BBQ FAQ: What is Barbecue?

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Our definition

[Just what is barbecue?]

Ed Pawlowski--

There are many interpretations of the term 'barbecue' in the world. Some people use it to describe a social gathering and cooking outdoors. Others use it to describe grilling food. For our purpose here, we are using the term to describe meat, slow-cooked, using wood smoke to add flavor. There is equipment designed just for this type of cooking.

Barbecuing is not grilling. Grilling is cooking over direct heat, usually a hot fire for a short time. Barbecuing is cooking by using indirect heat or low-level direct radiant heat at lower temperatures and longer cooking times. The distinction between barbecuing and grilling is the heat level and the intensity of the radiant heat. It is the smoke from the burning wood that gives barbecue its unique and delicious flavor.

What are the origins of barbecue?

[Where did the name 'barbecue' originate?]

Randy Dewberry--

Here is one explanation from the Georgia Journal July/August 1997

"Introductions--

Spanish conquistadors picked up the word barbacoa, a raised platform, from the Arawak people of the Caribbean. When DeSoto's men came through Georgia in 1540, they described natives near the Ocmulgee River roasting venison and turkeys over coals on a similar device, making it the first barbecue recorded in North American history. So when it comes to barbecue, we Georgians can rightfully claim to know what we're talking about. Except, of course, that we don't always agree . . . "

What is the 'correct' way to spell it?

[I've seen it spelled 'barbecue', 'barbeque', Bar-b-que, Bar-B-Que, 'BBQ'. 'Q', and 'Que'. Which way is correct?]

Darned if we know. It tastes the same to us no matter how we spell it. For this FAQ, we will try to use the spelling: 'barbecue', from Mr. Webster's big book and the abbreviation 'BBQ'. We have left the other spellings as is where it is used in a title or URL location.

Let's get started with some questions on barbecue

[What's the best way to get started doing barbecue?]

Rick Otto--

When I first got into finding barbecue information on the Internet, before I began 'lurking' on the BBQ List, I was jumping all over the place, trying one recipe after another, with some successes but a lot more failures. Once I settled down, (and started reading the posts and then asking questions on the BBQ List) and started trying to perfect a dish, things all fell into place. I began with a pork shoulder because I was told it's the most forgiving. Once I had that down, I gained confidence to progress to other dishes. Someone recently stated that the worst barbecue you can do is better than any 'Run-of-the-mill' barbecue in a restaurant. TRUE. I've enjoyed some of my failures. I just wish I could pass some samples to all the experts on this group for a first-hand appraisal.

[Here's an important question for the List. My wife gets sick of barbecue if we have it 5 nights running. . . Hmmmm. What should I do?]

Take her to McDonalds or Burger King on the fourth night and she will be ready for barbecue again.

[I'm a newcomer to barbecue. Can the people on this List help me get started?]

Ed Pawlowski--

At one time all of us had to learn about barbecue. Some got it handed down by family and others stumbled across it and wanted to learn how to make it. The purpose of this BBQ List is to help each other make better barbecue. There are many talents assembled here and they are all willing to assist you. Take advantage and enjoy. I'll bet that you can add to some topic that the rest of us are less knowledgeable about.

[Can someone tell me why there are differences in barbecue in various places?]

Frank Boyer--

The barbecue of any area today is what was common at the time the area was settled. When the East coast of the US was settled, tomatoes were considered poisonous. The sauce of the day was vinegar-based, and the meat was cooked with local trees. The Caribbean has hot peppers, pimento trees, allspice, citrus, seafood, and hence jerk. The Kansas City area had grain for hogs, tomatoes were okay to eat, sugar from the south, and cattle and peppers came up from Texas. So we have an area that cooks beef and pork with a sweet tomato-based sauce with chilies. Texas had beef, peppers, post oak trees and mesquite, hence brisket with a chile-based rub, served dry. The Northwest had game, seafood and alder trees and smoked salmon. A lot of the plains food was cooked on Buffalo chips, I wonder what that did for the flavor! The Mediterranean had grapes, seafood, etc. and grape wood is used for cooking. The comfort food of an area is very important to its people. Sometimes it isn't better, it is just different.

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