Grilling used to be a food preparation method, but, barbecue has not only become the signature of social events, but a social gathering in itself. A cookout is the most beautiful excuse to get together and network with neighbors, friends, and family. But how did we get here? Is there more to it? I imagine that the incredible, smoky, and flavorful tingling of the tongue is not the only reason.
How far back does grilling date? Let’s dive deep!
The exact starting point in grilling history is still unclear, but, the closest date goes back to the time fire was said to have been invented - some 500,000 years ago. As simple as our human ancestors were, they were great explorers. History reveals that a few cavemen recovered animals who died in wild forest fires. Having tasted the carcass of the dead animals, these cavemen figured that meat exposed to fire was not only tender and more edible, but a lot tastier. That’s quite inventive, don’t you agree?
Well, grilling has metamorphosed over the years, from being the key menu item on camping trips and picnics through the 40’s, to finding its way into our backyards through the 50’s till date. It’s tough work to give credit to a particular group or group of persons, since only recently did culinary experts begin digging to source the little information that we rely on as barbecue history. The literatures on this subject are barely enough - fewer than 40, yet, information present are also very different, and who’s to tell which author deserves all the accolades? So, I’ve decided to marry them as best I can, so we can at least have a sum of history to celebrate over. After all, grilling is one of the most important additions to the culinary culture.
Following the 1706 Edward Ward’s published account (called the Barbecue Feat), Americans believe that barbecue emanated from the Caribbean. We read tales of how a group of drunk Arawaks under the English colony in Peckham, Jamaica set some pigs over a wooden frame to smoke and dry. To add some flavor, they applied some pepper and wine to the meat, and left them over the open fire for hours, until cooked. Afterwhich, they took them out, cut them up and to bits, then shared with everyone around. This was considered remarkable and fascinating, not because grilling was new, but, because the social aspect had just been invented. Sequel to this, locals began scheduling events to hold while the meat was cooking, until it was served. People would cluster around the local grilling stove amazed and anticipating the delicious aftermath. Soon, this became a notable collective social affair.
The barbecue culture spread from the Caribbean to cover the southern parts of America, through the west, and now everywhere across the country. Although, it still very prevalent in the west, south, and southwest, especially Texas since the 1900’s. As was the tradition when invented, barbecue events were associated with ill-mannered drunks. Thankfully, that stigma has completely faded, and barbecue events couldn’t be more prestigious and civilized, even popular in political events and fundraising gatherings.
How did we arrive at the word “barbecue”?
The word ‘barbecue’ takes root in the Spanish “barbacoa” word, which in the 17th century meant anything other than a cooking platform. But, because the word describes a wooden grilling framework, it lost its affiliation to shelves, or bed (where it was more commonly used), and it now links more directly to the cook station, and not the meat or the process.
Over the years, the grilling framework has improved, and has been made more suited and durable for the barbecue process. History reports that a tinkerer and metalworker, in the Chicago suburbs, modified the grilling platform, adding a lid, grate, and ventilation system. And voila, the backyard grilling took better shape, all thanks to George Stephen.
At gentsprime, we enjoy a good barbecue, with some sharp source, a bun and some salad tossed in dressing. How about you? Let us know how you enjoy your barbecue in the comment section below.