Barbecue, Rich In Flavour And History, Is More Than Backyard Burgers

By Spencer Reynolds

Canadians barbecue all summer long, and some committed Canuck chefs barbecue right through the winter, but there’s far more to barbecue than burgers. Barbecue’s history and cultural significance span multiple regions, continents, and eras stretching back to pre-colonial America.

The word “barbecue” comes from the Spanish “barbacoa”. In fact, the Spanish borrowed the word from the indigenous-American name for a form of cooking in which meats, often whole sheep and goats, are buried in a pit under agave and slow-cooked. Barbacoa exists today, largely unchanged, and remains a popular dish in Latin America. The method, originally used by the Taíno peoples indigenous to the Caribbean, is the genesis of what we know today as barbecue.

Different regions in the United States have developed unique styles and techniques. In Texas, beef brisket is king, while in Memphis, pork ribs reign supreme. In the Carolinas, pork shoulder is the meat of choice, and in Kansas City, it’s all about the sauce.

In fact, there are distinct barbecue styles as far-flung as Australia, where shrimps are thrown “on the barbie” and South Africa, where social events centered around barbecued meats are known as ‘braai”. The word ‘braai’ is Afrikaans, coming from the Dutch word ‘braden’ which in turn means ‘to roast’. Braai is so popular and so universal in South Africa that it’s become, essentially, the national pastime – bridging social and cultural divides

Korean barbecue, or gogi-gui (‘meat roast), is a very popular method of grilling usually done inside, with grills and charcoals built right into tables. Pork, chicken, and beef are served raw and marinated, and groups grill their own dinners in a fun, social atmosphere complete with side dishes of kimchi and salads. Korean barbecue developed independently around 2000 years ago and has swept to popularity in the west as a part of the ‘Korean wave’ which saw culturally Korean exports become commonplace starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

North American barbecue, or BBQ, has developed cult followings and crossed into the cultural consciousness to become an event unto itself, rather than simply a meal. Competitions have become a popular pastime and a way to showcase regional pride. These competitions are held all over the world, with teams attempting to best each other to cook the most mouthwatering BBQ.

In Canada, barbecue is a relatively recent import from the US, having become popular after the second world war. Much of Canadian BBQ takes it’s ‘cues from the US styles, but there are distinctly true north elements as well. Most notably, perhaps, is the broad range of cultural barbecue dishes more commonly seen in Canada, including kebabs from the middle east, European sausages, and especially Jerk and other Carribean preparations.

BBQ has become a staple of summer festivals in Canada, with events such as RibFest drawing in large crowds of BBQ enthusiasts. The first RibFest was held in 1996 in Burlington, and has grown every year to become a major Labour Day weekend event. Other Rib Fests have sprung up around the country.

With a smörgåsbord of handheld barbecued delicacies, from burgers and hot dogs in buns to ribs, wings, and even tomahawk steaks for the adventurous, it’s no wonder BBQ is a takeout, delivery, and on-the-go favourite. Dueling BBQ styles and the endless variety of grillable meats, veggies, and accouterments have led to the widespread proliferation of barbecue restaurants across North America

What began as a traditional method of cooking meats has evolved into varied and distinct BBQ styles spanning the globe – without losing the intrinsic connection to the flame and coals that define barbecue and give it the sizzle we all crave.

If you want to grill like a pro but aren’t too sure how to prepare for for the next National BBQ Day, visit Fire Up Your Grill – writer and BBQ enthusiast, Jack Thornborn brings you all the best in BBQ, from finding the right grill and fuel, to selecting the perfect meat and marinade for your cook and of course, ideas for tasty sides, salads, drinks and desserts!