The Story and Appeal of Barbecue Culture


As The Economist referred to it back in 2010, barbecue is “perched somewhere somewhere between science and art“, with the science lying in the construction of the BBQ vessel, and the art lying in the treating of the meat to turn a slab of meat into a tender and beautifully seasoned delicacy.

But the prevalence of barbecue culture suggests that it is much more than this.

Is it the nostalgia?

Smells and tastes are two of our strongest senses when it comes to recalling memories. The smell of steak soaking in a sea of smoke can trigger memories of summer nights, graduation parties, family visits and more.

One of my own personal accounts (which is testament to the sudden heightened excitement that barbecue causes among us), was when the cafeteria at our office announced they would be serving BBQ on the lawn outside our building. I have never heard furore break out so quickly in a working space. The food in our cafeteria was infamous for being sub-par (putting it mildly there), so we were naive to believe that this would be much different, but just the word ‘BBQ’ stirred up an incredible wave of emotion in our sterile, white, bland office. Was it down to the memories of chewing on barbecue outside of this environment?

What is it about barbecue that makes it such a great centerpiece to almost any social occasion?

Seasoned BBQ veterans may scoff, but its simplicity at the most basic level. All you need is the right kind of sauce and the right meat with a barbecue grill (think Weber grills for the cream of the crop) to set you on your way.

The popularity of barbecue has grown exponentially as people have gathered their friends around the grill, and families have passed the culinary baton on down the generations.

No two barbecues are the same

That is because it comes from different types of people, from different families. It is something that keeps the memories of loved ones alive. Roasting that first barbecue in the backyard with your dad, watching as your mother prepared the sauces for the days delicacy; these are priceless moments that are treasured by most. I am sure that if not these very circumstances you have probably had some other joyful and memorable moments that revolve around the fire of the barbecue.

Although barbecue culture is one with very firm roots all over North America, its influence and origins spread far further afield.

If you are a travel foodie or if you have simply traveled a lot of the little planet that we live on, you would know that barbecued food is not limited to North America but can be found in almost any nation in the world. Although it might not be the customary ‘barbecue’ that people like you and I are used to, anything roasted over a fire is a barbecue, and these can be found in any part of the world.

You might be in the kangaroo trodden nation of Australia, or India, the nation of spice, or in Brazil, where people dance to the beat of Samba. You will find your favorite type of food there in some form or another. A fine example of this would be Latin America’s Churrasco, a grilled meat that is prepared by skewering the meat and supporting it over burning coal instead of directly placing it on the grill (although this varies across different countries in South America). This helps the meat cook more evenly through instead of just on the skin. Churrascos are generally served with a consortium of other stuff, such as French fries, fried eggs, and caramelized onions. To wake up to a breakfast like this in the morning is something that is almost regular in those parts of the world.

The kebabs in the Middle East are another mouthwatering barbecue delicacy. A kebab is more or less pieces of meat skewered over the fire (much like the churrasco) with some of the best spices that you could ever hope to see. A kebab could consist of any form of food that can hold itself together when cut, or sometimes it consists of multiples of the same. This forms a major part of their culture and diet.

These kind of cultures are observed all over the world but one that comes really close to that of America is Australia. Owing to its location, Australian barbecue culture comes more or less close to Asia’s cuisine. They are often pictured as ‘The shrimp toasters’, as shrimps are a major part of their nations food resource. Their barbecuing is the same only in the way they use it socially, as for the cooking, it is miles apart. Australians view barbecuing as a slow process which allows the food to soak in the smoke and absorb the flavors which lets the food become nice and tender whereas in America people just roast their burger meat or steaks very quickly instead of letting it take its time and cook to a different level. Thus Australian barbecue is worth a try too as it involves a whole set of new elements that are found best in Australia.

In all of this one country that cannot be neglected is the land of India. In India the barbecue culture is centered on the Tandoor, a cylindrical and almost beehive-like clay oven.

In the tandoor, a fire is built in the bottom, which heats both the walls of the oven and the air inside to upwards of 900° fahrenheit. Before cooking, the fire is allowed to die down to coals so that the temperature remains consistent while food is cooked, giving the meat a whole new kind of ‘smoky’ flavor. One of the biggest advantages of these ovens is that once they are heated, they will maintain a consistent high temperature for hours with very little additional fuel. This is a big plus in parts of the world where fuel is scarce.

Despite the advent and increasingly widespread use of more convenient means of cooking, in India the tandoor has remained as a steadfast fixture in kitchens across the country. Although for many this is more for economic reasons, the tandoor’s influence is very much still alive in Southern Asian barbecue culture.

The barbecue cultures of nations around the world may vary but the feeling surrounding the barbecue remains the same. Barbecue is like a whole new bond between the humans beyond that of which evolution tells us. It is a culture of the world and it is something you can enjoy no matter where you are. Cheers and happy barbecuing!

Featured img: CC BY-SA 2.0

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