Barbecue or barbeque (with abbreviations BBQ, Bar-B-Q and Bar-B-Que, diminutive form barbie, used chiefly in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and called Braai in South Africa) is a method and apparatus for cooking food, often meat, with the heat and hot gases of a fire, smoking wood, or hot coals of charcoal and may include application of a marinade, spice rub, or basting sauce to the meat. The term as a noun can refer to foods cooked by this method, to the cooking apparatus itself, or to a party that includes such food. The term is also used as a verb for the act of cooking food in this manner. Barbecue is usually cooked in an outdoor environment heated by the smoke of wood or charcoal. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large brick or metal ovens specially designed for that purpose.
Barbecue has numerous regional variations in many parts of the world. Notably, in the United States, practitioners consider barbecue to include only relatively indirect methods of cooking, with the more direct high-heat methods to be called grilling.
In British usage, barbecuing and grilling refer to a fast cooking process directly over high heat, while grilling also refers to cooking under a source of direct, high heat--known in the US and Canada as broiling. In US English usage, however, grilling refers to a fast process over high heat while barbecuing refers to a slow process using indirect heat and/or hot smoke (similar to or possibly identical to roasting). For example, in a typical US home 'grill', food is cooked on a grate directly over hot charcoal; while in a US 'barbecue', the coals are dispersed to the sides or at significant distance from the grate. Its South American versions are the southern Brazilian churrasco and the Argentinian asado.
Alternatively, an apparatus called a smoker with a separate fire box may be used. Hot smoke is drawn past the meat by convection for very slow cooking. This is essentially how barbecue is cooked in most US 'barbecue' restaurants, but nevertheless many consider this to be a distinct cooking process called smoking.
The slower methods of cooking break down the collagen in meat and tenderize tougher cuts for easier eating.
Traditional barbacoa involves digging a hole in the ground and placing some meat (usually a whole goat) with a pot underneath it, so that the juices can make a hearty broth. It is then covered with maguey leaves and coal and set alight. The cooking process takes a few hours.
There is ample evidence that both the word and cooking technique migrated out of the Caribbean and into other cultures and languages, with the word moving from Caribbean dialects into Spanish, then French and English. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first recorded use of the word in the English language in 1697 by the British buccaneer William Dampier.
The word evolved into its modern English spelling of barbecue and may also be found spelled as "barbeque", bar-b-q or bbq. In the south eastern 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.
The word barbecue has attracted two inaccurate origins from folk etymology. An often-repeated claim is that the word is derived from the French language. The story goes that French visitors to the Caribbean saw a pig being cooked whole and described the method as barbe à queue, meaning from beard to tail. The French word for barbecue is also barbecue and the "beard to tail" explanation is regarded as false by most language experts. The only merit is that it relies on the similar sound of the words, a feature common in folk etymology explanations. Another claim states that the word BBQ came from the time when roadhouses and beer joints with pool tables advertised Bar, Beer and Cues. According to this tale, the phrase was shortened over time to BBCue, then BBQ.
In the Southern United States, barbecue initially revolved around the cooking of pork. During the 19th century, pigs were a low-maintenance food source that could be released to forage for themselves in forests and woodlands. When food or meat supplies were low, these semi-wild pigs could then be caught and eaten.
According to estimates, prior to the American Civil War Southerners ate around five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef they consumed. Because of the poverty of the southern United States at this time, every part of the pig was eaten immediately or saved for later (including the ears, feet, and other organs). Because of the effort to capture and cook these wild hogs, "pig slaughtering became a time for celebration, and the neighborhood would be invited to share in the largesse. These feasts are sometimes called 'pig-pickin's.' The traditional Southern barbecue grew out of these gatherings.
Each Southern locale has its own particular variety of barbecue, particularly concerning the sauce. North Carolina sauces vary by region, Eastern North Carolina uses a vinegar-based sauce, the center of the state (around Lexington, NC uses a combination of ketchup and vinegar as their base, and Western North Carolina uses a heavier ketchup base. Lexington, NC boasts of being "The Barbecue Capitol of the World," and they have more than one BBQ restaurant per 1,000 residents. Another distinguishing characteristic of North Carolina Barbecue is Barbecue Slaw, this slaw has no mayonnaise, it is composed of cabbage, ketchup, vinegar, black pepper and can be served either on the side or on a sandwich. South Carolina is the only state that includes all four recognized barbecue sauces, including mustard-based, vinegar-based, light and heavy tomato-based. Memphis barbecue is best-known for tomato- and vinegar-based sauces . In some Memphis establishments and in Kentucky, meat is rubbed with dry seasoning (dry rubs) and smoked over hickory wood without sauce; the finished barbecue is then served with barbecue sauce on the side.
