Barbecue: A Global History by Jonathan Deutsch, PDF, 1780232594

December 14, 2017

 Barbecue: A Global History by Jonathan Deutsch, PDF, 1780232594

Barbecue: A Global History (Edible) by Jonathan Deutsch

  • Print Length: 144 Pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books
  • Publication Date: April 15, 2014
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780232594
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780232591
  • File Format: PDF




Smoke and Meat

Barbecue occurs at the succulent intersection of smoke,

seasoning and flesh. It is arguably the simplest form of cook-

ery; no utensils, equipment or special skills are needed to

produce some barbecue. One needs a fire, meat and some

distance between the two. The rest, as a Talmudist would

say, is commentary (we recognize the irony of quoting a rabbi

in a barbecue book, given that barbecue is so often pork, but

Jews barbecue too, as you shall see).

Much of this commentary is at best confusing, and often

simply wrong. Even the English word barbecue is confusing,

rivalling only the f-word for its versatility: it can be an adjec-

tive describing a method of cooking or seasoning; a noun

describing a food, an event or a cooking contraption; or a verb.

It can be spelled or abbreviated as barbecue, barbeque, ,

bbq, -, bar-b-q or bar-b-cue – but never barbe à queue.

Table 1: The versatile and confusing language

of the word ‘barbecue’

Part of


Can You Use It In


a Sentence?


Food, usually meat,

Honey, I have a hankering.

prepared by slow

Please pick up some barbecue

smoke roasting

on your way home?



A gathering at which

Would you like to come

barbecued food is

over for a barbecue at my


house this Saturday?


A grill or other piece of

The brisket that has been

equipment on which

cooking on the barbecue

barbecued food is

should be done soon.



To cook by slow

I will barbecue these ribs char

smoke roasting

siu style.



Something that has

In Croatia, my favourite

been cooked by

dish was the barbecue (or

slow smoke

barbecued) lamb.

roasting (barbecuing).


Something seasoned

One packet of barbecue

with smoke or spices

crisps please.

referencing barbecue


Adding to this confusion, all of the above uses of the term

barbecue (so spelled throughout this volume) are correct and

common. In addition, there are some improper and unaccept-

able uses of the term.

Table 2: Improper and inaccurate uses of the

word ‘barbecue’

Part of


Can You Use It in


a Sentence?


Cooking by direct

Let’s barbecue some hamburgers

grilling (not

for dinner tonight. Properly:


let’s grill some hamburgers for

dinner tonight.


Food that has been

Should we eat at a Korean

cooked by direct

barbecue restaurant tonight,


where thin strips of meat are

grilled for a few moments at

the table? Properly: should we

eat at a Korean grilled meat


As you have no doubt gathered, ‘barbecue’ as properly defined,

and as used throughout this book, refers to slow smoke roast-

ing. In order to move forward with a working definition, let’s

examine each part of this term.

First, slow heat. When cooking on a fire or burning

embers (coals), one can cook either directly above or below

the coals, or indirectly, some distance away. Cooking above

or below the coals or fire uses the radiant heat of the fire to

quickly brown and cook the food. If the food is cooked

above the radiant heat, the method is referred to as ‘grilling’;

in the .. and Canada, cooking below the radiant heat is

referred to as ‘broiling’. Neither one is barbecuing.

During barbecuing, air conducts the heat to the food, much

as oil conducts heat during frying. The primary cooking pro –

cess in barbecue is not radiation from the flames of the fire,

but rather conduction of heat from the hot air surrounding

the food, not unlike oven roasting. In some cases the food

is placed a small distance away from the coals or fire – for

example, in a home grill one may place burning embers on

one side of the grill and the food on the opposite side. In

other instances the heat source may not even be in the same

chamber as the food, and the heat and smoke may have to

travel some distance through ducts.

The second part of our definition is smoke, which is an

essential flavour – really the only essential added flavour – of

barbecue. Therefore barbecue, as properly defined, cannot

be cooked in the absence of smoke. When cooking solely on

wood or charcoal, smokiness naturally occurs. When cooking

with propane or electricity, smokiness must be added, most

often through the use of wet wood chips or pellets that smoul-

der as the food cooks. While some barbecue purists would

insist that it is impossible to cook real barbecue with the use

of any fuel other than wood (some fundamentalists even

reject lighter fluid or gas/electric ignition), as long as real wood

or charcoal is present to provide smoke (not liquid smoke, a

smoke flavouring), we would grant that the food meets the

smokiness criterion.

The third part of our definition, roasting, is one of the

simplest and most ancient cooking methods. It simply involves

surrounding food (often meat) with hot air, whether in an

oven, on a spit or in a pit. In contemporary cooking, meats

that are roasted are often lean and naturally tender, such as

young chicken, beef tenderloin or rack of lamb, and cook over

relatively high heat, –º (–º), for a relatively short

period of time. By slow roasting at –º (–º),

with most finding the sweet spot between  and º (–

º) in the case of barbecue, tough cuts of meat such as pork

shoulder, ribs or brisket, or whole animals – lamb, goat and

pig – can become tender while remaining moist.


It is common in conventional roasting to season the meat

with salt and pepper and other spices and aromatics before

cooking. Lean meats are classically larded (encased or wrapped

with fats such as caul fat or bacon) or barded (where strips of

fat are laced through the meat), though these practices have

fallen out of fashion, except in the case of fowl such as

turkeys, which are often cooked with bacon strips laid over

the breast. Many commonly barbecued cuts, such as pork

shoulder, ribs, whole hogs or beef brisket, are naturally fatty,

so don’t need to undergo this process.

These three delimiting factors, then, ‘slow’, ‘smoke’ and

‘roasting’, give us our definition of barbecue.



Barbecue Beginnings

Barbecue is at once an ancient and very basic form of cook-

ery (fire + meat = barbecue, with seasoning and utensils

optional) and a high form of culture complete with formal

juried competitions and regional variations from Mongolian

lamb ( khorhog), to Fijian pig, to Chinese char siu, to .. Pacific Northwest salmon.

Barbecue is probably not much younger than the union

of fire and meat themselves. Like many of the world’s simple

but enduring and culturally significant foods – such as pasta,

cheese, ices, flatbreads and fermented drinks such as beer and

wine – barbecue as an entity probably developed in numer-

ous locations throughout the world rather than originating in

an epiphany-instigated epicentre. It seems unlikely that there

was one particular place where humans first discovered that

tough cuts of game slowly roasted and smoked away from

the fire were more tender than those grilled over direct heat,

and disseminated this revelation through cultural exchange.

