A banner with an image of barbecue on a grill being cooked with text over it that says, 'A Brief History of Barbecue'.

A Brief History of Barbecue

Barbeque, barbecue, Bar-B-Cue, Bar-B-Que, or BBQ… It doesn’t matter how you spell it, as long as you get to enjoy it!

So, where did it come from?

We don’t know exactly who to give credit to for this delicious cooking method, but we know man has been cooking meat since we first discovered fire. It’s estimated that Homo erectus (the hominids that preceded Neanderthals) first tasted cooked meat approximately one million years ago!

It’s most likely that women were the first people barbecuing meat, even though it’s often seen as a “man’s job” today. This is because back in the day, men were typically the hunters of the tribe, and women were typically the cooks.

Cattle spread out grazing in a meadow

There’s evidence that people living in Israel around 200,000 years ago took their barbecue seriously. Israeli scientists found scrape marks on bones and burn marks on joints that indicate these early hunters cooked fleshy cuts of meat from large, mature animals including ancestors of deer, boars, and cattle.

The term “barbecue” derives from “barbacoa,” which is the technique of cooking or drying strips of meat over an open fire or in a hole in the ground. It is believed that barbacoa originated with the Arawak speaking Taino people in the Caribbean.

“Barbacoa” was first found written in a Spanish explorer’s account of the West Indies in 1526, though the first use in the English language appears to be recorded in 1697 by William Dampier, a British buccaneer.

History of BBQ in the U.S.

Grilled seafood kebabs on a plate on a table

Barbecue cookouts first seemed to be popular in the United States in colonial Virginia. Rumor has it that a law forbade discharging firearms at a barbecue in those days. Nowadays, barbecues have become especially popular in the southern US, where you see lots of pork, and the southwestern US, which is mainly beef-based. And, if you attend a barbecue in the Gulf or Atlantic coasts, you’ll probably be eating seafood.

Plenty of famous American historical figures loved to barbecue. The first president of the United States, George Washington, had several diary entries mentioning barbecues, including a supposed three-day cookout. Abraham Lincoln’s parents had a barbecue to celebrate their wedding. Henry Ford built the first commercial charcoal briquet factory in 1921 after Thomas Edison designed it.

Evolution of Competitive Barbecuing

While barbecuing is a relaxing hobby for many, it’s a serious competition for others. Barbecue competitions have been around since at least 1959, with the first one believed to have been in Hawaii. It was only for male competitors, of which there were 25. The grand prize was $10,000, which is the equivalent of about $80,000 today. Barbecuing is even taking over reality television, with shows like “BBQ Pitmasters” on TLC. The show ran for 7 seasons, with participants competing for a grand prize of $100,000.

Homemade hickory smoked bacon being cooked on grill with wood chips that are smoking beneath

As you probably know, barbecuing encompasses many different cooking techniques including grilling, smoking, braising, baking, and roasting, and it’s usually done outside using charcoal or wood. Slow cooking meat is usually done at temperatures between 175 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, mostly using smoke rather than fire.

What you may not be as familiar with is the large variety of woods you can use to flavor your food, such as hickory, mesquite, maple, oak, apple, cherry, pecan, kiawe, and guava. That said, conifers like cedars, pines, junipers, firs, spruces, and redwoods, should be avoided due to their resin and tar production that results in an undesirable chemical flavor.

Breaking BBQ World Records

People always try to break records related to their hobbies, and the world of barbecue is no different. The biggest barbecuing event (so far!) was held on August 18, 2013, at Parque Fundidora in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. 45,252 people attended the cookout. The longest barbecue (so far!) was made up of 8000 grills connected to one another for a total length of 20,246 feet. This was constructed during the Malangsi Fish-tival that took place on April 4, 2014, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city Bayambang in the Philippines.

Whether you want to casually enjoy barbecuing, work towards becoming a competitive pitmaster, or aim to break a world record, BBQ Outlets wants to help you get there. Please feel free to reach out to our BBQ experts on how you can get started building the outdoor kitchen of your dreams so you can make your own BBQ history!


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