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Definition: barbecue from Benders' Dictionary of Nutrition and Food Technology

Originally native American name for a wooden frame used to smoke and dry meat over a slow smoky fire; the whole animal was placed on a spit over burning coals. Now outdoor cooking of meat, sausages, etc., on a charcoal or gas fire; also the fire on which they are cooked.

Summary Article: BARBECUE
from Food and Drink in American History: A "Full Course" Encyclopedia

Barbecuing is a method of slow and low-temperature cooking and smoking meat, fowl, and fish. This was historically done on a wood lattice or grate above coals or in a pit underground. The technique dates to prehistoric times. The word “barbecue” may have derived from a Caribbean language. Barbecue was described by early European explorers in the Caribbean and was a common process employed by American Indians who did not have salt available for curing meat. Barbecuing dried and preserved the meat. The technique and the word were adopted by European settlers in North America.

Barbecues were frequently public events that drew large crowds. The Fourth of July is frequently celebrated with large public barbecues. During political campaigns, office seekers often hosted barbecues before elections. Different styles of barbecue have developed in various cities and regions. These differ in terms of the meat that is barbecued and the wood that is used. In Texas, beef is the traditional meat, and mesquite is the typical wood. In Georgia, pig is the typical meat, and oak is the typical wood.

Barbecue has been part of restaurant fare, especially in the South and the Midwest. Many restaurant chains, such as the Pig Stand in Texas, began serving barbecued dishes. Today, many fast-food establishments have barbeque items.

When home barbecue grills became fashionable, barbecues became part of summer fare from Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) to Labor Day (the first Monday in September). In addition to beef, pork and chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs are also traditional barbecue fare. The Fourth of July, especially in the South, were traditionally celebrated with a barbecue.

Suburban American family enjoys a poolside barbecue of hot dogs and hamburgers, 1953. (Roberts/ClassicStock/Corbis)

Barbecue styles also differ in terms of the sauce that may be used either to baste the meat as it cooks or, more likely, as a condiment to be used after the meat is cooked. Barbecue sauces can be thick or thin and can be added while the meat is being grilled or after the meat has finished cooking. Many barbecue sauces are tomato-based and usually include a variety of spices, including chili pepper. Barbecue sauces were first commercially made in the early 20th century. Heinz released its barbecue sauce in 1940. Other companies began producing their own sauces. Barbecue sauces are available at some fast-food chains, which sell barbecue hamburgers, ribs, and chicken.

See also Beef; Chicken; Condiments; Fourth of July Food; Hamburgers; Pork; Sauces and Gravies; Documents 2, 30, 37, 101, 109

  • Deutsch, Jonathan; Megan Elias. Barbeque: A Global History. Reaktion London, forthcoming.
  • Hale, C. Clark. The Great American Barbecue and Grilling Manual. Abacus McComb MS, 2000.
  • Moss, Robert F. Barbecue: The History of an American Institution. University of Alabama Press Tuscaloosa, 2010.
  • Copyright 2013 by Andrew F. Smith

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