Barbecues have long been a summer tradition and popular method for cooking. While the modern definition of barbecue is “a meal or gathering at which meat, fish, or other food is cooked outdoors on a rack over an open fire or grill”, the history of barbecuing dates back to colonial times.
Without the process of refrigeration, the meat had to be cooked and eaten right away or preserved by spicing or smoking. The indigenous way of barbecuing meant that the meat was dried under the sun and preserved with smoke. The barbecue that is popular today of cooking meat over a grill or pit with spices and sauces originated in the Caribbean.
The First Record of Barbecue
When Spanish explorers arrived in the West Indies, they first learned of the word ‘barbacoa’ from the language of a Caribbean Indian tribe called the Taino. This word appeared in a Spanish explorer’s printed record of the West Indies in 1526 to describe the process of grilling on a raised wooden grate.
The indigenous people of the Caribbeans preserved their meat in the sun and placed the meat on smoky fires to keep insects away. ‘Barbacoa’ is generally believed to be the origin of the modern word barbecue, in both the process and the name.
The Evolution of Barbecue
With the migration of Europeans and Africans to the Southern United States, European pigs and cattle were transported to the new world to become the primary meat source. In the southern part of the United States, pigs are able to thrive with little care and so pork became the meat of choice. The racks that the indigenous people of the Caribbean used were replaced with pits and smokehouses, beginning the evolution of what we now know as the modern-day barbecue.
At this point in history, cooking meat (specifical pork) in pits was nothing new. The Polynesians are known to be the inventors and the masters of slow, pit-cooked pork for thousands of years.
The Popularity of Modern Day Barbecue
In the 20th century, barbecuing cuts of meat with vegetables became a dietary staple in the African American community and, by the 1950s, black-owned barbecue joints were established in nearly every city in America. To this day, the barbecue is known as “soul food” and is recognized as an intimate gathering of family and friends.
Today, barbecue (commonly referred to as BBQ) is a key element for important events and parties where hosts are looking for a ‘home-cooked-meal’ vibe for their celebration. In this sense, the popularity of BBQ catering has grown significantly and has become a fitting part of the barbecue evolution.