May is National Barbecue Month!
Did you know that grilling and barbecuing are not the same thing? When you cook steaks, hot dogs, and hamburgers on the grill, that is called grilling! Barbecuing is the process of slow-cooking meat at a low temperature over a long period of time, using wood or charcoal.
There is much debate over the origin of barbecue. The earliest speculation is that Christopher Columbus may have observed it when he landed on the Dominican Republic and saw the Taino people slow-cooking large cuts of meat on covered platforms. The Taino word for this process is called “barabicu” and translates to “sacred fire pit.” Due to Taino culture being present in numerous countries, this word and process have been adapted in other languages and cultures. For example, “barbacoa” is a cooking process in eastern and northern Mexico where ranchers roast whole animals in an open pit.
During the period of slavery in America, slaves were given pieces of meat that were discarded from the main house. To make do with the disposable cuts, salting, seasoning, and smoking were necessary to make the meat desirable. After the slaves were freed, their families brought their recipes for treating meat with them as they moved to the North. Today areas such as St. Louis and Chicago are large hubs for barbecue.
Another thought is that barbecue began to be heavily practiced in America in the 1800’s when cattle drives were happening out West. Cowboys needed to be fed, and the cattle baron did not want to feed them the best cuts of meat. To satisfy both groups, less desirable cuts of meat (such as brisket, which is a tough, stringy piece of meat) were given to the cowboys. However, the resourceful cowboys learned that if you cook tough pieces of meat for between 5-7 hours over a fire, they were delicious!
Today, different areas of the country prefer different types of meat for barbecuing. In the Southeast, pork is the preferred barbecue meat. In Texas, beef is preferred, likely due to the large number of cattle in the region. On the West coast, people like to barbecue chicken and seafood!