The History of Barbecue

The best thing about lounging around on a warm Spring day is it allows for quiet reflection and random deep thoughts, such as: What is the meaning of life? What’s my purpose on earth? Hold on. The neighbor just fired up the grill. I’m really hungry. Maybe I should grill too. Wait… what’s the difference between barbecuing and grilling?

Thanks to the internet, we now know barbecuing is cooking at low temperatures using indirect heat. Grilling, on the other hand, is cooking over direct heat at high temps. Who knew?

May is National BBQ Month, and we wondered what else we don’t know about this most traditional method of cooking. So sit back and relax while we cook up some interesting nuggets about, well, cooking out.

Heat, meet meat.

Who knows where and when the first person in history decided to throw some meat on a fire. Regardless, we’re pretty sure that person immediately thought (and we’re paraphrasing), “Wow! This is awesome!” After all, cooked meat is tastier and much safer to consume. It didn’t take long for this new method of cooking to catch, um, fire. According to A Brief History of Cooking With Fire, “By the Paleolithic era, 200,000 to 40,000 years ago, we were building primitive hearths in the form of a handful of stones in a circle—the sort kids today are taught to build in summer camp—and for the next many millennia such hearths, in various permutations, were the focal points of human homes.”

In 1492, Columbus learned how to BBQ.

So how did we get from these ancient hearths to American barbecue cooking techniques? Well, according to Smithsonian Magazine’s The Evolution of American Barbecue, “The first indigenous tribes Christopher Columbus encountered on the island he named Hispaniola had developed a unique method for cooking meat over an indirect flame, created using green wood to keep the food (and wood) from burning. Reports indicate that the Spanish referred to this new style of cooking as barbacoa: the original barbecue. As the Spanish explorers who followed Columbus turned their expeditions north, they brought the cooking technique with them. In 1540, close to present-day Tupelo, Mississippi, the Chicksaw tribe, in the presence of explorer Hernando de Soto, cooked a feast of pork over the barbacoa. Eventually, the technique made its way to the colonies, traveling as far north as Virginia.”

What’s Your Barbeque Style?

The years after barbequing came to America, it splintered into many different regional styles and traditions. This Guide to Regional Barbecue of the USA is a tasty primer on all things BBQ. Can’t wait to try it all for yourself? Gas up the car and take this Ultimate BBQ Road Trip.

Still want to talk (barbecue) turkey? Good, because next time we’re going to chat about the best grills, equipment, and BBQ hacks. And we even have a few hacks on how to clean up when you’re done cooking. Stay tuned!