Barbecue (informally barbeque, BBQ or barby/barbies) is both a cooking method and an apparatus. The generally accepted differences between barbecuing and grilling are cooking durations and the types of heat used. Grilling is generally done quickly over moderate-to-high direct heat that produces little smoke, while barbecuing is done slowly over low, indirect heat and the food is flavored by the smoking process.
The word barbecue when used as a noun can refer to the cooking method, the meat cooked in this way, the cooking apparatus (the "barbecue grill" or simply "barbecue"), or to an event where this style of food is featured. Used as an adjective, "barbecued" refers to foods cooked by this method. The term is also used as a verb for the act of cooking food in this manner. Barbecuing is usually done out-of-doors by smoking the meat over wood or charcoal. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large brick or metal ovens designed for that purpose. There are numerous regional variations of barbecuing, and it is practiced in many areas of the world.
The English word Barbecue and cognates in other languages come from the Spanish word barbacoa. Etymologists believe this to be derived from barabicu found in the language of the Arawak people of the Caribbean and the Timucua of Florida; it has entered some European languages in the form of barbacoa. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) traces the word to Haiti and translates it as a "framework of sticks set upon posts". Gonzalo Fernández De Oviedo y Valdés, a Spanish explorer, was the first to use the word "barbecoa" in print in Spain in 1526 in the Diccionario de la Lengua Española (2nd Edition) of the Real Academia Española. After Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, the Spaniards apparently found native Haitians roasting meat over a grill consisting of a wooden framework resting on sticks above a fire. The flames and smoke rose and enveloped the meat, giving it a certain flavor. The same framework was also used as protection from nocturnal animal attacks.
Traditional barbacoa involves digging a hole in the ground and placing some meat—usually a whole lamb—above a pot so the juices can be used to make a broth. It is then covered with maguey leaves and coal, and set alight. The cooking process takes a few hours. Olaudah Equiano, an African abolitionist, described this method of roasting alligators among the Mosquito People (Miskito people) on his journeys to Cabo Gracias a Dios in his narrative The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.
Linguists have suggested the word barbacoa migrated from the Caribbean and into other languages and cultures; it moved from Caribbean dialects into Spanish, then Portuguese, French, and English. According to the OED, the first recorded use of the word in English was a verb in 1661, in Edmund Hickeringill's Jamaica Viewed: "Some are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbacu'd and eat". The word barbecue was published in English in 1672 as a verb from the writings of John Lederer, following his travels in the North American southeast in 1669-70. The first known use of the word as a noun was in 1697 by the British buccaneer William Dampier. In his New Voyage Round the World, Dampier wrote, " ... and lay there all night, upon our Borbecu's, or frames of Sticks, raised about 3 foot from the Ground".
Samuel Johnson's 1756 dictionary gave the following definitions:
- "To Barbecue – a term for dressing a whole hog" (attestation to Pope)
- "Barbecue – a hog dressed whole"
While the standard modern English spelling of the word is barbecue, variations including barbeque and truncations such as bar-b-q or BBQ may also be found. The spelling barbeque is given in Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionaries as a variant. In the southeastern United States, the word barbecue is used predominantly as a noun referring to roast pork, while in the southwestern states cuts of beef are often cooked.
In general British usage, barbecuing refers to a fast cooking process done directly over high heat, while grilling refers to cooking under a source of direct, moderate-to-high heat—known in the United States as broiling. In American English usage, grilling refers to a fast process over high heat while barbecuing refers to a slow process using indirect heat or hot smoke, similar to some forms of roasting. In a typical U.S. home grill, food is cooked on a grate directly over hot charcoal, while in a U.S. barbecue the coals are dispersed to the sides or at a significant distance from the grate. Its South American versions are the southern Brazilian churrasco and the Argentine asado.
U.S. South and Midwest
In the southern United States, barbecues initially involved the cooking of pork. During the 19th century, pigs were a low-maintenance food source that could be released to forage in woodlands. When food or meat supplies were low, these semi-wild pigs could then be caught and eaten.
According to estimates, prior to the American Civil War, Southerners ate around five pounds of pork for every pound of beef they consumed. Because of the effort to capture and cook these wild hogs, pig slaughtering became a time for celebration and the neighborhood would be invited to share in the largesse. In Cajun culture, these feats are called boucheries or "pig pickin's". The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these gatherings.
Each Southern locale has its own variety of barbecue, particularly sauces. North Carolina sauces vary by region; eastern North Carolina uses a vinegar-based sauce, the center of the state uses Lexington-style barbecue, with a combination of ketchup and vinegar as their base, and western North Carolina uses a heavier ketchup base. Lexington calls itself "The Barbecue Capital of the World"; it has more than one BBQ restaurant per 1,000 residents. South Carolina is the only state that traditionally includes all four recognized barbecue sauces, including mustard-based, vinegar-based, and light and heavy tomato-based sauces. Memphis barbecue is best known for tomato- and vinegar-based sauces. In some Memphis establishments and in Kentucky, meat is rubbed with dry seasoning (dry rubs) and smoked over hickory wood without sauce. The finished barbecue is then served with barbecue sauce on the side.
