The word “barbecue” invokes many images, and there are almost as many stories of its origin as there are acceptable ways to spell it. Spelling varies intentionally throughout this column. After thorough research and talking with experts in the field, I have come to the conclusion that BBQ has evolved from simply a way of cooking meat to an art form that paints a picture of flavor on our palate and imprints wonderful memories in our mind. It brings people together in a culture that shares their love of BBQ while passing on techniques and stories that keep the tradition alive and growing.
Most agree that the word “barbecue” originated from the Taíno word “barbacot” which actually referred to a structure of green sticks used by the Indians to roast small game. Roasting uses high heat and very little smoke. This was a fine way to cook the small game indigenous to the area; however, larger cuts of meat would require cooking at a lower temperature in order to break down the collagen and leave the meat moist and tender. The Indians of the area also smoked meats in order to preserve them. Smoking uses very low temperature but a lot of smoke, allowing the smoke to permeate the meat and preserve it but not cook it. BBQ falls in between roasting and smoking, imparting a smoky flavor but using enough heat to cook the meat.
When the Spanish came to America they brought with them domesticated large animals such as pigs, cows, sheep and goats. Since pigs reproduced quickly and were easy to raise they became a great food source and were best cooked at low temperatures over a larger amount of time “low and slow” thus true barbeque came about by the introduction of pigs to the Indians.
As America was being colonized several cultures added their traditional flavors to BBQ, usually by the use of spices, basting liquid and or finishing sauces.
Over many years the word barbecue came to mean different things in different areas with the northern and western part of the country thinking more of grilling or the addition of a thick sweet smoky tomato based sauce. Texans usually refer to beef instead of pork, but the word used then is “barbecued.” In fact anything other than pork is barbecued. Such as barbecued chicken, beef, lamb and more. Pork is just referred to as barbeque, or as we call it in the cooking circuit “que.”
BBQ was time consuming to make, and at first was only found at large gatherings such as political events, church functions and large get togethers. The talented people who cooked the BBQ were referred to as pit masters since the first BBQ was cooked over pits filled with hardwood coals that were then covered with metal grates that the meat was placed on. As the desire for BBQ increased, some of the pit masters started selling BBQ out of their homes and at stands in the more populated areas. These stands often got so busy that tables were eventually added and the first sit down BBQ restaurants were born.
Friendly competitions arose on whose BBQ was the best which eventually lead to contests. These early contests had no way to standardize the judging, and this helped lead to the BBQ associations which helped make judging a more objective and fair practice. Many associations arose, each with their own rules and regulations. In 2004 Lake E. High, Jr. and Dr. Walter Rolandi founded the South Carolina Barbeque Association (SCBA). Their objective was to train other barbeque judges and help towns and organizations put on BBQ festivals. High, who is a certified judge of a few BBQ associations as well as a American wine society certified wine judge, serves as the president of the SCBA and uses his knowledge of judging to train other SCBA judges.
The SCBA serves many purposes. It educates the public about BBQ; it holds contests to help charitable organizations and it helps improve the quality of BBQ through friendly competitions and comradery. South Carolina has more BBQ cook offs in towns and cities on a per capita basis than any other state, which makes sense, since SC is believed to be the area where true barbeque (pork cooked low and slow with the use of some aromatic hard wood first started). SC also has the most types of sauces (four), and the popularity of the sauce tends to be associated with the specific area of the state.
To learn more about the SCBA and the sauces, rubs and wood used in barbeque watch for my article “SC Taking BBQ to the next level” in our next issue. And if you would like to see the SCBA in action, come to one of the upcoming events listed on the website http://www.scbarbeque.com/ and look under the events calendar.
Some of the upcoming local events include:
- The Lakewood Camping Resort Surfside Cook-off at 5901 South Kings Hwy, Surfside Beach, Sept. 26-27 to benefit Back Pack Buddies of Horry County which supplies participating schools with nutritious, child-friendly, self-serve food designed to put in a backpack and feed a child over the weekend.
- The St. Nicolas BBQ Fest at 4 Elm St., Conway will be Nov. 15 and benefits various area charities.