When it comes to the English language, many people know that there are a lot of words that can be used interchangeably. For instance, many people use the words “grilling” and “roasting” in very similar contexts, and it can be easy to get the wrong idea that these two words are interchangeable. In fact, at a basic, fundamental level, these two words are vastly different.

Before you can really understand the difference between grilling and roasting when it comes to cooking, you should have an idea of what the difference between the two is when it comes to a basic definition. Knowing where the roots of a word come from is going to make it much easier for you to absorb the fact that grilling and roasting meats are absolutely not the same thing.

Understanding the Fundamental Difference Between Grilling and Roasting

At its most basic level, grilling refers to foods that were grilled, and that is it. If a meat was cooked in any other manner besides being placed on the grill, then you technically cannot call it a grilled meat. In some cases, stores will use the word “grilled” to describe meat that has been cooked quickly and already cut into slices for you to use in whatever meal you wish.

On the other hand, roasting is quite a bit different. Rather than being placed over direct heat, as grilling involves, roasting involves the opposite type of heat known as diffused heat. An example of this would be placing a brisket in the oven to cook.

When it comes to store-bought meats, it is used to refer to meats that are better for slow-cooking, and meats that are generally sold in one, whole, large chunk rather than slices and pieces.

Getting More Specific About Definitions

If you really want to understand the differences between grilling and roasting, you need to go back to times long since passed. For instance, historically, the word “roasted” would refer to cooking foods in front of an open fire, where the heat of the fire would hopefully reach as many parts of the meat as possible.

When the oven became a more widely used invention, the method of “roasting” switched from being over an open fire to cooking food in an insulated container, set to a specific temperature. Whatever container the meat is put into, most commonly an oven, utilizes the hot air inside of it to cook the meat from all possible angles without drying it up in the process.

Grilling, on the other hand, didn’t used to be assigned to only grills. In fact, when you think about it, people have technically been grilling their meats for centuries. At its core, grilling involves cooking over a charcoal flame specifically.

Nowadays, food is often placed on the grill rack to cook, rather than physically holding it over the fire. Grilling uses the intense heat on one side of the meat to cook it quickly, thoroughly, and break down unwanted parts.

Notable Differences Between Grilling and Roasting

While there are seemingly many similarities between grilling and roasting meats, the truth is that there are plenty of ways that they are different. Grilling and roasting differ in areas ranging from the heat the method can reach, the time it takes to cook meats, and what kind of materials you are going to need.

Speaking of the materials you will need, it will be pretty easy to find what you want in both cases, but it is still important to know what kind of equipment is needed for grilling and roasting. As you can probably imagine, you are going to need a grill if you want to grill some meats, although a gridiron or a griddle will do just fine. On the other hand, roasting food is going to either require an oven, or a closed-lid grill to create a completely closed-off atmosphere around the meat.

As for the time it takes for each method to cook, you can generally expect grilling meats to take between three and ten minutes, depending on how well-done you want your food. The rarer you want the meat, the less time it’s going to take to grill, especially if you have a high-powered grill. Roasting foods, unfortunately, takes considerably longer. It can take anywhere between one and three hours, depending on the size of the meat that you want to cook.

This difference in time is due to the fact that grills can get a lot hotter, a lot faster than ovens can. Generally, a good grill with a good fuel source can exceed temperatures of 500°F within minutes. As you can imagine, this can cook most meats pretty quickly. Ovens generally do not get anywhere near this temperature for a simple roasting function. Instead, they tend to stay between 200°F and 400°F, while also taking a fair bit longer to reach the desired temperature.

When you are thinking about the temperature of the meats, you are also going to need to think about how each cooking method actually cooks the meat. For example, when you are roasting foods, it is considered to be a “low, indirect heat” that keeps everything cooked nice and evenly.

The indirect heat means that there is not a heat source directly touching the meat, but rather the general air around it that is cooking it. Likewise, grilling foods involves using a “high, direct heat,” which is often fire.

Now that you know a little bit more about the differences between roasting foods and grilling them, you can learn a little bit more about what effect this has on the meats. For nicely grilled meats, you can expect to have charred and crispy meat slices if everything went right. For roasted meats, you can expect to have more tender meats that are completely cooked internally, rather than having some pink spots in them.

Knowing What to Grill and What to Roast

Once you understand what sets grilling and roasting meats apart, you might find yourself wondering if there are any particular meats that go better with one dish compared to the other. The truth is that there most certainly are some meats that are much better grilled, just as there are some meats that are much better roasted.

In general, when you are going to be grilling meats, you are going to want to focus exclusively on meats that can benefit from having that charred, crispy exterior to the meat. You will also want to focus on meats that some people enjoy having rare or medium rare, such as burgers. This is the grill’s specialty, and you should stick to it if you want the best results from the cooking session.

Typically, this is going to mean that you want to stick to meats and cuts such as kebabs, ribs, hamburgers, and steaks. All of these meats can benefit from having a crispier crust to them, and many people like these meats charred to some extent. Depending on the way that you grill things, you can even add a nice flavor to the meat through the smoke and wood that you are using, which is something you can’t really do when you are roasting meat.

Speaking of roasting meats, there are some meats that can benefit greatly from being tender and fully cooked. This is what you are going to want to focus on if you decide that you are in the mood to roast meats instead of grilling them. You will also have a lot more options for additions to your meats, such as potatoes and other vegetables.

Some of the most common meats that people enjoy adding to their ovens include shawarma, roast beef (hence the name), chicken, and so on. There’s a very good chance that you will want to cook all of these meats with some vegetables, not only for the sake of a healthy, hearty meal, but to ensure that the flavor is full throughout the meat.

What About Vegetables?

Many, many people out there have found that grilling vegetables is a wonderful way to introduce flavor to something that really isn’t all that flavorful on its own. Whether you want to find ways to add something healthy to your diet, or you are simply curious about the aspect of grilling or roasting vegetables, you might want to consider it when you are already going to be cooking meats.

While both methods are not going to make the vegetables look particularly appealing, if you can get the timing right, it is not going to make that big of a difference. Typically, grilling them takes more preparation and time, but they will turn out much more tasteful than their roasted counterparts. On the other hand, if you are not in the mood for a lot of preparation and work, roasting vegetables is a quick and easy way to add healthy flavor to any meat dish.

Now that you know a little bit more about grilling and roasting, their differences, and what makes each of them special, you will be able to make even better dishes than you were making before. Understanding the history behind your cooking utensils is always important, as it helps you know the best ways to utilize them.

Author

I have a bachelor's degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies...I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.

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