Nevertheless, some historians and barbecue aficionados

search for the invention of barbecue as well as the origin of the

word. The catchiest (and notably Francophile) explanation

for the origin of the term barbecue is that it comes from the

French barbe à queue, meaning ‘beard to tail’, said to represent


The beasts pictured in the famous cave paintings of Lascaux would

probably have been cooked over open fires some , years ago.

the whole spit roasting of a pig or other animal. Some ..

barbecue cooks from the eastern Carolinas, for whom cook-

ing a whole hog is de rigueur, take stock in this definition

for its implicit endorsement of whole-hog barbecue over

separate butts and ribs, as are more typical elsewhere in the

South. But the pervasiveness of the barbe à queue definition

does not make up for its lack of plausibility. Most scholars

argue that while the connection between barbecue and the

phrase barbe à queue is cute and seems logical, it is based solely

on the coincidental sounds of the words. The etymological

roots of the term are more likely found in the Arawak and later

Creole term barboka or barbacoa, which describes the grill-like assembly of sticks ( coa) over a fire on which whole fish and

meat were slowly grilled over the coals. The Spanish adopted

the term as barbacoa and the French as babracot, after which it evolved into English as ‘barbecue’ or ‘barbeque’. The word

barbacoa first appears in print in Gonzalo Fernandez de

Oviedo’s La historia general y natural de las Indias (), where


it is used to describe spit roasting among the native peoples

of the Caribbean.

The First Barbecue?

Anthropologists have discovered evidence that early hominids,

the ancestors of modern human beings, applied fire to pieces

of meat as long as . million years ago.  This evidence was discovered in southern Africa, now home to the braai, a trad –

itionally Afrikaans version of barbecue featuring such local

treats as boerewors, a circular sausage, and sosatie, a South African kebab.

Palaeoanthropologists have recently figured out how to

determine just how hot the fires were that burned bones dis-

covered at ancient sites. Because forest fires tend to burn at

much lower temperatures than fires kindled for cooking,

scholars have been able to determine that some bones (and

the animal flesh that surrounded them) found at ancient

dwelling sites were cooked intentionally in cooking fires, as

opposed to being unfortunate victims of grass or forest fires.

While we don’t know exactly how the meat was flavoured –

for instance, whether it received salting, spicing or any kind of

marinade – we do know that these early meats were not boiled

in a pot. Thinking about the available technologies, it makes

sense to imagine that pieces of meat were held in or very near

the fire on a stake or spit of some kind, probably a tree

branch; buried in coals; or set alongside the fire to capture

radiant heat.

In order to make sure that the branch itself did not

combust and the important lump of protein burn up in the

fire, the best method would be to use a green, recently cut

stick and to keep the stake at some distance from the flames.


Experimentation would also lead to the discovery that keeping

meat slightly further from the fire for a longer time produces

more tender meat than meat charred directly on the flame –

a great advantage for our ancient ancestors, whose teeth were

not as sharp as those of carnivores and who were cooking

game that had not been bred for tenderness, as modern

farmed meat is. Whether these culinarily adventurous hominids

were able to rig up some kind of spit and enjoy barbecue

before Homo sapiens even arrived on the scene is still unknown.

Studying the probable physiological energy needs of

northern European Neanderthals, who lived , years

ago, the archaeologist Bent Sørensen has proposed some

compelling evidence that a type of barbecue was used during

this era. In order to transport the large pieces of meat needed

to sustain physical activity from the site of the hunt to their

homes, Sørensen argues that Neanderthals must have dried

the animals’ flesh in order to reduce its bulk. The quickest and

most effective method for doing this was fire, producing a

kind of woolly mammoth jerky/barbecue that could sustain

communities for almost two months. Since anthropologists

now argue that human beings who lived outside of Africa

mated with Neanderthals, perhaps they learned their barbecue

skills, too.

The Spit and the Broil: Barbecue


References to spit roasting (which after all can be a type of

indirect smoke roasting depending on the distance between

fire and spit) in ancient texts give us confidence that the secrets

of barbecue have long been known. In Homer’s Odyssey, the

hero Odysseus returns home in disguise after ten years of


Greek pottery image of boys roasting sacrificial meat on a spit, ‒ .

eventful wandering to a meal of barbecue provided by his

old servant, Eumaeus. Not recognizing his former master,

Eumaeus nonetheless offers the kind of hospitality that Greek

tradition prized highly. Noting that it would be wrong to turn

a stranger away, and that ‘every beggar and stranger is from

Zeus’, he went straight to the pigpen. Having picked out two

suckling pigs, he ‘slaughtered and singed them both, then

jointed and spitted them’, roasting them up as a simple meal

for the visitor. Eumaeus invited his old master to dine, saying,

‘Eat the food, Stranger, that a servant can provide.’ Odysseus

‘sprinkled it over with white barley meal’ before eating – an


Cook fanning the fire to roast the duck he is holding in his left hand,

Egypt, c.  .

intriguing avoidance of the mustard-versus-vinegar-versus-

tomato-based-sauce debates of modern times.

Studies of Egyptian paintings and texts indicate that in

the homes of the wealthy special racks were used to slowly

smoke-roast geese and large joints from other animals, such

as gazelles. While the meats were roasting, servants waved

fans over them to draw up the heat and smoke. The majority

of Egyptian images related to cookery, however, show meat

being boiled, which seems to have been the most common

treatment in the ancient world. Ancient Israelites likewise

usually boiled meat as part of a pottage or grain-based stew,

perhaps a precusor to the present-day Sabbath cholent. For the

annual celebration of Passover, however, it was essential to

roast a lamb.

Because of their size, lambs were most likely roasted on

spits rather than in ovens. The Passover seder, then, might be

considered an annual barbecue that recalls the outdoor cook-

ery necessary to the wandering life of the Jews after their

liberation from slavery in Egypt. The legendary king Solomon

seems to have valued barbecue quite highly. According to

trad ition, he is the author of the book of Proverbs, which

contains the advice, ‘The slothful man roasteth not that which

he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is

precious’ (:). For his time and place, this was espe cially

good advice. To roast what you had killed was one way of

preserving meat for a longer period of time, particularly if the

diligent hunter was able to apply lots of smoke and dry the

meat in the process, creating a substance that was both pre-

cious, in that it could provide for future needs, and also tasty.

