A barbecue traditionally means cooking or smoking meat slowly, at a very low temperature, using wood or charcoal. It is also the name of the apparatus used for cooking. Nowadays, it has become a common pastime almost everywhere around the world. Although its origin is quite elusive, it is said that it evolved during the Stone Age, when man first began using fire to cook meat.
There is no consensus about how or when this style of cooking began. Some believe that barbecuing was introduced by the Taino tribe of the Caribbean region, where it was known as 'barbacoa', meaning 'beginning place of the sacred fire father'. It was usually practiced to preserve meat from getting spoiled. They used to keep the meat on a wooden platform above fire, supported by sticks. Another way was to slow-cook the meat in a hole, dug into the ground. 'Barbacoa' is also the Spanish word for barbecue, which means 'meat smoking apparatus' or 'sacred fire pit'.
Some suggest that the word barbecue may have been derived from the French word, barbe à queue, which literally means 'from beard to tail', that is, roasting an entire animal. It is also said that, in earlier times, signs that read "Bar, Beer and Cues", were put up in front of roadhouses and beer joints that had a pool table to attract customers. This is yet another supposition about the beginnings of a cookout.
During the early 1800s, cattle-herding cowboys discovered barbecuing after they cooked meat directly on a low flame for 5-7 hours, making it tender and edible. They also experimented with goat, pork ribs, beef ribs, venison, and lamb chops, where the results were delicious.
The meat used in this style of cooking, differs from region to region, depending on the availability of the animal. But, the choice of meat is usually pork or beef. In South America, pork is generally used, while people in the North prefer beef. Barbecues are also made from chicken, mutton, pork ribs, even vegetables.
No barbecue is complete without sauces, spice rubs, and marinades, which are added during the process. These are also used as dips. The preference of sauces and spice rubs varies in different regions. While some prefer it sweet, others like it spicy and hot. They usually include garlic, pepper, tomatoes, herbs, and lime juice, to make the meat tastier.
Earlier, barbecues were made using charcoal or wood, but nowadays, gas barbecues are commonly used. They are available in different styles (including a portable one), and are efficient and easy to use. The taste of meat greatly differs depending on whether it is cooked on charcoal, wood, or gas.
Barbecue is not only a way of cooking, but also a celebration where people come together to eat and enjoy. In South America, the slaughtering of pigs was once celebrated with great pomp, before they were barbecued. The apparatus was first introduced in restaurants in the 20th century. Today, backyard barbecues have become a tradition for outdoor parties. People who are passionate about barbecuing, either buy the appropriate equipment or construct one in their backyard.
It is a common misconception that grilling is the same as barbecuing, since the equipment and techniques used, are quite similar. Apparently, it is not so! Grilling refers to a fast mode of cooking, while barbecuing takes a long time, sometimes even more than 24 hours.
It is interesting to see the way barbecue has evolved from a means of survival, to a source of enjoyment and fun. Although it is not clear whether the origin of barbecuing was from a single country or an amalgamation of different cultures and nations, it is loved and enthusiastically performed by people all over the world.