Classic Southern BBQ: Who Invented Barbecue?

Southern BBQ: Delicious slices of brisket rest alongside beans and rice.
Delicious slices of brisket rest alongside beans and rice. Photo credit: Jacob Johnson

Barbecue may have become an American favorite, but few people know the origins of this beloved national food. Some people claim the term BBQ arose when roadhouses and beer halls with pool tables advertised “bar, beer, and cues,” a phrase which was eventually shortened to BBCue and then BBQ.

Chicken roasts on several skewers over a grill.
Chicken roasts on several skewers over a grill. Photo credit: Christo Anestev

Others assert that the phrase came in to being when French travelers saw a pig being cooked whole and dubbed the process “barbe à queue,” or, from beard to tail. Perhaps the real origins of the word can be traced back to the Caribbean, where by the 1600s, the Taino people referred to a sacred fire pit used for cooking meat as barabicu or barbicoa.

Whatever the origins of the word, barbecue has been a staple in the Deep South since the early 19th century, when wild hogs were caught, slaughtered, and enjoyed with neighbors and friends. Today, every region has its own barbecue, and you better believe the showdown between the vinegar-based sauces of eastern North Carolina and the sweet tomato sauces of Georgia and Tennessee gets fierce at Memphis’s annual World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in May.

Want to try some fall-off-the-bone baby backs yourself? Try one of the PlacePass barbecue food tours.

Curious about other Southern cuisine? Read our blog post on Cajun food in New Orleans!

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