Grilling: What Does it Mean?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 1, 2022

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Grilling is a form of cooking that involves dry heat applied to the surface of food, commonly from above or below (as in North America). Grilling usually involves a significant amount of direct, radiant heat, and tends to be used for cooking meat quickly.

Food to be grilled is cooked on a grill (an open wire grid such as a gridiron with a heat source above or below), a grill pan (similar to a frying pan, but with raised ridges to mimic the wires of an open grill), or griddle (a flat plate heated from below).

What is grilling

Heat transfer to the food when using a grill is primarily via thermal radiation. Heat transfer when using a grill pan or griddle is by direct conduction. In the United States, when the heat source for grilling comes from above, grilling is termed broiling.

In this case, the pan that holds the food is called a broiler pan, and heat transfer is by thermal radiation.

Grilled meat acquires a distinctive roast aroma and flavor from a chemical process called the Maillard reaction. The Maillard reaction only occurs when foods reach high temperatures.

Studies have shown that cooking beef, pork, poultry, and fish at high temperatures can lead to the formation of heterocyclic amines, benzopyrenes, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogens. Marination may reduce the formation of these compounds.

Grilling is often presented as a healthy alternative to cooking with oil, although the fat and juices lost by grilling can contribute to drier food.

The history of grilling food

Before we learn more about what makes a good BBQ, let’s see where the whole idea of barbecue actually comes from.

What is barbecue?

Barbecue or barbeque or the street slang BBQ is a cooking method, a style of food, and a name for a meal or gathering at which this style of food is cooked and served.

The cooking method itself could also be called barbecue and it is usually done outdoors by using firewood or charcoal (best lump reviewed here).

However, there are now electrical and propane gas-powered grills that can be used indoors if conditions do not favor it done outdoors.

The history of barbecuing or grilling food might date as far back as the Babylonians; however, there is one author that made an outlandish claim that it may be even farther back in time.

The oldest BBQ: the story of Enki

It starts with Zecharia Sitchin’s book The Lost Book of Enki, which has an interesting story about a barbecue that occurred after the great flood.

It is not considered authentic archaeological evidence by mainstream scientists, but it may be the oldest account of grilling food in Earth’s history which dates back to the 10th millennium BCE!

According to the story (it was actually written in cuneiform texts of the ancient Sumerians and was supposedly translated by Sitchin) the alien Anunnaki (those who from heaven to earth came) gods fled earth via rocket ships to their orbiting space station days just before the flood happened.

As they hurriedly left they forgot to bring food rations with them.

Also, the problem was that there were no human servants to prepare the food for them like they normally would because Enlil who was in charge of all the gods on earth decided to destroy the human race via the flood which will come about by a meteor strike in Antarctica.

They couldn’t travel to Mars (their outpost) as it had already been destroyed by nuclear bombs thousands of years prior and couldn’t go back to earth due to the flood. So there was no way to get any food anywhere in our solar system.

Help from their home planet Nibiru was also not possible as it was in its apogee nearly twice the length of our solar system flung out further than Pluto due to its elongated orbit around the sun.

They remained in the orbiter for nearly 2 weeks and were famished.

The Sumerian god, Enki, who is the author of the book had his own spaceship and decided to save a family of 4 by instructing a man called, Suisudra (Noah in the Bible), to build a small submarine (not an ark) that could survive the rising tides.

He was also instructed by this ancient god to grill beef from cows that had survived the flood.

When the rest of the gods descended from the orbiter their commander, Enlil, who was the half-brother of Enki was furious for what his half-brother had done as he wanted to destroy all of the humans through the great flood.

However, upon smelling the burnt beef all of them came rushing to the dining table like flies, which Enki also instructed Suisudra to prepare as he was expecting his fellow gods to be starving to death.

After enjoying their fill of exquisitely delicious grilled food the commanding god, Enlil’s rage has abated and reconsidered his half-brother’s proposal to repopulate the earth with human beings.

Now that is an amazing story!

Even if it’s just a myth (although Sitchin and his supporters claim that there is truth in it) it shows how the succulent flavor of grilled food can pacify even an angry god!

In fact, if you look at it from a certain perspective the Sumerian god Enki used the barbecue to save the human race from extinction.

The irresistible taste of grilled food

I know it sounds like a terrible joke, but there have been more ridiculous instances that people did really stupid things for food.

It is actually still true to this day and nobody could resist grilled meat even in their darkest of days.

Meanwhile, wall reliefs and stone tablets of the Babylonians also depict them roasting boars, bulls, and other animals which may have been a part of their diet.

The Persians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Macedonians, Arameans, and the Romans practiced the same cooking methods when their empires were still in existence.

Even the Mongols under Genghis Khan also grilled food when they were raiding cities from Asia to the Middle East!

Where does the word barbecue come from?

It wasn’t until 1526 in one of the Spanish explorer’s accounts that the word barbacoa appeared in his notes.

He translated the native Caribbean word as “grilling on a raised wooden grate” and as time went on by the 20th century the term barbecue became a household name in the United States as well as the rest of the world.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.