Summer Post: The Ancient History of BBQ

Being Americans this is an important food staple of the summer (and for people like me who BBQ in the winter’s blizzards… ) that many don’t know the history of this deliciousness. Many assume it’s purely a New-World food – but the actual history might surprise you, but in all likely hood probably not.

BBQ’s official description is the apparatus of which one cooks meat within the smoke or flames, or over hot charcoal. It is the meat that is cooked outside the building usually – but there are those havens that have a BBQ pit build indoors. I love these places.

The word itself comes from the Taino people Caribbean as far as I’ve learned, and it meant ‘sacred pit.’

Cooking meat over a fire or smoke is ancient. Germans did this, Celts, Slavs, Romans, Greeks… It’s more ancient than written history.

The pit is dug into the ground, usually to cook an entire animal or half of one for larger animals – some people put a pot or bowl beneath to catch the juice, and the animal is cooked over coal, wood, or wood and bark for smoke.

I know, sounds like our modern grills. But what I was describing was Neolithic. What’s more, is the ‘man-grill,’ originally was ‘woman-grill.’ In fact, the earliest documented BBQ pit was from 200,000 years ago, tended by women within the domestic sphere. In the Iron age, the ‘gridiron,’ (a grate similar to the modern BBQ grill grate) was implemented for cooking meat; another one is the Odyssey mentions spits and five-pronged forks to cook meat. Another example of our ‘modern era,’ really not being so modern.

NOW peer out your window to look at the grill – is it anything new? Some kitchens have an oven that meat can be cooked in – but our iconic image of old kitchens is the spinning fowl on a flame licked spit. That’s BBQ.

It evolved into jerky with the aid of salts and smoking – something we also take for granted as being ‘American,’ or ‘Modern.’

For me, this is why this is such an important food – it is a living link we can hold in our sauce-covered fingertips to the Neolithic, Iron Age, Bronze Age, etc. During this time meat was hunted as in Winter, and sitting together to eat is also an ancient custom that we find in many modern BBQ gatherings scattered throughout the many backyards of our world.

BBQ sauce in our current form is predominantly a modern idea. In the past wines, ales, meads, salts, herbs, and different wood smokes flavored the meat from what I can find. I’ll keep looking – because if there’s an ancient BBQ recipe, I’d love to try it out! The earliest was a flavoring to subvert or mask the gamy taste of many meats early Americans at during the 1600’s, and it spread to Europe from what I can see.

Just take some time to think about that if you haven’t already. What’s more primal than eating meat from the bone?

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