For all their sophistication and conquest of distant

regions, the Romans seem to have been indifferent to bar –

becue. While there are Roman recipes for roasted meats,

most of the roasting seems to have been done in enclosed


John White’s painting of native Virginians grilling fish, ‒, also looks

like a variation on planking – the fish are hung on sticks close to a fire.

ovens. Their preference for this method may reflect the fact

that cookbooks were produced for an urban elite, and that

spit roasting would not have been particularly convenient in

densely populated areas. Or it may be that the kind of cuisine

Romans enjoyed did not lend itself to slow roasting over open

flames or to pit cooking. A recipe for ‘plain roasting’ from

Apicius, the late fourth or early fifth century  Roman cook-

book, instructs readers to ‘simply put the meat to be roasted

in the oven, generously sprinkled with salt and pepper’. That

the meat was later to be served glazed with honey, however,

gives this dish a passing resemblance to more modern barbe-

cue. An elaborate recipe for stuffed pig stomach includes an

interlude during which the pig’s stomach, already boiled after

having been stuffed with brains, eggs, nuts and many spices,


is hung near – but not in – the smoke of a fire ‘to take on

colour’. Since this delicacy is then returned to a pot to boil

before being served, it does not necessarily fit contemporary

definitions of barbecue, but it is nonetheless interesting to

see that smoking was a flavouring technique used in Roman

kitchens, even if only in combination with other methods.

According to the account of a Greek visitor, Poseidonius,

who lived in the first century  and travelled throughout

the Roman Empire, ancient Celts roasted large pieces of

meat on spits. The advent of the Iron Age in Europe in the

sixth century  made this a much more practicable way to

cook, although one still needed sufficient wealth to afford

the heavy metal and the labour to fashion and turn a spit.

Although Poseidonius’ text has been lost, another Greek

writer, Athanaeus, who lived at the end of the second century

, quotes Poseidonius’ observation that Celtic ‘food consists

of a few loaves, and a good deal of meat brought up floating

in water, and roasted on the coals or on spits.’ The detail about

the meat floating in water perhaps means that the meat had

been boiled before being roasted or that it was soaked in brine

before roasting. Either way, Poseidonius’ account of the con-

sumption of this food – ‘they eat their meat . . . like lions,

taking up whole joints in both their hands and gnawing them’

– should be recognizable to any barbecue lover today.

While Europeans did roast meats over fire in the late Stone

Age, by the Middle Ages this activity tended to be reserved

for the homes of the very wealthy, as it involved not only

specialized equipment but also careful attention from a ‘spit

boy’ whose task was to sit by the spit and turn it. Spit roast-

ing also required the economic wherewithal to afford large

pieces of meat. Although expensive and time-consuming,

spit roasting was a good option for large gatherings because

whole pigs, sheep and calves – and multiple chickens, duck


Francesco del Pedro, etching of a party of gypsies preparing a meal in the

open, ‒. In the centre is a cooking pot over an open fire, with a man

spearing a chicken on a spit. At the left is a woman plucking a goose next to

another holding a barrel.

and geese – could be roasted at the same time if one had a

large enough spit.

By the medieval era English cookbooks included refer-

ences to spit roasting that often included sweet and sour

flavourings. These hint at the barbecue sauces that were to

develop centuries later in North America. One Robina Napier,

writing in the late fifteenth century, provided a recipe for roast

heron that involved cleverly tying the bird to the stake with

its own flayed skin. While roasting, the bird was to be sauced

with a mixture of vinegar, mustard, powdered ginger and

salt. The Good Housewife’s Jewell () by Thomas Dawson suggested spit roasting a kind of meatloaf constructed of

slices of cooked meat mixed with egg yolks, raisins, dates

and spices. Once the cook had been able to ‘work it together’

he was to ‘put it on a spit, and set platters underneath it, and


Richard Purcell, The Cook Maid, c. ‒, etching and mezzotint.

baste it with butter, and then make a sauce with Vineger, and

ginger, and suger.’

In the sixteenth century the English cookbook author

Gervase Markham noted the adoption from the French of a

method known as carbonado, which he described as ‘meat broyled

upon the coals’. Before grilling it was essential to ‘scotch it

both above and below, then sprinkle good store of salt upon

it, and baste it all over with sweet butter melted’, ‘scotching’


being a term for scoring the meat. The German cook book

author Franz de Rotzier, in his Kunstbuch von mancherley Essen of

, agreed that in order to cook a carbonado properly one

‘must always beat [pieces of meat] with the back of a knife

before they are grilled so that they become tender’. Markham

advised using ‘a plate iron made with hooks and pricks, on

which you may hang the meat, and set it close before the fire,

and so the plate heating the meat behind as the fire doth

before, it will both the sooner and with more neatness be

ready.’ While cooking, the meat was to be turned and ‘basted

it till it be very brown’, then served with butter and vinegar.

Cookbooks, archaeological records and the accounts of

travellers reveal that by the time Europeans encountered Carib –

bean barbecue, they had not only developed similar methods

for cooking, but had established a culinary connection between

roasted meat, pungent vinegar and a variety of spices which

became an important part of the North American barbecue

tradition. This particular kind of cooking was often also

flavoured with male competition. Our next chapter explores

the cultures of barbecue that make meat-on-a-spit more than

just a (really good) meal.



Man and Feast

Regardless of whether we are discussing Hawaiian kalua pig,

Mongolian boodog, Mexican barbacoa de cabeza or a Spanish

bull roast, barbecue is considered across many cultures to be

a man’s domain. It is unclear why this is the case. Much of the

literature is quick to point out the machismo of barbecue, but

avoids the question of ‘why’ by substituting clichés and stereo-

types for real answers. Consider, for example, an explanation

from a barbecue cook himself: ‘It’s the caveman in us. I think

that’s why you see more and more men barbecuing. It’s a

macho thing. Playing with fire and being outdoors, bragging

about how good you cook, it’s got all the macho rush to it

without any of the violence.’ This argument neatly forgets

the existence of cave women, as well as the long tradition

of female involvement in home butchering and the roasting

of meat. It reflects a cultural dichotomy between indoor and

outdoor space in which the former is coded as female and

the latter as male. This is a relatively recent construction that

is specific to societies in which industrialization occurred

during the nineteenth century.

When household production was replaced with large-scale

manufacturing of consumer goods, domestic space in these

societies – the United States and England primary among


them – took on a new character. Instead of being a place of

productive busyness and its concomitant mess, the home (if

only in ideology) became a serene sanctuary managed by

passionless females. The temple of the home did not include

animal sacrifice, and in America barbecue, because it had to be

done outdoors, became an exclusively male business. Because

it was so often served at political gatherings, also forbidden

to ‘respectable’ ladies of the late nineteenth century, barbe-

cue emitted an even more masculine odour amid the smoke.

In the film version of Gone With the Wind (), set around the

time of the .. Civil War, Scarlett O’Hara is urged by Mammy,

the enslaved woman who dresses her, to eat something before

she goes to a local barbecue so that she may maintain her

femininity. When Scarlett says ‘I will do my eating at the bar-

becue’, Mammy responds, ‘Well if you don’t care what folks

says about this family, I does!’ While it had become accept-

able in the mid-nineteenth century South for a woman to

attend an event at which smoked meat was the centrepiece, it

was still taboo for her to tuck in with gusto.

