BBQ History: Barbecue

History of BBQ, barbecue, cooking meat over a fire is surely one of mankind's earliest cooking feats. How did different regional specialities develop? And what's the deal with BBQ, anyway?

The mystery begins with the name. Theories abound, but certainty is a lost cause. Some think it may come from the French in Louisiana: "barbe a queue" translated as "from whiskers to tail," which is neat description of a whole roasted beast. (And seconded by the Oxford English Dictionary, which credits the origin of the word to French-speaking Haiti). Others feel that the Spanish "barbacoa" is more likely. Yet others look to early advertisements for bar, beer, and pool establishments--bar-beer-cue. Some name a Texas ranch, with the brand --BQ on their cattle, legendary for their hospitality. Who knows?

Although cooking meat over an open fire in the outdoors was known to all cultures at one time, the niceties of digging a pit, to allow for concentrated heat and smokiness to develop was forgotten in Europe by the time the first colonists to Jamestown arrived. Following the lead of the local Indians, pit barbecue was quickly rediscovered, and has remained popular.

Each region, however, has its own particularites and pecularities that make the dish individual and makes traveling fun.

Throughout the Southeast, pork is the favored meat. This preference likely goes back to the colonial period, when pigs were let loose to grow fat on apples, nuts, and then captured and eaten later, saving the farmer effort and expense in sheltering and feeding the livestock. Virginia and North Carolina favor thin, vinegary sauces that provide a sharp contrast to the rich pork. The rest of the region goes for thick sweet tomato-based sauces that makes the most of local produce. The meat itself is sauced during cooking over the flame and is served mixed or topped by the sauce.

Texas is known for its beef barbecue, and method of dry-rubbing the meat prior to smoking it. Beef ribs are the favorite dish, with a hot and sweet sauces served alongside, combining the tastes of the Southwest and Southeast. The Southwest goes along with Texas in the theory of the spicy dry rub, without a thought to sauce.

Chicago-style barbecue is much like the kind found in the Southeast, and was brought by the migration of African-Americans to the area, along with the blues. Sauces are heavy and sweet, livened up by generous application of pepper and are the focus of the dish.

Although barbecued turtle was popular in New York at the turn of the last century, this region is no longer well-known for its regional barbecue. Some would argue that the famous clam bakes of New England, where the shellfish are cooked in a pit with seaweed to provide steam offers a unique perspective.

One word of advice, borrowed from a Texas writer--eat at barbecue joints, and BBQ shacks, but don't venture into the BarBQ places--they don't know what they're serving, and are best left to themselves while they figure it out.

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