Be­gin­nings of bar­be­cue

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - TASTE -

THE his­tory of bar­be­cue in the United States dates back to pre-Civil War days (be­fore 1861) in the South. Bar­be­cued meat is slow-cooked on low, in­di­rect heat. It takes hours or even days for meat to cook this way.

An ar­ti­cle in The Econ­o­mist on the Amer­i­can cul­ture of bar­be­cue ( Fire In The Hole, Dec 6, 2010) of­fers a con­cise and de­fin­i­tive ex­pla­na­tion of bar­be­cue.

“It is a noun, not a verb. You do not bar­be­cue meat; you smoke it un­til it be­comes bar­be­cue. And it is not a meal so much as a med­i­ta­tive process, perched some­where be­tween sci­ence and art, de­pen­dent on re­serves of judg­ment. The sci­ence lies in build­ing a fire that will smoul­der steadily with­out flar­ing, and in con­struct­ing a ves­sel that will bathe the meat in smoke with­out sub­ject­ing it to too much heat. The art lies in the butcher­ing and sea­son­ing. The judg­ment comes in know­ing pre­cisely when a cook­ing process that may last as long as 18 or 24 hours should end.”

Though we of­ten use the term bar­be­cue to de­scribe out­side-cook­ing on the grill, the two are very dif­fer­ent.

Bar­be­cue meat is cooked slowly over low heat, while grilled meat is of­ten done over higher heat and much more quickly. The cuts of meat used also dif­fer. The pri­mary meats used for bar­be­cue are pork (of­ten the whole hog) and large por­tions of beef and some­times, a whole chicken.

There is ev­i­dence that the first pres­i­dent of the United States, Ge­orge Washington, was a fan of bar­be­cue. A sa­lon.com ar­ti­cle ti­tled What’s Be­hind The

Amer­i­can Love Of Bar­be­cue (pub­lished in May this year) re­ports that Washington (who was a “terse di­arist”) had en­tries about the var­i­ous bar­be­cues he at­tended.

Early bar­be­cues usu­ally in­volved the cook­ing of whole an­i­mals, of­ten sev­eral.

An ar­ti­cle in Red Cloud Chief, a Ne­braska news­pa­per back in 1917 (with the head­line

Midwest Mer­chants Will Feast at Big Bar­be­cue) re­ported: “The sched­ule of food al­ready in­cludes one ox, one sheep, and two pigs which will be bar­be­cued. In ad­di­tion the nec­es­sary fix­ins will be added to make the meal de­light­ful and sat­is­fy­ing.”

So, bar­be­cue has al­ways been very pop­u­lar in Amer­ica. But the flavour pro­files of bar­be­cued meat dif­fer ge­o­graph­i­cally.

In North Carolina, for ex­am­ple, pork is pop­u­lar (whole or the shoul­der) and it is sea­soned min­i­mally, if at all. The sauce is usu­ally a cider vine­gar with salt and red pep­per flakes. And maybe, a lit­tle tomato.

In South Carolina, a mus­tard-based sauce is a must. In Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, pork ribs (served dry, rubbed with spices) and shoul­der (pulled, on a sand­wich and with coleslaw) rule. In Texas, beef is the meat of choice and brisket (with crack­ers or bread, onions and pick­les) is the bar­be­cue spe­cial­ity. The Kansas City bar­be­cue, which has be­come the style of bar­be­cue most peo­ple iden­tify with Amer­i­can bar­be­cue, is slathered with a sweet, tomato-based sauce. A wide va­ri­ety of meats is used, too — pork, pork ribs, beef brisket, beef ribs, chicken, turkey, etc.

The ori­gins of bar­be­cue in Amer­ica are some­what hazy. Many be­lieve that the word is de­rived from the Caribbean word “bar­ba­coa” which trans­lated into “sa­cred fire pit”. In the tra­di­tional bar­ba­coa, a big hole is dug in the ground for the meat (usu­ally a whole goat) to rest in. The meat is then cov­ered with leaves and coal and set alight and left to cook for hours.

In Amer­ica, bar­be­cue usu­ally re­volves around pork sim­ply be­cause in the early days (the 19th cen­tury), pigs were low main­te­nance an­i­mals (that fed on prac­ti­cally any­thing) that could be found in abun­dance.

It was re­port­edly the Span­ish colonists (who set­tled in South Carolina in the 16th cen­tury) who in­tro­duced pork to the Amer­i­can In­di­ans who in turn taught them the art of slow cook­ing with smoke.

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