While these new gender norms explain the twentieth-

century association of men with outdoor meat cookery, a

likely explanation for the older association of men with

barbe cue is that in most traditional, non-herding societies,

men have been hunters, responsible for the animal protein

in a community’s diet. Because this protein was a sporadic

rather than a constant element in the diet, it held a special

status. Meat, in other words, was power. Thus the provider of

the meat might well have also become its preparer, preserv –

ing the connection to the meat that made him important

to his community.

In many cases, too, meat has had to be cooked quickly so

that it will last for the length of a journey from hunting ground

to home. Smoke and drying, as discussed in chapter One, have


long proved excellent tools for preservation. In this case, men

barbecued meat because men caught meat, and they did so

in the company of other men. They might eat their smoked

meat with women and children once it had been trans ported

back to a settlement, and preserved meat might be used by

women in compound dishes, but the first cooking process

was often male. As the American Studies scholar Elizabeth

Englehardt writes, ‘For many, the symbols of barbecue’s

masculinity – cowboy imagery, hunting metaphors and unaf-

fected food presentation are indistinguishable from barbecue

itself. ’ Thus to be ‘authentic’, that most chimerical of edible proper ties, barbecue has to be masculine.

In ancient Northern Europe, barbecued meats were often

reserved for warriors, probably because of the time and fuel

commitment they required, or perhaps because they tend to

be large pieces of hacked flesh, reminiscent of the battle –

field. In the great Irish epic Bricriu’s Feast, for example, Bricriu

attempts to stir up trouble among local kings by secretly

promising each the ‘champion’s portion’ at a feast he has pre-

pared for them. The heroes of the land were expected to fight

to the death over ‘a caldron of full generous wine’, a seven-

year-old boar raised on a special diet of milk, nuts and broth,

and a ‘cow-lord full seven-year-old’ fed on sweet milk and

herbs. Given the sizes of these beasts and Celtic culinary trad –

ition, we can assume that spit roasting rather than stewing

would have been the cooking method and the resultant bar-

becue flavour would thus have been worth risking life and

limb for.

In Papua New Guinea barbecue has also been associated

with warfare. Among the Iatmul people, when one village

engaged in warfare with another, ‘the [returning] warrior

staged a pig feast inside the cult house in order to evade the

wrath of his victim’s ghost.’ At this feast, the warrior was


‘specifically obligated to feed men of other descent groups’,

rather than his own people, and to abstain from eating any

food himself. The ritual served as a kind of rebalancing be –

tween men and the powerful spirits believed to manage human

affairs. The meal itself would be prepared in the trad itional

manner, with the pig roasted in a pit lined with banana leaves.

Because the pig feast was so closely connected with the mas-

culine role of warfare, modern-day Papuans, generally at peace

with their neighbours, stage mock battles in order to justify

the meal.

Barbecue was also associated with the less violent compe –

tition between men that was the ancient Greek Olympics. As

portrayed in illustrations found on ancient vases, athletes

roasted meat every day of the Games by holding it on stakes

over altar flames.The sacrifice was made in order to win the

favour of the gods for the day’s events. While the athletes

them selves enjoyed the flesh, the gods savoured the essence

of barbecue – the smoke. Demigods, too, enjoyed barbecue,

although they managed to sink their teeth into the flesh.

According to Greek mythology, that most manly of men,

Hercules (or Herakles), was once entertained by the centaur

Pholos, who ‘set before his guest roast meat, though he

himself fared on it raw.’ When Hercules talked his host into

opening some of the special wine of the Centaurs to wash

down his barbecue, all hell broke loose; the famous hero

had to fight his way out with the use of poisoned arrows,

accidentally killing his host in the process.

Victory banquets for Olympic athletes, popular historian

of the Games Tony Perrottet explains, ‘existed as a domain

of male pleasure’ at which the only women welcome were

prostitutes hired as entertainment. Rules existed concerning

how many fingers, and which ones, could be used ‘for each

type of food and its quantity’. The barbecued meats served


at the victory banquets included ‘roasted sow’s womb . . . veal

kebabs . . . and freshly killed boars, stags, and gazelles from the

surrounding mountains’, which were presumably spit roasted

in the traditional Greek style.

In ancient Greece barbecue could soothe men’s grief as

well as accentuating their joy in victory. When Achilles mourned

his friend and fellow soldier Patroclus, other warriors ‘feasted

them with an abundant funeral banquet’. According to the

Iliad, ‘many a goodly ox, with many a sheep and bleating goat

did they butcher and cut up; many a tusked boar, moreover,

fat and well-fed did they singe’, thereby removing its hair, ‘and

set to roast in the flames of Vulcan’. To underscore the con-

nections between warfare and barbecue, two male domains in

Greek culture, Homer noted in Book  that while these

preparations were going on, ‘rivulets of blood flowed all

around the place where the body was lying’.

Although Westerners have long imagined Hawaiian luau

feasts to be the sort of bacchanalia at which inhibitions

between men and women can break down, leading to romance,

Hawaiian pig feasts were traditionally only attended by men.

Before Europeans arrived in the Pacific in significant numbers

and began to influence Polynesian cultures, Hawaiians ob –

served food taboos that included gender segregation during

meals and a strict prohibition against women eating pork.

According to food historian Kaori O’Connor, before Hawaii

became a destination for Western tourists in the nineteenth

century, ‘Hawaiian eating and feasting were part of a culinary

culture linked to religion.’ Feasts were supposed to feed the

gods, not the people, although men performed the actual

mastication. Food was first laid in the mouths of large statues of the gods and then eaten by priests and other important men.

Although the kalua pig and packets of food steamed in ti leaves

were no doubt delicious, divine rather than human pleasure was


Hares roasting the hunter! German ornamental engraving, c. ‒.

the focus of the feast. Only men were considered important

enough to preside over this interaction with the sacred. When

Hawaiians adopted Western traditions they set aside some of

their food taboos, including the rule that men and women

could not eat together. As the native people of the islands

adopted Christianity, the need to feed the traditional gods

became less vital, but the tradition of pit roasting pigs was

clearly too good to give up and the luau became a more sec-

ular pleasure, employed to celebrate important events in

human lives.

Sometimes barbecue has been an all-male event not for

religious reasons but because of gendered divisions of work.

The gauchos of South America, for example, men who herd

cattle across vast distances, have traditionally been male.

