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The History of American BBQ

From BBQ Competitions to BBQ Catering: How BBQ Earned its Place in American Culture

Are you a smoked meat aficionado? Weekend BBQ king or queen? Or just a casual barbecue fan? No matter what brought you here, we probably have one thing in common - our love of barbecue!

Cooking meat over a fire is a human pastime that is almost as old as the human species itself, so when you look at it that way, it’s no surprise that we’ve found a way to perfect the craft over time.

Barbecue, as we think of it today, originates from the Caribbean. However, in its evolution as a cooking style, hobby, and general social phenomenon, barbecue in this country has become as American as the Statue of Liberty.

As a food option, it now boasts a range of different flavors and styles and offers its own regional variations that people love in the U.S. and all over the world. But, after all these years, which style is the best BBQ near you? And how did BBQ wedding catering in Bloomington, IL, ultimately get its start?

A Little History Lesson on BBQ

When Spanish explorers made their way across the Atlantic Ocean in search of the new world, they landed in the Caribbean, where they found indigenous Taino-Arawak people cooking their meat over an indirect flame. Their method involved using green wood as a buffer to avoid directly burning the meat. In this method, the meat could then cook slowly and fully, producing meat that is tender, juicy and cooked all the way through. Using the indigenous name, barbacoa, the Spanish explorers, led by Christopher Columbus, learned this cooking technique and brought it with them to Mississippi and all the way to Virginia.

By 1540, there are records of barbecued meals in what is now known as Mississippi. Early barbecuers perfected their method by using pork. The reason for this is far more interesting than just choosing the best tasting meat around! Early settlers in the South found pigs to be the most convenient and easiest to keep of all livestock. While cows required specific food and large spaces to graze, pigs would eat anything, didn’t need much land, and could be kept in enclosed spaces.

By the time the Civil War was dawning, Southerners ate five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef, and between the ability to raise pigs cheaply and perfecting the skill of slow-cooking pork, it was one of the most widespread and popular methods around.

The popularity of barbecuing pork had started to be cemented in early American culture, and it was around this time that the technique spread to other areas of colonial America.

Since then, we’ve seen a sprawling variation of altered techniques, new spices, and the preparation of other meat, as well as a proliferation of BBQ catering companies to meet popular demand for weddings and other special events.

North and South Carolina BBQ

Both North and South Carolina have their own developed BBQ traditions. As a prime example of a BBQ culture that built up from its historic southern BBQ roots, Carolina-style BBQ is known for its pork, smoked slowly and low over the fire.

North Carolina BBQ uses a sweet and spicy vinegar-based barbecue sauce and includes cooking whole hogs on the smoker. South Carolina also uses the whole pig on the smoker, but is more famous for popularizing the original pulled pork sandwich.

Memphis BBQ

Just like its southern cousins in the Carolinas, Memphis BBQ is big on the pork. Famously, Memphis has perfected using every part of the pig, offering up ribs, pulled pork, pork shoulder, and other smoky specialties, all using delightfully rich flavors.

“Dry” BBQ is meat that’s rubbed with spices like garlic and paprika, whereas “wet” Memphis BBQ means the meat is continually slathered with sauce during the smoking process.

The marinades are another factor that make Memphis BBQ unique. Common flavors consist of apple cider vinegar, spices and carbonated drinks, such as apple cider, beer, and even Coke. The intention of this is to produce a sweet, savory, and tangy sauce, balanced with tomato, onion, garlic, and mustard flavors.

Texas BBQ

The BBQ cuisine of Texas varies by region. Central and western Texas are famous for mesquite BBQ, a bold, smoky taste that pairs well with most meats. Central Texas specifically is big on dry rubbing meat to create a light crust that locks in juiciness - all the better to enjoy the regional specials of smoked brisket, pork ribs, and hot gut sausages.

East Texas is known for tomato-based sauce and hickory flavors. Specializing in tender meat right off the bone, the regional specialty here is chopped pork and beef sandwiches deliciously served with pickles.

South Texas takes BBQ back to its original roots by favoring a “barbacoa” style as influenced by America’s original barbecuers. They also favor a molasses-based sauce that is rich, sweet, and sticks to meat well.

Kansas City BBQ

Last but not least is Kansas City BBQ. The famous KC BBQ dish is burnt ends, the trimmings of a smoked brisket, cooked with sauce and extra rub to create a juicy and delicious dish. KC’s take on BBQ sauce is tomato-based sauce that’s sweet and thick. Meats are popularly smoked with oak or hickory woods.

Now I’m Hungry! Where’s the Best BBQ Catering Near Me?

After our history (and geography!) lesson, it’s fascinating to see how far barbecue cuisine has come. With roots that tie in with the first European settlers of America to the spread and evolution of cooking methods, to something that has become a staple in American cuisine and culture, barbecue is so much more than a tasty mouthful.

BBQ now claims award winning restaurants, food trucks, vast selections of sauces and products, and is an increasingly popular theme for catered corporate events, birthdays, festivals and weddings. With BBQ catering in Burlington, Galesburg and Bloomington, Illinois you can find a delicious menu that harkens back to the roots of this now-famous cooking method.


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