Saturday, April 09, 2011

The History of Barbecue

I love this time of the year that is snuggled in between winter and summer. This is when folks start cleaning off their smokers and grills in anticipation of summer fun and experiencing the “great outdoors” while whipping up some savory vittles. However, to develop a complete appreciation of the “art of barbecuing,” it is necessary to determine what is – and what is not – barbecue.

Barbecuing is not about throwing a hunk of meat on a fire. That is what is simply what we call grilling. Barbecue actually refers to a specific method of cooking that combines the process of smoking meat with the use of highly spiced sauces.

Every ethnic group of people on the planet has some form of barbecue whether is it Asian, Mongolian, Latin-American, etc. And they are all delectable in their own unique way. But for purposes of this article, we will concentrate on how barbecue came to North America.

When the first Spanish explorers hit the beaches of the Caribbean, one of the first things they discovered was that the Natives knew how to cook – and cook well! They preserved meat by drying it in the sun. However, this process left it exposed to insects, which also enjoyed a good chunk of meat. To get around this problem the clever natives used flavored smoke to keep the little party-crashers at bay. They soon discovered the smoke also flavored the meat, as well as tenderized it.

Thus, was born the first component of modern barbecue…smoking meat. They called it “Barbarcoa.” When the explorers returned to Europe with their newfound knowledge, it spread quickly and the name eventually evolved to “Barbecue.”

The first permanent settlers to arrive to North America from Europe were not very well off and had to make do with cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. They also had a lot of pork because raising swine required minimal care. They learned not to waste anything and when meat started to turn, they simply covered it with a heavily spiced sauce to cover the off-taste. The combination of smoked meat with the sauces created what we now commonly recognize as barbecue.

There are four basic types of barbecue sauce in the United States that are primarily used for basting and/or as a finishing sauce. They are:
  • Vinegar and Pepper
  • Mustard-based
  • Light tomato-based
  • Heavy tomato-based
The different sauces are suited for particular types of meat. For example, the heavier tomato sauces are well suited for heavier tasting meats like mature Texas brisket and some wild game. The light tomato sauces go great with light meats like chicken, pork, and ribs, as does the mustard-based sauces. The vinegar and pepper sauces are fantastic on pork, mutton, and goat.

Check out these recipes for some savory barbecue sauces:

Basic Tomato-Based Barbecue Sauce

Basic Vinegar and Pepper-Style Barbecue Sauce

Basic Carolina-Style Barbecue Sauce

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