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Outdoor Cooking: Barbecue – An American Tradition with Roots in Slavery

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If you Barbecue, you are actually Celebrating Black History. In Celebration of Black History, we bring to you An American Tradition…. Barbecue.

, Free Cooking and BBQ Magazine

Outdoor Cooking is a U.S. tradition that has its origins in the culinary habits of African slaves who arrived in the so-called new world in the 1600’s. Enslaved Africans made Barbecue dishes with less desired meats acquired from their oppressors (scraps) and inspiration from Native Americans who were also struggling to maintain their identity and independence.

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Outdoor Cooking: Barbecue – An American Tradition with Roots in Slavery


Before exploring the origin of Barbecue, it is essential to understand some of the most common misconceptions about how cookouts began. Some people assign the origin of Barbecue to Europeans with the help of Native Americans. Some have even attributed the origin of Barbecue to the German and Czech.

The truth is that American Barbecue has its origins in African slaves brought to the U.S. by slave masters in the 16th century. Contrary to what some people believe, enslaved Africans were not just cooks who prepared western dishes under the supervision of their oppressors. If anything, slaves were the ones who shaped the culture of cookout traditions including jerking in Jamaica and anticuchos in Peru. The word Barbecue is derived from the Hausa word “babbake” which means preparing dishes over a large fire.

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As more Africans were shipped into the U.S, Europe and South America during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, some areas such as the West Indies became predominantly occupied by black slaves. Some of the slaves rebelled against their oppressors and formed their independent settlements. The rebelling slaves then forged ties with indigenous communities in the West Indies and Latin America.

The modern Barbecue known as jerking originated from the cooperation between rebelling African slaves indigenous communities in the West Indies and South America. The same ties were forged between enslaved Africans and Native Americans in the U.S. During the 1600’s, some Spanish conquistadors in South Carolina abandoned their colonies leaving behind the enslaved Africans and Indian guides. It was in this context that the Barbecue tradition began as the abandoned African slaves and Native Americans communities struggled to eke out a living on their own.

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Cultural Similarities

There were many similarities between the culinary traditions of enslaved Africans and Native Americans despite the vast geographical features that separated the two civilizations. The two communities had similar ways of cooking, storing their food, preserving food and fishing. In addition, slaves from West and Central Africa had similar cooking techniques including the roasting of meat over open fire.

Lots of dancing and feasting marked festivals and celebrations of enslaved Africans. This often involved salting, spicing and roasting large cuts of meat or entire animals over open fires. Enslaved Africans were the Barbecue masters who passed on the tradition to other slaves and their oppressors.

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Regardless of where we are all from, Cooking Outdoors brings us all back to our ancient primal caveman ancestors. READ MORE: Ancient Outdoor Cooking Techniques from Primal Caveman to Modern Day Griller CLICK HERE!

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