There’s something downright irresistible about slow-cooked smoked meat. The scent, the sizzle, the sauce—who can resist? In fact, BBQ is the fourth most ordered cuisine type here at ezCater. Whether you spell it BBQ, barbecue, or barbeque (they are all acceptable), people are passionate about this all-American cuisine. The month of May is designated as National BBQ Month, with National BBQ Day falling on May 16. To mark the occasion, let’s take a look at the life and times of barbecue.
The truth is, BBQ has been around almost forever. In 2009, archaeologists discovered a four-foot wide roasting pit in the Czech Republic that appears to have been used to barbecue – wait for it – a mammoth. In his epic poem The Iliad (circa 762 B.C.), Homer portrays a scene that definitely sounds like a down-home BBQ, Greek style.
The first written instance of the word barbecue dates back to 1526 when a Spanish explorer used the West Indian term for “slow cooking over hot coals”— “barbacoa.” However, America made this style of cooking its own when Samuel Johnson included the following item in his 1756 dictionary, “Barbecue — a hog dressed whole.” Later, barbecues became a staple of the American presidency, with Lyndon B. Johnson hosting the first official White House barbecue featuring “Texas-style” ribs.
From there, the art of BBQ has continued to evolve, expand, and inspire fierce regional pride. Seriously fierce. Both Memphis, TN and Kansas City, MO call themselves the Barbecue Capital of America. Lexington, NC decided to kick it up a notch and nabbed the title of Barbecue Capital of the World.
Regional BBQ Style
From secret cooking techniques to secret sauces, BBQ aficionados are always trying to outdo one another. And each region is famous for some particular spin on this ubiquitous cuisine. Eastern North Carolina, for example, puts the whole hog in the smoker while the western part of the state goes in for Lexington-style, which smokes only the shoulder. South Carolina’s unique contribution comes from the southern part of the state, which is known as the Mustard Belt because they tend to use mustard-based sauces on their barbecue.
Depending on where you are in Texas, you might get brisket smoked over oak or chopped beef and pork prepared with mesquite. Kansas City, one of the self-styled contenders for the BBQ Capital of America, smokes everything—beef brisket, pork ribs, sausage, chicken—but their pièce de résistance is a tasty little treat called “burnt ends.” Creating this local delicacy involves separating the fatty “point” from a brisket and subjecting it to additional cooking.
The Battle Over BBQ Sauce
There are plenty of differing opinions when it comes to the type of meat to barbeque, which wood to use in the smoker, and the length of time to let everything cook. But there are no feuds more intense than the ones over BBQ sauce.
The two camps could not be farther apart. In eastern North Carolina, the preference is for vinegar-based sauce. Folks in those areas consider their choice to be the traditional one—a simple recipe dating back far enough that it might have been in Thomas Jefferson’s family cookbook.
Outside of eastern North Carolina, however, the sauces tend to be tomato based. This trend apparently started with German settlers way back in the day. BBQ connoisseurs have been doctoring those original recipes ever since, with the variations getting sweeter and stickier the farther west you travel as chefs add ingredients like molasses and brown sugar.
While the actual fighting over sauce types may be contained to the Southern states, the battle does occasionally get some prime time air time. Stephen Colbert (a proud South Carolinian), for instance, railed against North Carolina’s vinegar-based sauce while interviewing comedian Zach Galifianakis (an equally proud North Carolinian). Colbert didn’t pull any punches, “I love North Carolinians. I love the Outer Banks, I love the mountains, I love everything about North Carolina other than that damn vinegar stuff that y’all put on the barbecue. You have perfectly fine, dry-rub, smoked barbecue, and then you come in there and just **** all over it with vinegar. What are you doing? What are you doing?!”
BBQ for One and All
Despite the debate over which is the “real” BBQ or the best BBQ, this American favorite still manages to bring people together in a way few other foods do. It’s a meal that stirs up fond memories of getting together with friends and family in the backyard or on the beach. And it’s the kind of meal that inspires camaraderie and fun. After all, how serious or stuffy can you be when trying to wrangle a sauce-laden pulled pork sandwich or tear the most succulent bits off a perfectly barbecued rib?
Celebrate BBQ with your office crew! We’ve got BBQ catering in your area, delivered! And if you’re wondering how much BBQ to order per person, we went straight to the experts for you – our BBQ catering partners – and got all the answers.