The History Of Barbecue & BBQ

The history of barbecue & BBQ contains a few myths:

– The word BBQ was named after a ranch called Bar B Cue
– Barbecue cooking originated in the USA
– You can roast in an oven

We believe what we want to believe. And half the time certain things really don’t matter, but they provide an interesting debate.

kebabs  XL3 Spit Roast

I was asked recently when I was cooking lunch on one of our XL3 rotisserie barbecues. “Where does BBQ come from?” As if I knew!!! I didn’t, so I decided that out of curiosity, I would find out. The first question was did they mean the origin of the word or phrase or the cooking process. What I found was that the two go hand in hand.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus made the first of his four voyages from Spain to the New World landing in what he called Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and then went on to Cuba, and the Bahamas. The first tribesmen he encountered were Arawak Indians. One of their favoured methods of cooking was to place it on a wooden frame above the fire. It was built of green wood so it would not burn, had four vertical poles to hold up a griddle mesh of more green wood cross pieces, and was usually tall enough to prevent the wood and food from catching fire. The word for this device, the Spanish said, was barbacoa.

Originally, a barbacoa wasn’t a way of cooking food, but the name of a wooden structure used by Taino Indians to smoke their food. Due to the known diets of the Indians in question, it’s likely that the first barbecue consisted of some sort of fish, creatures from the sea obviously being plentiful in the Caribbean.  Spanish explorers took the word barbacoa back to Spain, where it appeared in print for the first time in 1526. For a while, barbacoa still referred to the structure that food was cooked in, but over time people started using it to refer to the process of cooking food in a barbacoa and the cooked food itself.

Bring on the meat! I remember a story when I was a child about a farmer whose barn caught fire. Inside was his prized pig and during the blaze the farmer became aware of the smell of pork being roasted. For sympathy sake, I am presuming that the pig died of smoke inhalation and knew nothing about the fire. Nevertheless, after the fire the farmer picked up the pig carcass, which fell apart. The smell became too much, so he tasted the meat and the crackled skin. The rest is history. The truth is probably not too far away from this story, perhaps by about 100,000 years! Animals were probably killed during a forest fire.

European historians will now say that throughout Europe, spit roasting over an open fire had been going on for centuries, throughout the world. Yes, it had, but we’re now moving on to the origin of the word barbecue. Enter the USA, their diverse immigration and their penchant for marketing and inventing their own words. BBQ is simply a shortened version of the word barbecue. It has nothing to do with a ranch name that supposedly invented the barbecue.

The BBQ as a cooking event is definitely American. As is the sale of BBQ’d food, but that came later on. Pork was the most common food to be BBQ’d as it was cheap to rear. Then immigrants from Europe brought sauces and hey presto, you have the typical American BBQ. Sorry, I forgot about smoking, which wasn’t an American invention. Smoking and drying has also been going on for centuries as a means of preserving food.

The third myth is about oven cooking. The first ovens were holes in the ground into which hot embers were placed and wrapped food was buried. That food was baked, as are other foods that are cooked in ovens. Roasting is only done over an open fire.

Source of research: