The term “barbecue” refers either to the way of cooking food on grills, or to the tool itself used for cooking. Or even to the occasion when the food is cooked and enjoyed with friends and family usually in the open air. The term barbecue entered the common language, so much so that it has become a way of cooking that makes us think of nice weather and a festive and cheerful friendly atmosphere to share with family or friends.
The way of cooking with the barbecue already existed in the prehistoric era, and it was certainly used by mankind as soon as it discovered fire and learned how to light it and to manage it for cooking meat and fish. Then, the history of grilling dates back to those times, when our ancestors discovered how to hold the meat on a flame until it is cooked and good to eat without burning it. Most likely, the idea came up after noticing animals that died in forest fires. The traces of the most advanced barbecue, similar to that we still use today, dates back to about 500 years ago and it is one of the things discovered by the Spaniards in the New World when they arrived in Central America, especially in the Caribbean.
They observed that indigenous tribes used an original method of cooking meat: it was placed on a wooden grill suspended at a certain height above a layer of hot coals, derived from burning wood. This way meat was cooked slowly, heat and smoke kept insects and other animals away and this method also helped preserving food for a longer amount of time (particularly important in that area due to the particularly warm and humid climate).
The Spanish settlers realized that in the dialect used by the natives, that cooking device was called ""barbacoa"" and that the natives used some similar structures – although largest and more resistant – to lie down to sleep or rest. At the same time, the word "barbecue" seems to derive from the French "barbe à queue", which translated literally means "from the beard to the tail", which would indicate the cooking of the entire animal, from head to tail. Then the origin of the word barbecue is traced back to the XVII century, when the French settlers arrived in North America and they observed American Indians cooking a whole animal. Whatever the origin of the term, since then the expression “having a barbecue” has identified a food cooking system (usually meat) that takes advantage of the heat coming from the embers and smoke of a wood fire.
Once back in Europe, first Spanish explorers and then French ones brought with them the proof of this new type of cooking that aroused curiosity and enthusiasm. Then the term barbecue (or barbeque) started spreading across Europe, adapting to the features of each different language. Written sources report the use of the word ""barbecue"" since 1733 to indicate a happy reunion of people around braziers grilling meat. The term barbecue also has a strong connection with the African and African-American culture. In Africa, in the poorest and most disadvantaged environments, the long process to grill food on coals for a long time made it possible to use the cheapest cuts of meat and to made tastier even poor vegetables and cereals: it was (and still is) a cost effective way to eat. When the first black people went to America in the early years of the '900, they brought their barbecue with them, and the poor black communities in the South have welcomed it as an essential and economical cooking device. In the early ‘50s, the barbecue was very popular in several US cities.
Many restaurants run by black cooks and their families who mainly use the barbecue to cook their dishes. The barbecue cooking method is a source of pride for most Americans. There are several barbecue competitions and of course each State has its own cooking style and technique. The differences between one and the other lays in the type of meat used, the presence of gravy or sauces, the sides, the type of wood used and the different ways of cooking. South Carolina is famous for its pork barbecue with mustard-based sauce. Kansas is famous for beef brisket or turkey slices cooked with pecan and oak wood and covered with a sweet tomato sauce. Texas’s specialty is meat cooked ""Cowboy Style"", meaning on open fires and often served without sauce. In Memphis, they use to prepare pork ribs and toasted bread covered with a thick layer of sweet syrup.
Whether it's ribs, beef brisket or steak, and whether you cover it in molasses, honey or sauce, a barbecue never fails to unite people and make them socialize. July 4 (Independence Day) is one of the major US festivities and American people use to celebrate it everywhere with fireworks, parades, picnics and barbecues with friends, relatives and neighbours. The barbecue was born as cooking device, but it becomes a reason for people to gather and enjoy some time together. In the first years after Independence, Americans used to throw barbecues on July 4 to celebrate the occasion and to strengthen the democratic values of their community. Grill and barbecue It should be pointed out that there is a common misunderstanding: grill and barbecue are not quite the same thing, even if they are often used together or interchangeably. To be precise, the grill and the barbecue are quite different cooking methods. Cooking food on the grill is the most basic and simple system that uses the direct contact with an open flame or other sources of intense heat. On the contrary, the barbecue represents a more sophisticated method, since it is based on the use of “low and indirect fire,” with quite different results. For example, because of the long slow cooking process - often combined with a previous treatment of rubbing and brushing with oil and scented essences – charcoal grilled meat has time to absorb the aromas improving its taste and becoming juicy and tender. The barbecue is more suitable for larger and harder cuts of meat, for fibrous pieces or rich in bone, to be cooked slowly. On the contrary, grilling is perfect for burgers, steaks, chicken, hot dogs, fish and vegetables. Barbecue enthusiasts are very critical with people who prefer a simple grill: they consider themselves as artists and they often claim that when grilling you often burn part of the food. Types and characteristics The main features of the ""barbecue system"" are related to a cooking method performed in public and in the open air, to its main use to cook large animals, and to the fact that it is a cheerful, joyful and pleasant occasion. For a high-quality barbecue, it is essential to have an outdoor area (a garden, or a large terrace) to welcome your guests and where it is safe to light up the barbecue and then revive the embers. Otherwise you will have to choose a different cooking method.
Today you can find on the market any kind of tools, choosing among several sizes and prices. But none of these tools makes use of real wood: you will use charcoal, gas or electricity, which requires a more limited time for the preparation and cooking. The food will be ready to eat in no time, although the taste and smell will be obviously very different from those cooked with real wood. However, even making use of technology we can evoke the simplicity of an ancient ritual: that of our ancestors that once learned to dominate the fire started using it for preparing very simple but at the same time tasty meals.
Today you can find different types of barbecue: - Classic combustion barbecue: it allows cooking food directly on burning wood or charcoal. - Butane or propane barbecue: the heat from the flame passes through some refractory bricks, to get to heat a grill or a plate; - Electric barbecue: it has no need for combustion but only requires an extension cord and a socket; - Disposable barbecue: simple, lightweight, it is basically a box with a hot coal bowl and a built-light grill. It is conceived for a single use, it is very suitable for last minute picnics.
The best charcoal barbecue have a combustion chamber made of high-quality stainless steel and they may also have a mechanism to facilitate the draining of excess grease into a bowl of water to prevent it from falling on the embers causing a blow-back.
This way, the food is also protected from direct contact with the smoke and the absence of carbonized grease provides healthier and more natural food. The most advanced models are provided with a high thermal insulation, even if using coal as a heat source it does not produce any smoke. They are easy to maintain and it is possible to use them indoor as well. They can be equipped with support wheels to be moved at will. They are available on the market equipped with a coal dosing mechanism for adjusting the needed amount of charcoal. To allow an easy and correct cooking, these barbecues are also equipped with a thermometer to keep the temperature under control. Finally, the most modern barbecues also have an embedded sophisticated and efficient system for an easy and quick cleaning.
The main advantage of gas barbecue is the piezoelectric ignition system that allows to fire up the grill with a simple pressure of the finger. It is the ideal tool to grill your food quickly. The most prestigious models usually have cooking grills in cast iron, the cover and bowl for the collection of waste made of aluminium, and stainless steel burners to ensure a functional and safe cooking. The grease collection tray allows to keep the grill free from unwanted organic substances. Eventually, there is also the possibility of having a thermometer to control the temperature and decide the perfect time to start cooking: it is very useful for an ideal performance of the barbecue.
You always need to make sure that gas burners are heating up the whole plate, so that the heat is distributed more evenly. They must be equipped with a diffuser that reduces the need for cleaning and at the same time favours a better distribution of heat. However, if the diffusion happens through lava briquettes, you must remember that you need to replace them every year, especially in the case of frequent use. It is advisable to choose a barbecue provided with burners arranged on two levels in order to cook different kinds of food on the two sides of the grill.
The electric barbecue is very easy to use and safer than other types. It has the considerable advantage of being easy to light up and fast in reaching the ideal cooking temperature. Moreover it does not produce ashes and smoke and therefore it allows an easy maintenance and cleaning. It has the disadvantage of a high power consumption and it requires the use of an electrical outlet and an extension cord, which can be annoying and uncomfortable. Finally, the electric barbecue can be used only indoor and never under the rain.
If you own a large and spacious plot of land, you may want to consider the possibility of building a fixed barbecue in bricks, stone or concrete, to use with any fuel and of course with all types of wood. The choice of the barbecue The perspective of cooking outdoor is always very attractive and exciting, but before doing it, you have to choose the appropriate type of barbecue. First of all, you need to decide where you want to use the barbecue, what kind of food you want to cook on it and approximatively how often. If you plan to use the barbecue in the garden or in a camping, those burning charcoal are the most suitable. Typically they are not very large and you can bring them anywhere to meet various needs, even for a last-minute picnic.
They are quite easy to use: you only need to use some small sticks of wood or dry cones to light it up. Otherwise, you can also use an ecological fire starter before placing the charcoal slack or charcoal briquettes that must burn and become white to signal when it is time to start cooking. It is said that the smoke coming from the barbecue is dangerous for our health.
But if the coal burns properly, favored by a good oxygenation and an adequate ventilation, the smoke comes mainly from the burning grease of the meat falling on the charcoal and the danger depends on the frequency of use (according to experts, if it is 1-2 times a week, it does not entail significant risks). Propane gas barbecues are available in many models, in a wide range of shapes and prices. For a sporadic use at home or camping, you should prefer a compact model with a medium-sized tank, easy to carry around. If you use the barbecue very often and you can enjoy a large outdoor space like a garden, a patio or a terrace of a considerable size, you should choose a stainless steel barbecue with a large cooking surface, to have the ability to satisfy many guests at the same time.
However, if you have a small family and usually do not have many guests, it is useless to spend a lot of money and waste gas when the barbecue is in use: in this case, the best choice is a smaller device. Cooking standards When using the barbecue, it is the heat coming from embers (at a temperature of about 70 ° C) to cook the food, and not a direct flame. You can cook on the barbecue many different kinds of food, like meat, poultry, game, fish, vegetables and cheese, bread, polenta and even fruit. Each food must be kept at the right distance from the embers, although there is no precise rule and you only need some practice. According to the experts, the right distance should be no less than 10 cm for medium-sized fish, fillet, meat or fish slices or small shellfish, while for larger fish and shellfish the distance should reach 12-15 cm.
As regards beef, chops, pork, steaks and sausages the distance is around 12-14 cm. It decreases to 10-12 cm for chicken thighs or other small pieces and skewers. Vegetables must be kept about 10 cm far from the embers at the beginning of cooking, and then moved to 12-15 cm. Fruits requires a distance of 15 cm, while cheese, toasted bread and slices of polenta only need 10 cm. Cleaning and Maintenance Whatever the type, model, quality and cost, every barbecue need a proper maintenance and cleaning of the grill.
To make it the right way, you need to keep in mind a few things: - It is convenient to oil the grill with seeds oil before cooking, to limit the excessive accumulation of grease and make it easier to remove the food when it is ready. - The grill must be cleaned while it is still warm, to prevent the formation of crusts that would make cleaning more difficult. The most effective brush to scrape the grills are those with brass bristles; - Switch off the grill and let it cool down completely before removing the ashes. It will be easier if before lighting the barbecue and cooking you pour a bit of water in the collecting tank.