The barbecue of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee is almost always pork served with a sweet tomato-based sauce. Several regional variations exist. Alabama is known for its distinctive white sauce—a mayonnaise- and vinegar-based sauce originating in northern Alabama, used predominantly on chicken and pork. A popular item in North Carolina and Memphis is the pulled pork sandwich served on a bun and often topped with coleslaw. Pulled pork is prepared by shredding the pork after it has been barbecued.
Kansas City-style barbecue is characterized by its use of different types of meat, including pulled pork, pork ribs, burnt ends, smoked sausage, beef brisket, beef ribs, smoked/grilled chicken, smoked turkey, and sometimes fish—a variety attributable to Kansas City's history as a center for meat packing. Hickory is the primary wood used for smoking in KC, while the sauces are typically tomato based with sweet, spicy, and tangy flavors. Burnt ends, pieces of meat cut from the ends of a smoked beef brisket, are popular in many Kansas City-area barbecue restaurants.
Pit-beef prevails in Maryland and is often enjoyed at large outdoor "bull roasts", which are commonly fundraising events for clubs and associations. Maryland-style pit-beef is not the product of barbecue cookery in the strictest sense; the meat is not smoked but grilled over a high heat. The meat is typically served rare with a strong horseradish sauce as the preferred condiment.
The state of Kentucky, particularly Western Kentucky, is unusual in its barbecue cooking; the preferred meat is mutton. This kind of mutton barbecue is often used in communal events in Kentucky, such as political rallies, county fairs, and church fund-raising events.
In the midwest, Chicago-style is popular; this involves seasoning the meat with a dry rub, searing it over a hot grill, and cooking it slowly in an oven. The meat, typically ribs, is then finished with a sweet and tangy sauce.
Events and gatherings
United States events and gatherings
The word barbecue is also used to refer to social gathering in which barbeque is served, one of the earliest recorded barbecues that spread the culture of these events to American colonists was dubbed The Barbecue Feast: or, the three pigs of peckham, broiled under an apple tree which was also the name of the pamphlet written about the event by an attendee named Edward Ward. Barbecues are traditionally held outside. They could be small informal gatherings with a few of people in a backyard or a formal event that could last all day, typically held for larger amounts of people. By the 19th century barbecues became one of the main forms of United States public celebration, especially in celebration of July 4. As barbecues continued to be held through the times of U.S. expansion the traditions began to migrate with the people. Today barbecues held in different regions of the country vary in cuisine but the cuisines all hold the same concept of cooking outside and over a fire. Barbecues today have taken on new meaning yet again with the emergence of competitive barbecue. Competitive barbecue competitions are held throughout the country in which people will compete by cooking barbecue and having it judged by the events judges. The constraints of what one may barbecue and the qualities that are judged vary by competition. Usually competitions are held in big open areas where spectators will be admitted as well and barbecue is served to all.
Barbecuing encompasses four or five distinct types of cooking techniques. The original technique is cooking using smoke at low temperatures—usually around 240–280 °F or 115–145 °C—and significantly longer cooking times (several hours), known as smoking. Another technique, known as baking, used a masonry oven or baking oven that uses convection to cook meats and starches with moderate temperatures for an average cooking time of about an hour. Braising combines direct, dry heat charbroiling on a ribbed surface with a broth-filled pot for moist heat. Using this technique, cooking occurs at various speeds, starting fast, slowing down, then speeding up again, lasting for a few hours.
Grilling is done over direct, dry heat, usually over a hot fire over 500 °F (260 °C) for a few minutes. Grilling may be done over wood, charcoal, gas, or electricity. The time difference between barbecuing and grilling is because of the temperature difference; at low temperatures used for barbecuing, meat takes several hours to reach the desired internal temperature.
Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, and/or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Meat and fish are the most common smoked foods, though cheeses, vegetables, nuts, and ingredients used to make beverages such as beer or smoked beer are also smoked.
The masonry oven is similar to a smoke pit; it allows for an open flame but cooks more quickly and uses convection to cook. Barbecue-baking can also be done in traditional stove-ovens. It can be used to cook meats, breads and other starches, casseroles, and desserts. It uses direct and indirect heat to surround the food with hot air to cook, and can be basted in much the same manner as grilled foods.
It is possible to braise meats and vegetables in a pot on top of a grill. A gas or electric charbroil grill are the best choices for barbecue-braising, combining dry heat charbroil-grilling directly on a ribbed surface and braising in a broth-filled pot for moist heat. The pot is placed on top of the grill, covered, and allowed to simmer for a few hours. There are two advantages to barbecue-braising; it allows browning of the meat directly on the grill before the braising. It also allows for glazing of meat with sauce and finishing it directly over the fire after the braising. This effectively cooks the meat three times, which results in a soft, textured product that falls off the bone. The time needed for braising varies depending on whether a slow cooker or pressure cooker is used; it is generally slower than regular grilling or baking, but quicker than pit-smoking.
The term barbecue is also used to designate a flavor added to foodstuffs, the most prominent of which are potato chips.
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