Being a vegetarian, it may seem strange that I am writing about cooking meat. To be honest, I love the smell of barbecue. There must be a part of my ancestral brain that gets triggered, because my stomach starts to growl every time I smell the sweet smoke of a barbecue.
Since prehistoric time humans from all over the world have been cooking meats over fire. In the United States, we generally refer to outdoor cooking over a charcoal or wood fire as barbecue. The word barbecue has multiple meanings: It is a style of cooking meat over an open fire, a structure or framework for cooking, a food, a flavor, and an outdoor social gathering.
As I was researching American barbecue, I discovered that there are regional distinctions in the ways Americans barbecue. What brings all these types of barbecue styles together is the process of slow cooking the meat over low heat.
The particulars of barbecue vary widely. Preferred methods range from open to closed pits, meat can be pig (in the East) or beef (in the West), sauce can be wet or dry (and then it’s a rub), and the fuel can be one of many varieties of wood—or it can be charcoal. Barbecue purists will insist that gas grilling is not barbecue since grilling is a high heat quick cooking process.
The United States has a long tradition of barbecues as a form of social gathering. In fact, George Washington, the founder of our country, wrote in his diaries about the many barbicue [sic] he attended or hosted. Many of us in the United States will be celebrating July 4, Independence Day, at a barbecue.
Here are some interesting facts that you might wish to share with family and friends:
– Buccaneers, the infamous pirates, originally cooked and sold barbecue along seaports of the Americas . Their name is derived from boucan (bucan/ buccan) the native South American word for the wooden framework in which meat was roasted or smoked over an open fire. Buccaneers or Buccaniers originally meant someone who dries and smokes flesh on a boucan.
– In 1793, following the ceremonial laying of the United States Capitol cornerstone, a 500-pound ox was barbecued.
– In mid the 19th century, Skilton Dennis opened the first commercial barbecue business in the United States in Ayden, North Carolina. His many descendents still carry on the tradition in Ayden.
If you want to learn more about the history of barbecue you can use our guide to BBQ History for a list of books, articles and Websites on the topic.
For a more inclusive exploration of barbecue you might wish to watch a lecture on Barbecue: History of the World’s Oldest Culinary Art presented at the Library in 2005 by barbecue aficionado Steve Raichlen.