Just about every month is National something month, and May happens to be the month of barbecue. Yes, May is National Barbecue Month. The weather is getting hotter, so there’s no better time to whip out those barbecues (not grills, mind you) and take part in an American tradition that dates back hundreds of years.
The original method of barbecuing was developed by indigenous Caribbean tribes. When Christopher Columbus and his band of explorers encountered these tribes, they adopted their cooking method. They called it, “barbacoa”. The Spanish explorers brought the cooking technique with them as they traveled North, and eventually it made its way to the colonies. In 1540, explorer Hernando de Soto recorded that he, along with the Mississippi Chicksaw Tribe, cooked a feast of pork over the barbacoa. No one really knows where the term “barbecue” originated, but its widely believed to have originated from the original term “barbacoa”.
Eventually the tradition of barbecue was adopted wholeheartedly by early Americans and transformed into the cooking culture that we love. To this day, the most traditional barbecue joints only serve pork, as the original BBQ-ers of the South only had access to cheap cuts of the meat. They used pork instead of beef because pig farming at the time was incredibly low-maintenance and far cheaper than beef. Cows required massive amounts of feed and closed spaces, while pigs could roam around and fend for themselves. The cheap cuts of pork needed to be tenderized to be enjoyable, which is what led to the “low and slow” nature of barbecue cooking.
Today there are 4 distinct styles of American barbecue – most of the variations brought to America by immigrants. The original “whole hog” style barbecue is thought to have originated in the eastern colonies. There it was perfected when British colonists introduced the idea of basting the meat with sauce to preserve the juices inside. The Britons also preferred a tart sauce with their barbecue, and that tartness can still be found in North Carolina barbecue sauce. In South Carolina on the other hand, a mustard-based sauce was adopted, due to the large German and French immigrant population in the area.
The barbecue fad moved west and settled in Texas, where locals began applying the Carolina cooking methods to beef instead of pork.
The fad also landed in Memphis, Tennessee, where a sweeter, tomato-based barbecue sauce was born, due to the city’s easy access to molasses.
Barbecue eventually found its way to Kansas City, brought there in the early 1900s by a man named Henry Perry. Perry’s method of barbecuing is said to have defined Kansas City barbecue. Kansas City barbecue combines Carolina and Texas barbecue, while adding its own zing. Barbecue in Kansas City includes both pork and beef, and a sweet sauce that you won’t find anywhere else. Barbecue experts call Kansas City barbecue the “ultimate amalgamation of East and West barbecue.”
Despite all this, history does little to describe the actual flavor and smell of rich, down home barbecue. Barbecue lovers from around the world make pilgrimages to America’s “Barbecue Belt”, to try the four barbecue styles that are steeped in American tradition.