The barbecue of Georgia and Tennessee is almost always pork served with a sweet tomato-based sauce. A popular item in North Carolina and Memphis is the pulled pork sandwich served on a bun and often topped with cole slaw. Pulled pork is prepared by shredding the pork after it is barbecued.
"Pit-beef" prevails in Maryland, and is often enjoyed at large outdoor bull-roasts, which are common in the warmer months. Maryland-style pit-beef is not the product of barbecue cookery in the strictest sense, as there is no smoking of the meat involved-- rather, it involves grilling the meat over a high heat. The meat is typically served rare, with a strong horseradish sauce as the preferred condiment.
East Texas barbecue is an extension of traditional southern barbecue, similar to that found in Tennessee and Arkansas. It is primarily pork-based, with cuts such as pork shoulder and pork ribs, indirectly slow smoked over primarily hickory wood. The sauce is tomato-based, sweet, and thick. This is also the most common urban barbecue in Texas, spread by African-Americans when they settled in big cities like Houston and Dallas.
Central Texas was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid 1800s, and they brought with them European-style meat markets, which would smoke leftover cuts of pork and beef, often with high heat, using primarily native oak and pecan. The European settlers did not think of this meat as barbecue, but the Anglo farm workers who bought it started calling it such, and the name stuck. Traditionally this barbecue is served without sauce, and with no sides other than saltine crackers, pickles, and onions. This style is found in the Barbecue Belt southeast of Austin, with Lockhart as its capital.
The border between the South Texas Plains and Northern Mexico has always been blurry, and this area of Texas, as well as its barbecue style, are mostly influenced by Mexican tastes. The area was the birthplace of the Texas ranching tradition, and the Mexican farmhands were often partially paid for their work in less desirable cuts of meat, such as the diaphragm, from which fajitas are made, and the cow's head. It is the cow's head which defines South Texas barbecue, called barbacoa. They would wrap the head in wet maguey leaves and bury it in a pit with hot coals for several hours, and then pull off the meat for barbacoa tacos. The tongue is also used to make lengua tacos. Today, barbacoa is mostly cooked in an oven in a bain-marie.
The last style of Texas Barbecue also originated from Texas ranching traditions, but was developed in the western third of the state by Anglo ranchers. This style of "Cowboy" barbecue, cooked over an open pit using direct heat from mesquite, is the style most closely associated with Texas barbecue in popular imagination. The meat is primarily beef, shoulder clods and brisket being favorite cuts, but mutton and goat are also often found in this barbecue style.
The choice and combination of woods burned result in different flavors imparted to the meat. Woods commonly selected for their flavor include mesquite, hickory, maple, guava, kiawe, cherry, pecan, apple and oak. Woods to avoid include conifers. These contain resins and tars, which impart undesirable resinous and chemical flavors. If these woods are used, they should be burned in a catalytic grill, such as a rocket stove, so that the resins and tars are completely burned before coming into contact with the food.
Different types of wood burn at different rates. The heat also varies by the amount of wood and controlling the rate of burn through careful venting. Wood and charcoal are sometimes combined to optimize smoke flavor and consistent burning.
Charcoal grilling generally begins with purchasing a commercial bag of processed charcoal briquettes. An alternative to charcoal briquettes is lump charcoal. Lump charcoal is wood that has been turned into charcoal but unlike briquets it has not been ground and shaped. Lump charcoal is a pure form of charcoal and is preferred by many purists who dislike artificial binders used to hold briquets in their shape, and it also burns hotter and responds to changes in airflow much more quickly. Charcoal cannot be burned indoors because poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) is a combustion product. Carbon monoxide fumes may contribute to the pink color taken on by barbecued meats after slow cooking in a smoker. Many barbecue aficionados prefer charcoal over gas (propane) for the authentic flavor the coals provide.
