Everybody loves a "barbecue" — that's become the name for when you grill out, maybe because it sounds a lot more fun. Nobody wants to "come over for a grilling." That just sounds bad.
The folks that are in real barbecue — be it in the barbecue business, the barbecue competitions or the barbecue lifestyle — we all laugh about it. Barbecue is low and slow, where you take the time to slowly cook meat to break it down and let it become tender, taking anywhere from 8 to 18 hours.
I don't think everybody knows what it is to do low and slow barbecue; I don't think that everybody has really had that experience. Grilling is what the majority of folks actually do, in the sense that they're cooking vegetables or some protein over an open fire — be it gas, charcoal, wood or whatever.
When someone thinks that because they're throwing some pork chops on the grill, they're having a barbecue, they're using it like a blanket term, and we all do that a lot. You go grab some tissue paper for your nose, you call it Kleenex. Or somebody goes and grabs plastic wrap to cover a bowl, they call it Saran Wrap. So I get it, but there is a real difference, and it is worth respecting.
A cookout, then, from my perspective, is where everybody comes together with food in any shape or form. There's all different types of foods at a cookout; it could involve grilling, or barbecue, or both. It's about the community, the celebration.
There's something about the allure of fire that helps bring a group of people together; it must go back to the cavemen. Recently, I was outside with my son Hunter, and I lit the charcoal for our grill and I said: "Watch this. Watch everybody come out here to this grill." And, sure enough, everyone gravitated from inside to outside as the fire got going. There's something about a fire: People want to look at it, they want to poke it, they want to add stuff to it. Cooking around a fire becomes a gathering.
In the end, though, the attraction of a barbecue, a grilling or a cookout all comes down to food; it really is the common denominator for all folks. We might not all like the same sports or have the same politics or listen to the same music, but everybody loves food. We have food at all of the events of our lives, the good ones and the bad ones. We share meals at the happy moments, and pass around dishes at the sad ones.
You get nourishment from both the act of eating, and from the act of eating in a group.
I know everybody doesn't expect to hear this from Guy Fieri, but I have be honest: One of my favorite things in the world to grill is vegetables. Asparagus, red onions, carrots, any big veggie, green beans; I'll grill anything. There's something about that hot sear that you get from the radiant heat of charcoal that caramelizes, blisters and adds flavor with the smoke — a little bit of smoke — coming through. I'll even take them the next day, chop them up and make a grilled vegetable salad.
Don't get me wrong. I love to get up to the big steaks and all that. My wife loves lamb chops. A big, nice, double-cut pork chop is great. But veggies are my fave.
And if I convince you to do anything, please go get a charcoal grill. It will change the way your food tastes. I know that gas grills are convenient; I know that they're easy. I know that they have radiant grills, and they have lava rock, and they have all kinds of stuff. Yes, they do work. Yes, they do a good job.
We used to have a gas grill, like anybody. One day I finally said, "That's it." It's the same amount of time to heat up a gas grill as it is to heat up a chimney full of good charcoal, and the flavor profile of what you get from a charcoal fire over gas is just 10 to 1, in my opinion.
And once you get yourself a charcoal grill, get yourself a chimney to light your charcoal — a good sturdy chimney. Get yourself some good charcoal — no instant-lit stuff, and don't use charcoal lighter fluid. All you need to do is put paper in the bottom of the chimney, light it and the charcoal will get itself going. Cook with charcoal, and get that heat, that flavor, and that sear that you can't get any other way. That's my two cents.
And don't worry if you call it a barbecue when you're just grilling. Nobody wants to come by for a grilling; everybody loves to come to a barbecue.
As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.