While their main employment was always to move cattle from

one place to another, that other place sometimes turned out

to be their own bellies. In , Francis Ignacio Rickard pub-

lished his account of a journey across the Andes, telling of

one evening when he and his servant ate ‘the genuine asado

of the gaucho’ spit roasted near a fire. Rickard offered the standard assessment of barbecue as delectably savage when

he announced, ‘I must say for a piece of “Gaucho” roast-beef

I would most willingly give up the best dish that was ever

placed on the table d’hôte at the Hôtel du Louvre in Paris. ’


In , when the American newspaper man William

Dickson Boyce wrote about his travels in Argentina, he ex –

panded on the theme of the gaucho’s masculinity. Aside from

a simple stew and the asado, the gaucho ‘knows no other way

of cooking’, being nearly undomesticated by the standards

of Boyce’s time. Notable for his endurance of hunger, when the gaucho ate, Boyce claimed, ‘he eats inordinately large

quantities of meat’, exhibiting a lack of delicacy and a love of

flesh that Boyce’s culture associated with manliness. To put

the finishing touches on his portrait of a thoroughly mas –

culine man, Boyce added this colourful touch: ‘His sole

weapon of offense and defense is the same long knife with

which he cuts off his chunk of asado.’ The reader is left to imag –

ine that the blood of an enemy might serve as the gaucho’s

barbecue sauce.

Barbecuing as a male activity has a long history in North

America. While most food in Native American communities

was cooked by women, meat or fish caught at a distance from

a village was sometimes smoke-roasted in order to preserve

it for the journey home. As the American writer Nelson

Algren stated,

broiling was accomplished by putting meat on the end of

a pointed stick and holding it over a fire. When the hunter


A member of the

Union army Zoave

battal ion during the

.. Civil War roasts

wild animals for

‘extra rations’, ,


cut a smooth stick and thrust it through the body of the

bird or animal he had killed, he could rest the two ends

of the stick on stones and roast the meat over coals . . .

the barbecue was adapted by the white buffalo hunters

from the Indian methods of barbecuing.

The American ethnographer George Thornton Emmons,

who travelled in the Northwest in the s and ’s, wrote,

I have seen Chilkat hunting parties cook goat meat by

putting it in a hole dug under the fire after it had died

down. The hole was lined with skunk cabbage leaves and

the meat was covered with leaves and ashes. Then hot


coals were hauled over the pit and the fire was rebuilt

with heavy logs and left until morning.

The technique described is similar to Polynesian pig roast-

ing, but while Polynesian men roasted as a religious rite, the

Chilkat men roasted as part of their role as hunters. Perform –

ing the traditionally male work of barbecuing can give Native

American men a feeling of connection with traditional roles

and ancestors. One Tlingit man, plank-baking salmon in

modern-day America, noted, ‘Every salmon bake I do, I get

butterflies . . . To a lot of people, it’s another day. To me, this

is a ceremony. ’

As Algren noted, European settlers in America adapted

barbecue to their own social needs, using it to feed large gath-

erings of people. The raucousness of such events was satirized

by the eighteenth-century American playwright Robert

Munford in his unpublished drama The Candidates; or, the

Humors of a Virginia Election. At a campaign barbecue three

characters become so drunk that two – a man and a woman

to whom he is not married – pass out. The woman’s husband

plays a cruel trick on his wife and friend by dragging her body

on top of the other man’s. When she awakes she will assume

her virtue has been compromised. Munford seems to be sug-

gesting that the combination of barbecue and politics brings

out the worst in people.  In the popular book Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, later adapted into a film, author

Fannie Flagg offered a twist on this notion. Barbecue is used

to dispose of the savagely abusive husband of one of the

story’s heroines. When the man is found to be missing, a detec-

tive arrives at the barbecue restaurant where his wife works,

only to enjoy five platefuls of the man he is attempting to find.

It was not until universal white male suffrage involved

all classes of white men in the political process in the .. in


the s that barbecue began to play a big role in political

campaigns. Writing at the end of the nineteenth century, the

Methodist preacher Louis Albert Banks recalled the political

barbecues of his childhood in Oregon: ‘Instead of taking up

collection of money for campaign purposes, the political

committees would go about through the neighborhood and

get donations of fat steers and sheep and hogs.’ At the site

of the planned barbecue, the animals were butchered and

hung up while

a long trench was dug in which a big fire was kept burn-

ing for many hours and about midnight before the day

of the meeting the animals were put whole in this trench

over the glowing coals. They were skewered with long

green poles, and very carefully looked after for about

twelve hours until they were thoroughly cooked. 

Not only the collection of money but the care taken over the

meat would have been men’s work, since women were com-

monly assumed to be in danger of corruption if they handled

money or lingered too long in public at night. In Southern

communities African American men usually performed the

work of cooking at large public barbecues. In a story by Arthur

Firmin Jack about a political barbecue in Georgia at the end

of the nineteenth century, ‘Negroes, stationed at the pits,

were busily occupied and sweating, in basting the carcasses,

which work had been proceeding slowly, constantly, and

carefully for many hours, as it must be up to standard ’cue

quality.’ Thus while barbecue was a source of pride for whites

– Jack notes that ‘Georgia is the state for ’cues (though a

Kentuckian will tell you differently)’ – it was often the work

of African Americans, who used the relatively high value

placed on this work to earn money by establishing their own


The Grand Army of the Republic veterans’ barbecue, c. , stereopticon slide.

eating places. Southern chef Jason Sheehan claims, ‘There were

dining rooms, backyards, and roadhouse juke joints in the

South that were integrated long before any other public

places.’ On the other hand, some barbecue joints remained

segregated even after civil rights legislation made this illegal.

While a barbecue joint could unite people in pleasure, it could

also be a battleground.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s famous novel Their Eyes Were

Watching God (), the residents of an all-black town in

Florida prepare a barbecue to celebrate their greatest moment

of civic achievement when the first lamp post is lighted on

a public street. Considering what will be appropriate to the

occasion, the mayor declares, ‘’Tain’t nothing people lak

better ’n barbecue. Ah’ll give one whole hawg mah ownself.’

The women of town are asked to make the pies and ‘That’s

the way it went, too. The women got together the sweets and

the men looked after the meats.’ When the lamp was finally

lit, the crowd sang a hymn, ‘over and over until it was wrung

dry . . . Then they hushed and ate barbecue.’ The implica-

tions of barbecue’s divinity are clear – it is the first thing you

put into a mouth made holy by singing hymns.


