Origin of Barbecue

What could be more evocative of juicy, slow-cooked meat than the word barbecue? There are many stories about how it got started, but wherever such tales come from, they all refer to the same thing – cooking big pieces of meat.

Anecdotes hold that the origin of barbecue is in the West Indies. Spanish explorers in the 17th century found that local Hispaniola Arawakan Indians dried their meat on a wooden frame and called it “barbacòa” in their native Taino language. However, this story has been debunked as the natives had no written language at the time.

Another theory states that the word “barbecue” is derived from the French ” barbe à queue”, meaning to cook or use a pig from “beard to tail” indicating that the entire pig was roasted. However, this has been exposed as folk etymology for which no evidence has been presented. Additionally, domestic pigs do not possess beards, although goats do! Other people believe that the origin of barbecue is in the Caribbean. Meat, specifically pork, would be cooked over a fire on a platform and resting on sticks, or slowly baked in a hole in the ground that was lined with hot coal and stones.

The USA has its own version of how barbecuing got started. It is said that it began in the late 1800”s when cattle drives still took place. A cattle baron wanted to save the best cuts of meat for himself, thus his cowboy employees would have to make do with less desirable cuts for their meals on the road. The cowboys discovered that leaving a tough, stringy piece of such as a brisket to cook over a low heat for an entire day resulted in a tasty, filling meal.

Today”s barbecue bears little resemblance to the ones of yesteryear. Temperature control and cooking times are more precise, for one, and the term itself is subject to much variation when it comes to regional definitions. In Central America, it usually means cooking meat over low, indirect heat for a very long time. In Britain, however, barbecuing refers to cooking meat directly over high heat, whereas this is known as “broiling” in Central America.

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