A charcoal chimney starter is an inexpensive and efficient method for quickly obtaining a good charcoal fire. A few pages of newspaper are wadded up underneath the chimney to start the fire. Other methods are to use an electric iron to heat the charcoal or to soak it with aliphatic petroleum solvent and light it in a pyramid formation. Charcoal briquettes pre-impregnated with solvent are also available. Although the use of solvents is quick and portable, it can be hazardous, and petroleum solvents can impart undesirable chemical flavors to the meat. Using denatured alcohol ("methyl hydrate", "methylated spirit") instead of commercial petroleum-based lighter fluids avoids this problem.
Once all coals are ashed-over (generally 15-25 minutes, depending on starting technique), they can be spread around the perimeter of the grill with the meat placed in the center for indirect cooking, or piled together for direct cooking. Water-soaked wood chips (such as mesquite, cherry, hickory or fruit trees) can be added to the coals for flavor. As with wood barbecuing, the temperature of the grill is controlled by the amount and distribution of coal within the grill and through careful venting.
For long cooking times (up to 18 hours), many cooks find success with the "Minion Method", usually performed in a smoker. The method involves putting a small number of hot coals on top of a full chamber of unlit briquettes. The burning coals will gradually light the unlit coals. By leaving the top air vent all the way open and adjusting the lower vents, a constant temperature of 225°F can easily be achieved for up to 18 hours.
The Japanese style Kamado cooker utilizes lump charcoal for fuel. The kamado is made from ceramics, and can be adjusted to cook for more than 30 hours on a single load of lump, the heat being retained in the ceramic walls, radiating into the food. There is no need to use water pans or replenish fuel during the cook, as is the case with steel water smokers. Furthermore lump charcoal contains no additives or fillers as contained in charcoal briquettes. The very small amount of air needed to keep a ceramic cooker going at low temperature helps maintain a moist environment, whereas in a steel smoker steam must be added from a water pan over the briquettes to keep the food from drying out. The kamado dates back several thousand years with roots in China and Japan
Grilling with natural gas or propane is a step further removed from cooking over a wood fire. Despite this, and the higher cost of a gas grill over a charcoal grill, many people continue to prefer cooking over a gas flame.
Gas grills are easy to light. The heat is easy to control via knob-controlled gas valves on the burners, so the outcome is very predictable. Gas grills give very consistent results, although some charcoal and wood purists argue that it lacks the flavors available only from cooking with charcoal. Advocates of gas grills claim that gas cooking lets you "taste the meat, not the heat" because it is claimed that charcoal grills may deposit traces of coal tar on the food. Many grills are equipped with thermometers, further simplifying the barbecuing experience. However propane and natural gas produce a "wet" heat (combustion byproducts include water vapor) that can change the texture of foods cooked over such fuels.
Added wood smoke flavor can be imparted on gas grills using water-soaked wood chips placed in an inexpensive smoker box (a perforated metal box), or simply a perforated foil pouch, under the grilling grate and over the heat. It takes some experience in order to keep the chips smoking consistently without catching fire; some high-end gas grills include a built-in smoker box with a dedicated burner to simplify the task. Using such smokers on quick-grilled foods (steaks, chops, burgers) nearly duplicates the effects of wood and charcoal grills, and can actually make grilling some longer-cooked foods, such as ribs, easier, since the "wet" heat makes it easier to prevent the meat from drying out.
Gas grills are significantly more expensive due to their added complexity. They are also considered much cleaner as they do not result in ashes, which must be disposed of, and also in terms of air pollution. Proper maintenance may further help reduce pollution. The useful life of a gas grill may be extended by obtaining replacement gas grill parts when the original parts wear out. Most barbecues that are used for commercial purposes now use gas for the reasons above.
Smoking can be done with wood or charcoal, although many common commercial smokers use a gas, such as propane, to heat up a box of wet wood chips enough to cause smoke. The heat from the propane fire helps cook the meat while the smoke adds its unique and delicious flavor. The distinction between smoking and grilling is the heat level and the intensity of the radiant heat; indeed, smoking is often referred to as "low and slow." Additionally, during grilling the meat is exposed to the open air for the majority of the time. During smoking, the BBQ lid or smoker door is closed, making a thick dense cloud of smoke to envelope the meat. The smoke must be able to move freely around the meat and out of the top of the apparatus quickly, otherwise foul-tasting creosote will build up on the meat, giving it a bitter flavor. Smoked meats such as pork exhibit what is known as a smoke ring: a thin pink layer just under the surface which is the result of the smoke interacting with the water in the meat.
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