A Brief History Of BBQ

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Barbecue’s history is burning hot.

Barbecue has become a staple in American cuisine. In fact, one may even claim that barbecue is the original American food, as it is a blend of different influences and grew into what it is today via the merging of cultures, representing the melting pot that is this country.

But just when and where was BBQ invented? Let’s find out in this quick history of BBQ.

The Origins of the Word Barbecue

It may sound unusual, but the word ‘barbecue’ is actually a derivative of Caribbean speech, according to Southern Oral History.

Barbecue comes from Taino, a pre-Columbian Caribbean language. The phrase, the website argues, denotes the local way of cooking sliced meats over an open flame; other sources indicate barbacoa particularly referred to the wooden frame on which the meat was smoked.

Branching Barbecue Styles

It seems as if every state in the U.S. has their own kinds of barbecue, yet, according to the experts, there are four main types in which the cooking method evolved:

  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Memphis
  • Kansas City barbecue.

Each of these are different in its own manner, down to the varieties of sauces utilized.

Barbecue, according to research done by The Smithsonian, began during the Colonial Era in Virginia.

Colonists observed Native Americans smoking and drying meats over an open flame. Then, the British settlers put their own spin on it with basting, using usually butter or vinegar, to keep the meat moist when grilling over an open flame.

Years later, as slaves from the Caribbean were transported to the U.S., they also contributed their own flavors, spices, and skills. Thus, BBQ was born.

Let’s Get Saucy

When it comes to BBQ sauce, the U.S. may claim this exquisite condiment as its own, as barbecue sauce was born to enhance the grilling experience.

According to study by The Smithsonian, there are three basic types of barbecue sauces that were formed around barbeque, all affected by who settled in the area.

For example, North Carolina’s vinegar-based sauce is derived from those sauces from the Caribbean, whereas South Carolina’s sauce, which employs mustard as a key ingredient, was produced by the German settlers. And if you know anything about German cuisine, mustard is virtually a food category.

Memphis barbecue sauce is a tomato-based sauce which uses molasses to create its distinctive sweet and spicy flavor, as molasses was an item that was easily obtainable in the port city.

Kansas City barbecue, however, uses the same sauce recipe as Memphis barbecue, although it is used a bit differently.

How BBQ Styles Differ

Out of the four kinds of barbecue, while the basic method of smoking meats is the same across all of them, there are intricacies that each style claims that make it different.

In North Carolina, there are two types of cooking styles—Lexington style and Eastern style.

While Eastern style is pork based and is claimed to employ the entire hog, Lexington style uses simply the pig shoulder. Additionally, Lexington style features tomato paste in its vinegar-based sauce, whereas Eastern style is vinegar and pepper based.

South Carolina barbecue follows North Carolina’s classic barbecue cooking style, however, it’s the “golden style” sauce that makes it stand out from its sister state.

Memphis barbecue sticks fast to the custom that pork is the only meat that should be smoked out and sauced, according to Southern Oral History.

Ribs and pulled pork are wrapped with the area’s saucy calling card, but you’ll still find smoked brisket too.

Kansas City barbecue, though, is the one that really seems to mix all of the types. The style incorporates Memphis sauce, but is inclusive of all meats, including chicken and beef.

Barbecue in America: A History (As We Know it)

It’s no secret that the United States is known for its barbeque. In fact, barbecue places these days may quickly develop a cult following, even becoming destination spots for travelers looking for the ideal brisket nibble.

Barbecue, on the other hand, might imply different things to different individuals depending on where you live. It’s even become virtually associated with outdoor “barbecues,” with holidays like the Fourth of July and Memorial Day becoming practically synonymous with them. But, for the purposes of this history lesson, let’s be clear: when we say “barbecue,” we’re talking about cooking meat over indirect heat, low and slow.

Whether you like the vinegar-based sauce associated with eastern-style barbecue or the tomato-based sauce associated with western-style barbecue, whether you prefer pork or beef, all meat lovers can agree: barbecue is a traditional mainstay of our country.

But where did this delectable style of meat preparation come from? To find out more, we looked into the history of BBQ.

The History of Barbecue

Barbecue can be traced all the way back to Native American tribes in America.

Barbecuing, which is thought to have originated in the Caribbean, was brought north by Spanish conquistadors following Christopher Columbus.

According to reports, this type of cooking was known as “barbacoa” at the time. Hernando DeSoto and his men encountered the Chickasaw tribe in present-day Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1540, and one of the oldest mentions of pork barbecue in America dates from that year. The practice then expanded north to Virginia.

Barbecuing became especially popular in the years leading up to the Civil War because pork was so easy to come by.

Pigs, unlike cows, could forage on their own and did not require as much farmer maintenance feeding.

This did, however, result in leaner hogs, and slow cooking was the ideal way to tenderize flesh. Similarly, basting meat with sauce began in British colonies as a method of preserving juiciness.

It should come as no surprise that the tradition of smoking meat has spread throughout the country’s southern and western regions.

Can you image eating your first plate of barbeque and not wanting to tell everyone you know about it?

The Perfect Cut

Of course, if you’ve had great barbecue, you’ve probably also had some that weren’t so great.

This is due to the fact that the right cut can make all the difference. And, yes, we know we were being “barbecue snobbish” when we said that proper barbecuing necessitates low and slow indirect heat, but let’s be honest: you don’t need a pit or a smoker to prepare a tasty meal on Memorial Day.

You can quickly grill up some delicious, smoky meat that will make any pitmaster happy with the highest grade beef and pork available for overnight shipping.

Plus, you have our permission to impress your barbeque friends with what you’ve just learned about American BBQ history. So, this weekend, go ahead and grill — it’s the American way!

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