A short history of the barbecue

138iStock_Friends-on-patio-sea-cropped-21-150x150Just to let you know straight away: apparently, slapping a steak on a barbecue, charcoal it and then smother it in various American white and red sauces is NOT considered proper barbecuing. That out of the way - where does this tradition derive from, and who "invented" it?

The origins of the barbecue itself and the word "barbecue" are a bit fuzzy but it seems that the following two options are the most likely ones. The first one is that the Spanish, after landing in "America", picked up the word "barbacoa" describing the tradition of slow cooking over a wooden platform by the Caribbean people. The other possibility could be that it comes from the French "barbe à queue" (beard to tail). That said, there seem to numerous other variations on this subject: the Oxford English Dictionary traced the word barbecue backed to Haiti, and some claim it comes from the 19th century advertisement for bar, beer hall, pool and the offer of roast pig, known as the BAR-BEER-CUE-PIG. I guess we will never know for sure...

Having looked at the name already gives us a solid hint of where it originated. It has been originally very popular in the southern States of America for two reasons. One was that barbecues do not require expensive cuts of meat, so it became a popular diet with the (impoverished) African-American communities. When during the first half of the 20th century, they mass-emigrated to the North of the United States, they took this way of outside cooking with them and "infected" the rest of the USA with the barbecue virus. By the 1950's, barbecued meats were on offer in black-owned restaurants in almost every city in the USA.

The second reason was that in the 19th century, barbecues became inexpensive ways for politicians to hold rallies before elections. Church gatherings soon featured the roasting of a pig. These gatherings were an informal way of people of all classes to mingle - barbecue food appealed to everybody however poor or rich they might have been. These gatherings became a very important part of Southern traditions, and remain so to this day.

Of course, barbecuing is not geographically restricted to the United States anymore. It is immensely popular in Australia and New Zealand, and of course in the whole of Europe and most of the rest of the world. Just the kinds of meats and vegetables put on the grill change regionally, as do the kind of sauces.

So I want to encourage you to invent your own barbecue creations - and why not try fish alongside beef and pork? Just wrap the smoked fish in tin (aluminium) foil and put it on the grill for a few minutes. It doesn't take long, and it is different and delicious! And no need to drown it in big blobs of red sauce...