BBQ vs. Cookout

My friends Nick and Jason got into an argument recently about the definition of “Barbeque/Barbecue/BBQ.” Jason, who’s from Texas, insists that Nick is “dead wrong” for using “barbecue” as a verb for grilling in general. “A social gathering around a grill is a ‘cookout,'” says Jason. Nick, who like me is from the North, counters that while this may be true in the South, in most other places around the world, it’s called BBQ when meat hits a grill. So now we turn to you, the people, to help settle this matter. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Something tells me we’re going to get a lot of conflicting answers.

52 thoughts on “BBQ vs. Cookout”

  1. Adrian Reynolds

    A barbecue can be an event, but it’s also an American cuisine with regional variations. The act itself, of putting meat on the grill, is simply grilling. But that does no justice to the lengths true barbecue chefs go through…it’s not simply slapping some meat on a grill. The marinades, the long and slow cooking, the secret proprietary spice rubs, etc.

  2. BBQ is slow smoking. Grilling is grilling. Meanwhile BBQ sauce does not make something into BBQ. Also, I think Korean BBQ should be called Korean Grilling.

  3. I’m from Philly and almost everyone I know says “we’re throwing a barbecue”, even if it’s just burgers and hot dogs. I know this is blasphemy in the south, but seeing as I don’t live there I’ll continue with my definition.

    1. As a Texan, I call it a BBQ even if yes, it’s only burgers and hot dogs. Sometimes I call it grilling but it just depends in what mood I’m in.

  4. Cooking something on a grill definitely does not warrant the term “barbecue” — that’s a “cookout” or “grilling.” I admit I’m from Texas, but it seems objectively clear that slow-cooking for almost a day deserves its own term.

    Likewise, if people are promised “barbecue” and are served grilled burgers and steaks, I’d expect some fair outrage! :)

  5. I’m from New Jersey (the southern part outside of Philly) and I grew up going to barbecues (BBQs) but I do like the sound of a “cookout”. It sounds really friendly for some reason. I get a kick out of the different words Americans have for things and the different pronunciations too. Hoagie/Sub/Hero, sack/bag, softball glove/mitt, pop/soda.

  6. I’m from Texas as well. Having a BBQ would involve slow smoking. Burgers and hot dogs is grilling out or cook out. I did always find this funny while listening to Sirius XM radio the jockey’s in NY call everything a BBQ even if it’s just burgers and hot dogs.

    This is also along the lines of is your meal at noon called lunch or dinner. Is your evening meal called dinner or supper. My parents are from the north and they use dinner/supper, while i use lunch/dinner.

  7. When I, “have a bbq/barbeque/barbecue,” I am inviting people over for food that’s been grilled

    “Eating bbq/barbeque/barbecue” refers to eating ribs, pulled pork, southern fare.

    A cookout can be bbq’d, grilled, fishboil, etc. Anything that is cooked outside…and only my grandma uses that term

  8. I’m a Kentuckian and I’ll chime in here. To me, barbeque is meat that has been smoked and slow cooked. If you invite people over for hot dogs and hamburgers or whatever you might make on a grill, that’s a cook out. And if you are just grilling something for yourself and your family for dinner, that is called grilling out.

  9. I’m from Rhode Island and it’s always been a cookout to me! BBQ is meat, low and slow and smokey. Cookout is when you grill food, meat included.

  10. In my Jersey girl life a BBQ is an outside party and barbeque/barbecue is a cooking device as well as a type of food. A cookout is an outside party my sister in NC attends :)

  11. In the UK it’s a barbecue – we have barbecues, we barbecue things. Barbecue cuisine isn’t a thing (though Grillstock (Google it! Do!) is pretty awesome).
    If I’m grilling then I’m in the kitchen using what you’d call a broiler.

  12. Growing up in northern NJ outside of the City, grilling meats outside with a bunch of family and friends was called a BBQ. I live in DC now and most folks call it a “cookout”. I prefer using “BBQ”.

  13. BBQ is a food product involving smoke and slow cooking. Almost always pork butt or, if you must and live in Texas, beef brisket.

    Yes, I’m from the South and I use to get very disappointed when, after moving to NJ, I’d be invited to a BBQ and discover they had nothing but hamburgers on a grill.

    I’m over that now, realizing there is almost no “real” BBQ in NJ

  14. I grew up in California and we’d get together to barbecue. I moved to NC, married a native, and quickly learned that BBQ is NOT a verb. In NC, you eat BBQ (pulled / chopped pork).

  15. Australia says BBQ. Never even heard of the term “cookout”, and for us BBQ always means grilling, not this long/slow-cooked meat thing, too.

  16. I’m Australian and we definitely call it a bbq (or usually a ‘barbie’). The act of cooking meat on a bbq isn’t ever referred to as ‘grilling’ – it’s ‘barbequeing’. A grill is the top part of an oven, which I think is what you guys call a broiler..? The term cookout sounds very ‘American Scout camp’ to me.

  17. I’m a born and raised California girl who lived in Texas for 13 years and lives in CA again. CA- I say “come on over – we’re going to throw some meat on the grill”. In Texas – we said “come on over ya’all – we got some brisket BBQing” Adding sauce does not make it BBQ. This regional difference thing is similar to the do you call it pop, soda or is everything a coke?

  18. I’m a Canadian living in Virginia. North – bbq is anything grilled and also a social gathering. South – bbq is a type of cooking (slow smoking), grilling is, well, grilling something, and a cookout is a social gathering. I’ll tell you what though, I certainly enjoy the southern version of bbq. Mmmm, pulled pork…..

  19. sweetfrancaise

    This SoCal girl, born and bred, says it’s barbecue, no matter what you’re grilling.

