The History of Barbecue
The Spanish explorers arrived in the new world to find the natives preserving meats in the sun. This was a successful preservation method but the problem was that the meats were often infested with bugs and this meant spoilage. The indigenous people learned to build smoky fires to keep the insects away and help preserve the meat, which would be hung on racks over the fires.
The native Indians called this process “barbacoa” and this is where the history of barbecue begins. The barbecue process developed further when Africans and Europeans migrated to the United States. They brought cattle and pigs with them and replaced the fires and racks with large smoke houses and pits. Polynesians had been cooking pork in this way for thousands of years, but it was a new and successful idea in the new world.
Pigs were very easy to keep and were the most commonly barbecued animal at the time. Meat had to be eaten quickly after slaughter or preserved by smoking because refrigeration was not available. Spicing was an alternative to bbq. The direct descendant was the pit barbecue, which could hold a whole hog. Meat cooked in this way would have to be cooked for as many as fourteen hours before it was done.
Poor cuts of meat were slow cooked in the early colonial era to reduce their toughness. Better cuts of meat did not need to be smoked in this way because they were already tender enough.
Salt was used in large quantities to dry the meat so it would not be contaminated. Smoking had the same effect. Cold smoked meat was a type of early barbecue when the meat would be preserved by smoke and dried by sun exposure.
The History of Grilling
The history of grilling is a lot more recent. Grilling over a barbecue was reserved for picnics and campsites until the 1940s. As the middle classes began to move into the suburbs, backyard grilling became popular. George Stephen, a metalworker who lived in suburban Chicago, was bored with the flat, open brazier type grills available at the time. He cut through the middle of a harbor buoy, put a grate on top and used the top of the buoy as a lid. He cut vents to control the temperature. This was the first Weber grill we know today.
Where Did the Word Barbecue Come From?
Nobody knows for sure but the most likely theory is that “barbecue” derives from the West Indian term “barbacoa”. Others claim that it comes from the French “barbe a queue”, which means “from head to tail”.