The food historian Andrew Warnes argues that barbecue’s

reputation as the opposite of refinement actually made it an

attractive food for political campaigns, especially in the case

of Andrew Jackson, one of the first presidential candidates

to benefit from expanded suffrage. Warnes writes, ‘White

Americans grasped that there was in Jackson’s harnessing

of the campaign barbecue a declaration that his was the

“savage” ticket, the “cannibal” ticket that could be set against

the urbane refinements of John Quincy Adams.’ While all

politicians might offer campaign barbecues, Warne suggests,

only Jackson embodied the technique’s masculinity.

One historian describes the entire political process of

late nineteenth-century America as ‘the Great Barbecue’.

Vernon Parrington asks, ‘to a frontier people what was more

democratic than a barbecue [?]’ But this seemingly egali –

tarian feast, Parrington argued, was functionally unfair, as

‘the waiters saw to it that the choicest portions were served

to favored guests’, while others less influential were served

Political cartoon featuring a brick barbecue with a politician (Andrew Jackson)

on the grill, .


only scraps.  Unfortunately for barbecue fans, the era has generally been known by the less culinary term invented by

Parrington’s contemporary Mark Twain – the Gilded Age.

Some American politicians became so attached to cam-

paign barbecues that they continued to throw them even after

they were elected. Lyndon B. Johnson notably used barbe-

cues throughout his political career to draw people close to

him. The historian Hal Rothman notes that ‘During his years

as senator and vice-president, Johnson had used barbecues

to accent his regional identity’ as a Texan who could claim both

Southern and Western connections.  His first state dinner

was in fact a barbecue in Texas, to which he invited the West

German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard. Rather than manning

the grill himself, Johnson relied on the talents of renowned

pit master Walter Jetton, who favoured an above-ground pit

constructed from building blocks and topped with a mesh

grill. Although she spent little time at the grill or in the

kitchen, Johnson’s wife ‘Lady Bird’ freely shared her recipe

for barbecue sauce, which included butter, catsup, lemon

juice, Worcestershire sauce and vinegar.

For the Johnsons, barbecue was much more than a way to

feed large crowds. It helped to differentiate them from the

distinctly high-culture style of the Kennedys, who had pre –

ceded them in the White House. It also allowed Johnson to lend

a mood of informality to what were ordinarily stuffy events.

This unique kind of power play, slow-smoked and tangy, was

dubbed ‘barbecue diplomacy’ by a reporter for the New York


Rothman recounts that Johnson once threw an im promptu

barbecue for the travelling press corps, who at the time were

predominantly male, at his home in Texas. The invitation read:

‘In view of the poor physical condition of the Fourth Estate,

the President and Mrs Johnson invite the travelling press to a


President Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey at a barbecue, .

barbecue.’ Reflecting on their itinerant, anti-domestic lifestyles, the invitation reflected common assumptions both about men’s

inability to feed themselves, and about the appro priateness of

barbecue for such a nomadic pack.

Texans celebrated another semi-nomadic pack in 

when a giant indoor barbecue was held to honour the astro-

nauts of the ’s Project Mercury mission. Perhaps the event

was meant to connect astronauts to the Texan history of the

cowboy, who also journeyed far from home into uninhabited

places, or perhaps it was just the sine qua non of Texas hospital-

ity. In a memorable scene from The Right Stuff (), Tom

Wolfe recounts how ten barbecue pits had been dug in the

Sam Houston Coliseum to feed the , people attending

the event: ‘Great cow carcasses sizzled and popped and the

smoke of the burning meat was wafted here and there in the

chilly currents of the air conditioning. Only the extreme cold

kept you from throwing up.’ For Wolfe, this kind of barbecue

represented American excess rather than nature’s bounty or

frontier spirit.

As food historian Charles Perry recounts, southern Cali-

fornians also have a history of making barbecues big events.

Adopting and adapting a Mexican tradition, late nineteenth-

and early twentieth-century Angelenos threw bulls’ head

barbecue breakfasts. Various meats were served at these, but

a steer’s head was the main attraction. According to Perry, the

events represented an attempt on the part of white Angelenos

to invent traditions for themselves in the region by recreating

the feasting style of the first Spanish settlers of the area. Perry

posits that interest in these mass events waned as Los Angeles

developed a culture more focused on movies and their stars

than on reliving the Mexican/Spanish past of the region.

M.F.K. Fisher, one of America’s most famous food writ-

ers, recalled attending a barbecue in her Southern California


Making barbecue sandwiches at the free barbecue on Labor Day, Ridgway, Colorado, .

A s edition of the Big Boy Barbecue Book.

Men eating barbecue in Pie Town, New Mexico, .

youth that strove, like those Perry describes, to recreate a

mythologized Spanish past. She was

taken to a big barbecue . . . to benefit something like the

new Elks Club. It was the most authentic I have gone to,

I think, in real, early-California style, with long board

tables . . . and a big pit where two whole steers had been

roasting all night.

The event, she recalled

would have been all-white, with only the cooks at pitside

the real Mexicans. And where was the music? What good


is a real old-fashioned barbecue without at least a couple of

guitars and maybe a cornet, to sob it up on ‘La Paloma’?

For Fisher, even slow-roasted meat was not sufficient unless

flavoured with both traditional music and a spirit of inclusion.

While frequently recognized as keepers of ancient culi-

nary traditions, barbecue chefs are also often portrayed as

idiosyncratic in the behaviour they demand of diners. In John

Grisham’s legal thriller A Time to Kill (), for instance,

customers are given exactly twenty minutes to eat and leave

in order to keep business at Claude’s, a fictional barbecue

restaurant, moving. When reporters for the New York Times

visit and request chef ’s salads, the restaurant’s owner ‘cursed

them, and told them to eat barbecue or leave’. In the Kansas

City novel Thin Blue Smoke () by Doug Worgul, customer

choices are similarly limited by an autocratic owner-genius

who refuses to serve french fries and insists on keeping his

grandmother’s recipe for vinegar pie on the menu.

Sometimes decor expresses the quirkiness of a barbecue

master. In a loving tribute to Kansas City’s famous Arthur

Bryant’s, Calvin Trillin wrote that the original location ‘has

no decorations beyond an eye chart’, not the obvious choice

in restaurant beautification. John Steinbeck wrote of a char-

acter who invited large crowds to his farm for a barbecue:

Raymond was grilling little chickens while a group of

admiring men stood about . . . ‘If any of you can do it

better, step right up,’ Raymond shouted at them. ‘I’m

going to put on the steaks for anyone that’s crazy enough

not to want chicken.’

Marking the consumer as the outsider seems to be a partic-

ular talent of the barbecue chef.


