The word “barbecue” is a verb, a noun, and an adjective. It’s a verb when we barbecue pork ribs for our dinner. It’s a noun when we cook shrimp on the barbie. And it’s an adjective when we’re talking about bbq sauce recipes. But no matter how you spell this word or how you use it, it means get a napkin ’cause it’s time to chow down.
Barbecue comes from 17th century Caribbean natives, referring to their raised framework of sticks used for roasting meat, poultry, or fish over an open fire. It’s been spelled barbeque, shortened to bar-b-q, and abbreviated to bbq. Australians and New Zealanders have shortened it to barbie and South Africans call it braai. Britains generally use the terms grilling and barbecuing interchangeably.
When you’re creating bbq, you’re not just roasting meat. You’ve usually got it involved in a long, slow simmer, rubbed down with a mixture of spices, in some kind of tasty sauce. Families are known to hand down their bbq sauce recipes from generation to generation.
What’s the difference between grilling and bbq? Most cultures recognize that high quality cuts of meat cook best when placed close to a high heat source. For your typical backyard grill, you ignite your heat source, throw the meat on the grill, and in twenty minutes it’s all done. But with bbq-or barbecue, or bar-b-q-you’re usually cooking a tougher piece of meat, and it needs to spend a lot more time cooking. So you place the heat source a little off to the side or a few more inches below the meat and keep the heat low. You must cook the meat in one of your favorite bbq sauce recipes or baste it frequently. It can take hours, and even all day long, for a barbecue to reach its peak flavor and degree of doneness.
People spend lots of time debating the best heat source for a barbecue. There’s nothing like the smoke of wood chips drawn into the mixture to give it real frontier or outback flavor. But there’s really nothing wrong about cooking with a gas or charcoal heat source.
Many charcoal briquettes are made from compressed sawdust and wood particles. Sometimes they are infused with petroleum or gasoline to bring them to a burn, but if the flavor gets into the food it will quickly cook off. There are higher quality briquettes made with better woods, some of them flavored, that make better barbecue. The most popular woods for use in briquettes or chips are maple, pecan, mesquite, hickory, and apple.
So what’s in the sauce? It has to have a tangy but sweet taste so it just stings the insides of your cheeks, so that you need more right away. The most popular of all bbq sauce recipes is the traditional tomato-based recipe. Some people start this sauce with catsup, but it’s better if you use the thick richness of tomato paste. Then you need just the right amounts of brown sugar and vinegar, some onion, garlic, Worcestershire, and mustard flavorings, and you have to add a dash of cayenne. This is often called Kansas City style, probably because this was the stopping place for the cowboys when they drove their herds.
But you can’t discount the Carolina bbq sauce recipes, whether you’re talking North or South. The key ingredient is vinegar, but it’s sweetened with just enough molasses as well as some dark brown sugar to do the trick. Onions, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce are once again important contributors to this unique taste experience. Those who like a thicker sauce can use cornstarch for a roux.
Swing over to Tennessee, and you’ll find maple syrup as the base of most bbq sauce recipes. You also need catsup, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire, and mustard. Texas-style sauce slings in a dash of fire. It’s mostly catsup-based, but you add a good amount of vinegar. But instead of the brown sugar, you use regular white granulated sugar. Leave out the onion and mustard flavorings, and do your thing with some chili powder.
People have their favorite bbq sauce recipes the world over, from Korea to Japan, to Canada, California, and all kinds of places. They use blueberries and lemons, honey and guava, and a whole lot more. It just depends how you like your barbecue!