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by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
When I think of barbeque, it generally involves a sticky sweet, sometimes spicy sauce smeared on ribs or hamburgers. As I do not have a sweet tooth or care for sweet sauces, and the cuts of meat it is most commonly used on, I haven’t spent much time exploring the “Barbeque” world. Then after a trip to Texas, I learned the differences between grilling, Texas barbeque, and the style most frequently used, which is southern barbeque.
In general, barbecue is a slow method of cooking that utilizes the indirect heat imparted by the smoke of a wood-fueled fire, often requiring an extended period of several hours. The Hungarians and Romanians first brought rotisserie and large barbeque ovens with them to Texas in the 1800’s. The various cuts of meat are placed on racks in an outdoor barbeque and slow cooked for hours, a crank on the outside allows the cook to rotate the racks every so often without opening the doors and letting out the smoke and heat.
The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first recorded use of the word barbeque as a verb in 1661, in Edmund Hickeringill’s Jamaca Viewed: “Some are slain, and their flesh forthwith Barbacu’d and eat.” It also appears as a verb in the published writings of John Lederer, following his travels in the American southeast in 1672. The first known use of the word as a noun was in 1697 by the British buccaneer William Dampier.
There is a vast degree of variation, terminology and method overlap surrounding this form of cooking. The generally accepted difference between barbecue and grilling is in the cooking time and type of heat used: grilling is generally done “hot and fast” over direct heat from low-smoke fuels (with the flame contacting the meat itself), while barbecuing is usually done “low and slow” over indirect heat from high-smoke fuels (with the flame not contacting the meat directly).
Heath wise there is growing research supporting the grilling method of cooking to be far more hazards to our health than one might think. The charring of the meat changes the chemical structure of the proteins and fats from beneficial to carcinogenic. Some researchers and health experts will also argue against the slow cooking method involving smoke, also as detrimental to your health, especially in the prostate cancer area. But all that aside, there is a primal love of smoked slow cooked tender meat. Smoked alone in the area of bacon, has led to the demise of many vegetarian’s pursuit of a flesh free diet.
In the southern United States, barbecue initially revolved around the cooking of pork. During the 19th century, pigs were a low-maintenance food source released to forage for themselves in forests and woodlands. When food or meat supplies were low, these semi-wild pigs could then be caught and eaten.
It was the Spanish who first introduced the swine to America and to the American Indians. The Indians, in turn, introduced the Spanish to the concept of true slow cooking with smoke. The Spanish colonists came to South Carolina in the early 16th century and settled at what is now Parris Island. It was in that early American colony, Europeans first learned to prepare and to eat “real” barbecue.
According to estimates, prior to the American Civil War, Southerners ate around five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef they consumed. Because of the poverty of the southern United States at this time, every part of the pig was eaten immediately or saved for later, including the ears, feet, and organs. The dangers associated with the capture and preparation of wild hogs, pig slaughtering became a time for celebration, and the neighborhood would be invited to share in the fresh harvest and bounty. In Cajun culture, these are called boucheries. These feasts are sometimes called ‘pig pickin’s.’ The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these gatherings.
So as fair week and the days of August surround us, think of those family gatherings as a time to celebrate the barbeque – in true American fashion, with locally grown and harvested foods, prepared with love by and for those people you hold dear.
Ohhh and go easy on the commercial sauces loaded with chemicals, pull out an old cookbook and make your own – then that meat or vegetable dish truly will be lip smacken good.
To Your Good Health, and American Foods with Friends.
To read more on Americas food story check out Tammera’s new book “Our Journey with Food” Available on this website.
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