In this study, we used process measures to understand how people recall autobiographical memories in response to different word cues. In Experiment 1, participants provided verbal protocols when cued by object and emotion words. Participants also reported whether memories had come directly to mind. The self-reports and independent ratings of the verbal protocols indicated that directly recalled memories are much faster and more frequent than generated memories and are more prevalent when cued by objects than emotions. Experiment 2 replicated these results without protocols to eliminate any demand characteristics or output interference associated with the protocol method. In Experiment 3, we obtained converging results using a different method for assessing retrieval strategies by asking participants to assess the amount of information required to retrieve memories. The greater proportion of fast direct retrievals when memories are cued by objects accounts for reaction time differences between object and emotion cues, and not the commonly accepted explanation based on ease of retrieval. We argue for a dual-strategies approach that disputes generation as the canonical form of autobiographical memory retrieval and discuss the implication of these findings for the representation of personal events in autobiographical memory.