A couple of weeks ago I had an enthusiastic discussion with a few Salemites on Twitter about "what is BBQ" so I thought I'd expand on that a bit. I'll try to present this as a short etymological discussion, and leave my own personal viewpoint out. There's no way I'll succeed though. I just love barbecue too much.
The origin of the word "barbecue" comes from the word "barbacoa" which is, in general, a form of cooking meat with fire -- all uses and forms of the words BBQ/barbecue/barbeque/Bar-B-Que, etc., started there. And much like a good swear-word, the word "barbecue" has evolved to something that can be used as several different parts of speech and quite creatively:
verb - "I'm barbecuing this here pork butt today."
adjective - "You can't call that 'barbecue ribs' if you cooked them in the oven dammit."
noun - "My barbecue turned out poorly, I should have used beef."
adverb - "My tri-tip was barbecued to perfection."
And it's used to mean several different things:
Equipment for cooking: "This is my charcoal barbecue."
Method of cooking: "I am barbecuing using hickory today."
What I'm Eating: "This barbecue is the best I've ever had."
A Cookout: "I'm going to a barbecue this afternoon. We're having brisket."
If you're in the south (or the Barbecue Belt), the most widely accepted use is referencing the meat itself -- specifically, it's meat cooked using indirect heat and smoke. If you're here in the Northwest, you'll hear 'barbecue' used in virtually every way, but most commonly to describe a cookout (calling a 'cookout' a 'barbecue' in the south could be bad for your health), or to describe the process for cooking hamburgers - which is actually grilling. Grilling is not Barbecuing. If you're cooking hamburgers or hot dogs, there's a 99.9% likelihood that it's not barbecue. On that note, barbecue sauce is a sauce used to put on your barbecued meat -- however, putting barbecue sauce on your grilled meat will not magically transform it into barbecue any more than putting barbecue sauce on a piece of cat sh*t would.
Regardless, you can continue to use the word "barbecue" however you want. Here's my own personal viewpoint - to use the word "barbecue," here's what needs to be involved:
- Meat. Sorry, this is non-negotiable.
- Indirect heat.
- Slow and Low, i.e., low temperatures and long cooking times.
And if you don't have barbecue, what have you got?
It's National BBQ Month. Go get a hunk of meat and cook it with some fire.