    “Cookout” reminds me of mosquitoes and over-marinated chicken filets. If I invited any of my friends over for one they’d have no idea what was going on. Definitely a regional thing.

  20. If you are referring to labeling a social gathering where grilling is occurring then I only hear my Southern friends calling it a cookout. When I lived in Nashville, everyone called it a cookout. Everyone else I know from other areas call it a barbecue regardless of what is being grilled. So, it is safe to say it is a cookout if you from below the Mason Dixie Line and a Barbecue if you are from any place else. I am from New Jersey and never heard it called a cookout, only barbecue.

  21. BBQ = social gathering with food in CA. Don’t use the term “cookout” here. But I’ll be the first to admit we don’t do BBQ like Texas, NC, or Kansas City. We have Santa Maria-style tri tip though, and it’s my go to everytime we grill/have a BBQ/cookout.

    1. Texan here. Please tell us more about this “Santa Maria-style tri tip”? I am intrigued! (I mean I guess I could Google it or whatever, but…)

  22. carolina girl

    i’m from north carolina, where barbecue is a noun (not a verb — not ever a verb!) and don’t dare use it in reference to anything other than pork, with a vinegar based sauce.

  23. Anna Posekany

    I’ve heard it used both ways here in the Midwest but when I lived on the west coast some people called the grill itself “the barbecue.” As in, I’m going to put the meat on the barbecue! Weird.

  24. The terms are interchangeable, depending upon regional context. This is an example of why the English language is so complex for foreigners – there’s a lot of cultural context that is not something that can be reduced to black and white.

  25. I’d echo what someone else said about the meaning of barbecue and grill in the UK:

    Barbecue as a noun…

    Barbecue (object) – a device for cooking food out of doors, usually on a grill over coals

    Barbecue (event) – a party where a number of people gather to eat barbecued food


    Barbecue (foodstuff). “I ate some barbecue” sounds like something the Incredible Hulk would say. “Hulk ate some barbecue. Hulk burn face. Hulk lie in duck pond. Hulk not eat barbecue again. Hulk eat patio chair instead”

    Barbecue as a verb…

    To Barbecue (activity) – To cook food on a barbecue (object)

    Barbecued as an adjective…

    “I ate barbecued chicken”

    Grill as a noun…

    The top bit of a cooker where radiant heat from above is used to cook food on a grill pan

    Grill as a verb…

    To cook food on a grill as above

  26. I’ve lived in Illinois/Massachusetts for half my life and Texas for a half, and barbeque/barbecue/BBQ is the food, and a cookout (or a “hey-come-over-we’re-throwing-some-meat-on-the-grill) is the event. There’s a REASON Michigan/NJ/Massachusetts are not known for great BBQ. And I vote that for this particular discussion, international interpretations should be left out of it. It is interesting, but that opens up a whole different can of worms of its own. And just as a shout out – anyone heading to the San Antonio/Austin area and looking for some damn good BBQ, go to Salt Lick or Franklin’s.

  27. Obviously, if you are from a part of the country where smoked pork or beef BBQ is an important cuisine, you make the distinction between that food product and just grilling outdoors. If you are from a part of the country where BBQ is not an important food product, you call everything BBQ. Simple enough.

  28. From the perspective of a 20-something born in North Carolina, raised in the South, and currently living in southern California, the words are not interchangeable. BBQ is long, slow cooked meat, preferably pork that’s been smoked in a pit. It’s definitely NOT a verb in my book. If we are cooking steak/burgers/hot dogs on a grill, we call it grilling out. To me, cookout is kind of a dorky word. Nobody I know in California uses it, and if someone in the South does, they’re talking about the chain restaurant called Cook Out (

  29. Haaa, haaa! I’d say you’re both right. I call it a cookout, by the way, and I’m from the South. Barbeque is chopped pork. Nothing more. Everything else is barbeque chicken, (barbeque) brisket, etc.

    But, as for what other people call it, it doesn’t really matter to me. If I’m somewhere North and someone calls a cookout a barbecue instead, I won’t get offended. :)

    (I use the spellings barbecue and barbeque interchangeably.)

  30. Still confused after reading all the posted comments.
    In the ‘verb’ meaning, which is the proper form ‘to barbecue’ or ‘to barbeque’?
    An American friend wrote that he loves to barbeque. Then, he goes on using ‘barbecue’ as the noun.


  31. A cookout can be called a barbecue, even in the south. Now grilled meat is not BBQ. Grilled meats are cooked at higher temperatures than BBQ. BBQ is meat that is cooked low and slow, that comes with the kiss of that thin blue smoke.


    BBQ is cooking over long periods of time with indirect heat. Traditionally using dry rubs and different smokes to flavor the meat. Later came sauces.

    Grilling is high heat for short periods of time. It produces a seared flavor. Often relying on marinates to flavor the meat. Searing the meat traps the moisture inside from the marinate. Also the marinate on the outside often caramelizes adding more flavor.

    Jason is right. They may both be forms of cooking meat but you don’t go to a baseball game and say this football game is great. Just because their both sports.

  33. Some people don’t realize that any meat can be barbequed. As I eschew the flesh of swine (for the same reason that Jesus did), I prefer beef or bison.

  34. Jeremiah Johnson

    Barbecue is Low and Slow. No matter how you cut it. Grilling is hot and fast. If you put something in a crock pot and add bbq sauce is not even close to barbecue. A cook out is a contest in which teams are trying to out flavor the rest.

  35. I grew up in IL, MA, FL, and now live in TN. Married to a Texan. I call it a cookout(verb). BBQ is what you eat(noun).

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