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Is it BarbeCue or BarbeQue? What is the Proper Spelling?

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Barbecue or Barbeque is both a cooking method and an apparatus. Barbecuing is done slowly over low, indirect heat and the food is flavored from the smoking process.

The word “Barbecue” when used as a noun can refer to: the cooking method itself, the meat cooked this way, the cooking apparatus used (the “barbecue grill” or simply “barbecue”), or to a type of social event featuring this type of cooking. The term is also used as a verb, i.e. “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.

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Barbecue is practiced in many areas of the world and there are numerous regional variations.

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. After Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, the Spaniards apparently found indigenous Haitians 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.

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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. Barbacoa found in Mexico, is a staple of the open air markets found in downtown Mexico City, making it a popular street food. In most places it is served on warm corn tortillas with guacamole and salsa, which is the basis for Tex-Mex tacos. Barbacoa has a more savory flavor compared to Southern BBQ spice blends and has nice medium heat with undertones of cumin, onion and garlic. Various regions of Mexico use different meats when making their barbacoa. In Northern Mexico they will use the heads of cows or goats. Central Mexico is known for using a lot of lamb, while the Yucatan Region is know for their cochinita pibil which is a pit style pork. It is also common to find barbacoa made with an entire sheep throughout the country.

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. As for barbeque? The q is said to come from the French term barbe à queue (translation: “whisker to tail”) and was one of the many spelling variations that arose long before someone decided to officially add the cooking method to the dictionary.

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Culinary historians agree that barbecue was first made in America sometime in the 1800’s. Some believe that it was the westward cowboys that were the first to cook their briskets for an extended period of time to make the stringy, tough meat more tender. This would make sense for a group of men on a cattle drive. , Free Cooking and BBQ MagazineOther historians believe barbecuing started in the South prior to the Civil War. It was typical for farmers to have pigs, but they let them roam the woods until they were ready to be butchered. This led to these essentially wild pigs forming very tough meat. It would be years before they started raising pigs the way we know now.

Barbecue played a very important part of Southern culture in the 1800’s. From beginning to end it was an event that would unite entire communities. The slaughter itself was celebrated with invites send out to the whole area. Barbecues proved as a cheap way to gather a large group of people from different social classes, which it made it very popular among politicians and churches.

The first BBQ restaurants weren’t so much restaurants, as they were pits. It was essentially a concrete floor with walls and a corrugated tin roof. They were typically only open on weekends because the owners worked on their farms during the week. There were three types of BBQ pits; the upscale white, the white “joints”, and the black owned. They all had their certain specialties and it often didn’t matter who owned the place if you were in search of great BBQ. Pits were one of the few places before civil rights were you could find people of all ethnicities joining together for some good old brisket.

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. 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.

Below is a graph that charts the use of barbeque vs. barbecue since 1800.

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So, as with anything BBQ barbeque with – que at the end comes from combining the standard.

It is used in America, as a slang and a nod to the Traditionalists. And is used most often when referring to a Restaurant or Product nowadays.

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