Barbecue or barbeque is both a cooking method and an apparatus/machine. Barbecuing is done slowly over low, indirect heat and the food is flavored by the smoking process, while grilling, a related process, is generally done quickly over moderate-to-high direct heat that produces little smoke.
Barbecue can refer to the cooking method itself, the meat cooked this way, the cooking apparatus/machine used (the "barbecue grill" or simply "barbecue"), or to a type of social event featuring this type of cooking. Barbecuing is usually done outdoors by smoking the meat over wood or charcoal. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large, specially-designed brick or metal ovens. Barbecue is practiced in many areas of the world and there are numerous regional variations.
Barbecuing techniques include smoking, roasting or baking, braising and grilling. The original technique is cooking using smoke at low temperatures and long cooking times (several hours). Baking uses an oven to convection cook with moderate temperatures for an average cooking time of about an hour. Braising combines direct, dry heat charbroiling on a ribbed surface with a broth-filled pot for moist heat. Grilling is done over direct, dry heat, usually over a hot fire for a few minutes.
The English word "barbecue" and its cognates in other languages come from the Spanish word barbacoa. Etymologists believe this to be derived from barabicu found in the language of the Arawak people of the Caribbean and the Timucua people of Florida; it has entered some European languages in the form of barbacoa. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to La Hispaniola and translates it as a "framework of sticks set upon posts". Gonzalo Fernández De Oviedo y Valdés, a Spanish explorer, was the first to use the word "barbecoa" in print in Spain in 1526 in the Diccionario de la Lengua Española (2nd Edition) of the Real Academia Española. After Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, the Spaniards apparently found Tainos roasting meat over a grill consisting of a wooden framework resting on sticks above a fire. The flames and smoke rose and enveloped the meat, giving it a certain flavor.
Traditional barbacoa involves digging a hole in the ground and placing some meat—usually a whole lamb—above a pot so the juices can be used to make a broth. It is then covered with maguey leaves and coal, and set alight. The cooking process takes a few hours. Olaudah Equiano, an African abolitionist, described this method of roasting alligators among the Mosquito People (Miskito people) on his journeys to Cabo Gracias a Dios in his narrative The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.
Linguists have suggested the word barbacoa migrated from the Caribbean and into other languages and cultures; it moved from Caribbean dialects into Spanish, then Portuguese, French, and English. According to the OED, the first recorded use of the word in English was a verb in 1661, in Edmund Hickeringill's Jamaica Viewed: "Some are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbacu'd and eat". The word barbecue was published in English in 1672 as a verb from the writings of John Lederer, following his travels in the North American southeast in 1669-70. The first known use of the word as a noun was in 1697 by the British buccaneer William Dampier. In his New Voyage Round the World, Dampier wrote, " ... and lay there all night, upon our Borbecu's, or frames of Sticks, raised about 3 foot from the Ground".
Samuel Johnson's 1756 dictionary gave the following definitions:
- "To Barbecue – a term for dressing a whole hog" (attestation to Pope)
- "Barbecue – a hog dressed whole"
While the standard modern English spelling of the word is barbecue, variations including barbeque and truncations such as bar-b-q or BBQ may also be found. The spelling barbeque is given in Merriam-Webster and the Oxford Dictionaries as a variant. In the southeastern United States, the word barbecue is used predominantly as a noun referring to roast pork, while in the southwestern states cuts of beef are often cooked.
Because the word barbecue came from native groups, Europeans gave it "savage connotations." This association with barbarians and "savages" is strengthened by Edmund Hickeringill's work Jamaica Viewed: with All the Ports, Harbours, and their Several Soundings, Towns, and Settlements through its descriptions of cannibalism. However, according to Andrew Warnes, there is very little proof that Hickeringill's tale of cannibalism in the Caribbean is even remotely true. Another notable false depiction of cannibalistic barbecues appears in Theodor de Bry's Great Voyages, which in Warnes's eyes, "present smoke cookery as a custom quintessential to an underlying savagery ... that everywhere contains within it a potential for cannibalistic violence." Today, those in the U.S. associate barbecue with "classic Americana."
British usage, barbecuing refers to a fast cooking process done directly over high heat, while grilling refers to cooking under a source of direct, moderate-to-high heat—known in the United States as broiling. In American English usage, grilling refers to a fast process over high heat while barbecuing refers to a slow process using indirect heat or hot smoke, similar to some forms of roasting. In a typical U.S. home grill, food is cooked on a grate directly over hot charcoal, while in a U.S. barbecue the coals are dispersed to the sides or at a significant distance from the grate. Its South American versions are the southern Brazilian churrasco and the Argentine asado.
Barbecue cooking using smoke at low temperatures
Barbecuing encompasses four or five distinct types of cooking techniques. The original technique is cooking using smoke at low temperatures—usually around 240–280 °F or 115–145 °C—and significantly longer cooking times (several hours), known as smoking. Another technique, known as baking, used a masonry oven or baking oven that uses convection to cook meats and starches with moderate temperatures for an average cooking time of about an hour. Braising combines direct, dry heat charbroiling on a ribbed surface with a broth-filled pot for moist heat. Using this technique, cooking occurs at various speeds, starting fast, slowing down, then speeding up again, lasting for a few hours.
Grilling is done over direct, dry heat, usually over a hot fire over 500°F for a few minutes. Grilling may be done over wood, charcoal, gas, or electricity. The time difference between barbecuing and grilling is because of the temperature difference; at low temperatures used for barbecuing, meat takes several hours to reach the desired internal temperature.
The term barbecue is also used to designate a flavor added to food items, the most prominent of which are potato chips.