In the .. in the late s and ’s the privilege of throw ing a barbecue (and making up your own rules about

it) suddenly and significantly passed from the exclusive realm

of the bankrolled politician to the average Joe. The  Bill

that enabled soldiers returning from the Second World War

to buy their own homes had a profound impact on barbe –

cue culture in America, and thus on masculinity. From the

early beginnings of the industrial revolution until the post-

war era of the s and ’s, middle-class Americans had

participated in gender-segregated socialization. Men spent

their leisure time with other men and women spent theirs

with children or other women. Once military veterans began

to be able to buy single-family homes, however, this all

changed. Because these homes tended to be in newly built

suburbs, at a distance from the traditional male gathering

places such as the urban saloon, men found themselves at

home more often.

The new ideal in domestic architecture included a large

lawn, providing families with a new kind of semi-public dom –

estic space. Guests could be invited over but not into the

home, easing the acquisition of more acquaintances with-

out demanding potentially stressful intimacy. The backyard

became a space for social engagements where children

could play unsupervised and all could relax – the hostess not

worried what guests would think of her undusted corners

and the guests not worried what the hostess would think of

their unpolished manners. To complete the backyard’s safely

uncivilized atmosphere, barbecue provided a combination

of food and entertainment. Men who had been socialized

to be uncomfortable in formal gatherings could play at ‘sav-

agery’ by using flames to cook meat and bare hands to eat

it. This trend produced a whole new market for barbecue

tools and created a new masculinity for the middle class. The


new ideal was a controlled but not disempowered manhood,

kept tidily in check from Monday to Friday and let gently

loose on the weekends to stand in front of a grill, flipping

meat with a spatula.



Poles, Holes, Racks and Ovens:

The Technology of Barbecue

Barbecue probably has such a long history because it requires

so little technology to produce so much flavour. Nonetheless,

over time humans have developed tools to help the process

along or to adapt it to smaller spaces. This chapter explores

the wide range of barbecue tools that have been developed

around the world and through the ages. The chapter is organ-

ized around the primary methods of barbecuing – poles (spits

and stakes), holes (pits), racks and ovens – with the under-

standing that there is much overlap in methods. Sometimes

it takes both spit and pit to do the job well.


In the famously controversial Peter Greenaway film The

Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (), a murdered man

is spit roasted and served to his killer as a form of revenge. We

prefer barbecue.

One of the least technologically demanding methods of

barbecuing uses poles to hold meat at a distance from fire.

Spits and stakes hold meats either vertically or horizontally

above or next to the fire. It is also common in spit and stake


Pieter Aertsen,

The Cook, ,

oil on canvas.

Note the spitted


cooking for some kind of rotation to occur. Vertical stakes

may be turned upside down at regular intervals and horizontal

spits are generally turned. One example of stake barbecuing

is the Argentine asado, which is practised particularly in the

Patagonian region of Argentina. In an asado large pieces of

meat are pounded flat and tied to cross-shaped stakes – asadors

– that ring a fire pit. These pits are shallow hollows rather

than the deeper trenches used in pit barbecue. In some cases

meats are skewered rather than being tied to stakes. This

method became more practical once heavier metals were


Samuel De Wilde, British Cookery or ‘Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire’, , etching.

introduced after the arrival of Europeans in the Americas: it

would, for example, probably be easier to stick a sharpened

metal stake through the carcass of a deer than a wooden stake,

simply because the metal stake would not be at risk of break-

ing in the process. Metal skewers would also hold up to the

heat of a fire pit better than would wooden poles. And if

metal skewers were heated ahead of time, they could work

to cook large pieces of meat from the inside. However,

wooden stakes seem to have served for hundreds of years to

hold meat close to a flame for long periods of time until it was

perfectly cooked, and they were certainly easier to transport

or cut fresh each time, making it possible to enjoy barbecue

while on the hunt for more.

The journalist Bob Shacochis, writing about a visit to

Buenos Aires, describes the ‘most unusual gastronomic tab –

leau’ when asado comes indoors, ‘behind glass but a campfire


Planked salmon at a salmon cookout.

nonetheless’. Shacochis encountered a restaurant with an

indoor fire pit:

encircling the flames are the sizzling carcasses of per-

haps a dozen sheep, each crucified on an asador . . . the

legs of the animals splayed outward, mounted like grisly

butterflies, succulent pennants of roasting flesh, golden

and greasy.

Typically asadors hold meats perpendicular to the ground but

tilted in towards the flame, so that they can benefit from heat

without being singed.

Native North Americans became world famous for their

barbecuing techniques once Europeans had tasted the results

of planking, a common way of cooking salmon in the Pacific

Northwest. All kinds of fish and game were cooked using this

method, which was similar to the South American asado, except

that in planking the stakes play more of a role in flavouring


the meat. Fish were split and fastened to a wet cedar plank,

then placed at a -degree angle to a fire. The plank was turned

upside down at regular intervals to make sure that the meat

cooked evenly. Planking imparts a smoked wood flavour to

the food. It became very popular as a method of cooking

shad, an Atlantic coast fish, in the nineteenth century, al –

though shad was usually planked on oak rather than cedar.

In her famous Boston Cooking-school Cook Book (), Fannie

Farmer offered a recipe for planked shad and noted that

‘the Planked Whitefish of the Great Lakes has gained much

favor. ’ In , the cookbook author Edith Thomas was

merely repeating what others had been saying for nearly 

years when she averred, ‘After eating planked shad, no one

will wish to serve it in any other manner. ’ Farmer and Thomas, how ever, both being ladies, baked their planked fish in

ovens rather than roasting them around an open fire. They

probably also transferred the fish to plates in order to serve

it and certainly discouraged eating it with one’s hands, the

traditional method.

The nineteenth-century essayist Charles Lamb in his

A Dissertation upon Roast Pork identified the lack of eating uten-

sils as the most important feature in the discovery of barbecue.

Long ago in China, Lamb wrote, a dull witted young man

named Bo-Bo allowed his father’s house to catch fire. All nine

of the piglets in the house were burned to death. In trying to

remove them from the wreckage, Bo-Bo touched the meat,

found it very hot, put his fingers in his mouth to cool them

down, and discovered the glory of crackling. If Bo-Bo had used

a pitchfork or any other implement to move the carcasses, the

story suggests, the world would never have known char siu,

the world-famous Cantonese barbecued pork.

Lamb’s humorous history describes the later introduc-

tion of string and spit roasting, which in his version saved


the people of China from having constantly to burn down

and rebuild their homes for the sake of roast pork. Like the

jointed mutton of the traditional barbacoa, char siu is often

cooked in pieces rather than whole, with strips of meat clus-

tered together so that each piece helps to baste the others.

