Pitmaster Chris Lilly

Prep time: 10 minutes • Cook time: 3 1/2 hours • Servings: 4-6

St. Louis Style Ribs [courtesy of Smithfield]

St. Louis Style Ribs [courtesy of Smithfield]


7 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

4 teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon ground coffee

2 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

3/4 teaspoon ancho chile pepper

1/8 teaspoon coriander

1/8 teaspoon turmeric

2 racks St. Louis Style Pork Spareribs, membrane removed


Build a charcoal fire for indirect cooking by situating coals on one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty.

Heat grill to 250° F.

To make dry rub: In a small bowl, combine salt, brown sugar, chili powder, coffee, cocoa, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ancho chile pepper, coriander and turmeric.

Generously apply dry rub onto front and back of pork ribs. Gently pat to ensure rub adheres.

Put ribs meat-side up over indirect heat, away from coals, close lid and cook until ribs are tender, about 3 1/2 hours.

Remove ribs from grill and let rest, uncovered for 5 minutes. Slice ribs between bones and serve.


Pineapple Pork Kebabs

Recipe courtesy of Pitmaster Sterling Ball

Prep time: 30 minutes [10 minutes plus 20 minutes marinating time] • Cook time: 25-35 minutes • Servings: 3-4

Grilled Pork Kabobs [courtesy of Smithfield]

Grilled Pork Kabobs [courtesy of Smithfield]


1 1/2 pounds boneless fresh pork loin

1 sweet onion, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch square pieces

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1- to 1 1/2-inch square pieces

2 cups pineapple chunks

3-4 tablespoons barbecue rub

2 1/2 cups teriyaki marinade

3-4 flexible skewers


Heat grill or smoker to 250° F.

Cut pork loin into 2-inch cubes.

Season pork loin, sweet onion, red bell pepper and pineapple chunks with the rub.

Thread pork loin, onion, pepper and pineapple on a skewer; repeat until the length of the skewer is almost full. Repeat with additional skewers.

Put assembled kebabs in a large resealable bag and add teriyaki marinade. Carefully remove air from marinade bag and refrigerate 20 minutes.

Remove kebabs from marinade bag and place on grill over indirect heat. Cook 12-14 minutes; remove and set aside.

Increase grill temperature to 400° F. Sear kebabs at high heat, until caramelized. Using a meat thermometer, check pork loin cubes for done-ness; remove from heat once pork reaches an internal temperature of 145° F.

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