The History of Barbecuing
Despite the not-so-favourable British weather, barbecuing is still one of our favouritesummer past times. Give us even a vaguely warm evening or Saturday afternoon and thedelicious smell of charcoal and roasting meet can be detected wafting from gardens allacross the country. Indeed, such is our devotion to the barbecue that special mini grills arenow available for apartment balconies and smaller outdoor spaces. Who needs a gardeneh?But where did it all start? Before the first Aussie threw the first shrimp on the charcoalbarbecue and the first Brit burned (but undercooked) the first chicken wing, who were thepioneers of the method we have come to know as barbecuing? Well, as with mosttraditions that have evolved with time, there is some debate as to where the practice wasfirst carried out and by whom. However it is generally agreed that, initially at least,barbecuing as a method of cooking meat was a necessity rather than the social event it hasbecome today, and was possibly invented in the West Indies. Today we take simple thingslike refrigeration and preservation for granted, but thousands of years ago, the only way toprevent meat from spoiling was to cook it as soon as the animal was slaughtered. One of themethods favoured by the people of the islands was slow cooking in a pit of hot stones and
the term they used for this practice was ‘barbacoa’
. As is the case today, slow cooking wasreally only necessary for poorer quality meat, particularly pork, which was known to makepeople decidedly unwell if not cooked properly, so it was not until much later that othermeats like beef and chicken were cooked in this way on a barbeque.
It was probably the Spanish conquistadores who first introduced pigs to the Americas, andthey in turn learned how to cook meat with smoke from the Native American Indians. This
was a new take on the tradition of ‘barbacoa’ and one that became very popular in the
southern states of America. However it was with the growth of the slave trade thatbarbecuing became particularly widespread in this part of the world and around this time
also that English colonists first applied the term‘
’to this type of cooking.
Plantation owners soon realised that slaves who were spending long hard days in the cottonand tobaccos fields were going to need proper nourishment if they were to remain strongand healthy. It was
in the colonists’
best interests to provide their slaves with high energyfood, but on the other hand they wanted this food to be as cheap and easy to prepare aspossible. The solution was barbecued pork, and though slaves were by no means feasting on
hog meat on a regular basis, the ‘hog pickings’ that they were occasionally ‘treated’ to
supplement their largely nutrient-deficient diet.Soon barbecued pork was the staple diet of much of the southern population, so much so infact that plantation owner William Byrd remarked in one of his diaries that hog meat was
the staple commodity of North Carolina . . . and with pitch and tar makes up the whole of their traffic . . . these people live so much upon swine's flesh that it don't only incline them tothe yaws, and consequently to the . . . [loss] of their noses, but makes them likewise