Whole ducks, chickens and geese may also be cooked in the

same method, which is generally known as siu mei. Siu mei

cooking involves glazing meat with a soy sauce, honey and

spice mixture before either hanging the meat on a hook or

skewering it. Siu mei meats are cooked in very large ovens so

that heat gets to all parts of the meat at the same time. In con-

temporary China the heat for these ovens, which resemble

metal smoke houses and are sometimes described as giant

rotisseries, comes from charcoal or even gas burners. In the

past the fires would have been stoked with wood. To achieve

the traditional pink colour once produced by wood smok-

ing, modern char siu cooks often resort to the use of red food

colouring. Because the equipment required to cook in this

Thomas Bewick,

engraving of a

monkey roasting

a chicken on

a vertical spit,

c. .


style is beyond most families’ means and lacks practicality for

everyday use, char siu and other meats prepared in this style

are generally take-out food. Siu mei shops all over the world

display their shining wares in large windows. Char siu pork is

often used as the stuffing for soft buns that serve as snacks

and provide a cheaper way to enjoy the treat. The American

equivalent is the pulled pork sandwich, also a pile of smoked

pig, usually with tangy and sweet sauce, served on, rather than

in, a soft roll.

Like Chinese meat roasting, European barbecue often

took place indoors. Spit roasting, also known as rotisserie,

was a common cooking method in large and affluent house-

holds. Heavy metal spits were set up in huge open fireplaces

and spit boys were employed to turn them. Any juices that

dripped into a waiting pan were used to baste the meat. Spits

could be horiz ontal or vertical, making it possible to roast

several different kinds of meat simultaneously in one fire-

place. A fifteenth-century author of a book detailing the

requirements of a prince’s kitchen recommended a stunning

supply of spit roasting gear:

Twenty rotisseries, with turning mechanisms and irons for

holding the spits. And one should definitely not trust wood-

en spits, because they will rot and you could lose all your

meat, but you should have one hundred and twenty iron

spits which are strong and are thirteen feet in length; and

there should be other spits, three dozen which are of the

aforesaid length but not so thick, to roast poultry, little

piglets, and river fowl.

This writer, known as Maistre Chiquart, gave directions

for a bit of barbecue hijinks that hosts (with the help of their

cooks) might enjoy: ‘take a large fat goose, and spit it well and


put it to roast and . . . recloth it in the plumage of the peacock and put it in the place where the peacock should be set. ’ The peacock, too, would be spit roasted, but not served in his usual

place and not dressed in his usual feathers. Rotisserie has since

become somewhat less elaborate, as electric heat sources have

made it possible for individual families to roast whole chickens

at home. Commercially produced rotisserie chicken is popular

and widely available in many parts of the world. Its advan-

tage over that produced at home is that the many chickens

that are roasted together baste each other. In some American

barbecue restaurants large wood-fired rotisserie ovens are

used to roast a variety of meats together, taking advantage of

gravity to keep them basted with a rich variety of juices.


Another simple method requiring little in the way of special-

ized tools is the pit roast, as practised by Polynesians for many

centuries. This is the style of cooking featured in luaus, those

famous feasts popularized internationally in the s by the

American restaurateur Victor Bergeron Jr, better known as

‘Trader Vic’. Pit cooking uses a controllable fire and means

that cooks and their friends do not have to be so close to the

intense heat of the flame – an especially important advantage

in the warm climates where this style predominates.

In an article in Boy’s Life magazine in , the writer

James English portrayed a luau from a mainland American’s

perspective. English described the digging of an imu pit ‘large

enough to hold easily the entire pig we were to kalua’. Imu is

the Hawaiian word for an underground oven or cooking pit,

and kalua the traditional term for cooking in an imu. Once the

pit had been dug, ‘a hot fire of coconut husks and algaroba


wood’ was kindled under a layer of volcanic rocks. Once the

fire had heated the rocks sufficiently, coals were removed from

the pit. The pig was then ‘slit inside the legs and under the

jaw’ and ‘these slits were filled with ‘Hawaiian salt [coarse rock

salt] and then hot rocks from the fire were placed inside the

pig’. Using the preheated rocks as a cooking tool, Hawaiians

were able to cook the pig from the inside out as well as from

the outside in.

Leaves of the native ti plant, which are broad and strong,

were used to tie the legs of the pig together. The luau that

James English attended used some modern Western technol-

ogy to ease the lowering and lifting of the pig into and out

of the pit. Once tied, ‘the pig was placed on a matting of

banana and ti leaves which covered a piece of chicken wire’.

Before chicken wire became available, however, Hawaiians

simply used long poles to lower and lift pigs from the imu. The

purpose of setting the pig on the leaves, English noted, was

‘to keep the pig off the hot rocks and also to provide mois-

ture’ so that the meat neither burned nor dried out. Too wise

to waste such a useful source of heat, Hawaiian cooks trad –

itionally placed other kinds of food in the pit with the pig,

wrapped in ti leaf packets. Here the ti leaves acted as steamers,

much like the parchment paper packets used in contemporary

home cooking.

Once all the food to be cooked had been placed in the

pit, ‘burlap sacks’ – or in the old days, just more leaves – ‘were

placed over the chicken wire both to keep the heat in and to

keep the dirt out’ before the pit was refilled. A careful check

of the site to make sure that no smoke was escaping was all

that was needed. ‘Once this was done no more heed need be

paid to our dinner for a couple of hours.’

In describing luaus mainland Americans always noted the

lack of utensils used in eating the many kinds of food supplied.


If there is one thing the United States takes seriously (outside of sports), it’s barbecue. Different in every region, barbecuing is an art, and Americans take pride in their special blend of slow-cooked meat, spices, and tangy sauces. But the US didn’t invent the cooking form, nor do Americans have a monopoly on it—from Mongolian lamb to Fijian pig and Chinese char siu, barbecue’s endless variations have circled the globe. In this history of this red-blooded pursuit, Jonathan Deutsch and Megan J. Elias explore the first barbecues of ancient Africa, the Arawak origins of the word, and define what it actually is.

Traveling to New Zealand for the Maori’s hangi, Hawaii for kalua pig, Mexico for barbacoa de cabeza, and Spain for a taste of bull roast, Barbecue looks at the incredible variety of the food around the world. Deutsch and Elias also discuss barbecue’s status as a masculine activity, the evolution of cooking techniques and barbecuing equipment technology, and the growth of competitive barbecuing in the United States. Rounding out the book are mouthwatering recipes, including an 1877 Minneapolis recipe for a whole roast sheep, a 1942 pork spare ribs recipe from the Ozarks, and instructions for tandoori lamb chops and Chinese roast duck. A celebration of all things smoky, meaty, and delicious, Barbecue makes the perfect gift for backyard grillers and professional roasters.


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