What is barbecue


Well, that’s a great question and one that is surprisingly difficult to give a simple answer to. 


Certainly, barbecue is about delicious food but there is debate, sometimes heated (excuse the pun!), over what barbecue actually is.  Opinion seems to fall into four main camps:

  • It’s a cooking method - cooking over fire, coals and/or smoke.
  • It’s food cooked using that method.
  • It’s the apparatus used to cook the food - be that a grill, smoker, firepit or whatever.
  • It’s a social gathering where the food is eaten - also known as a cookout.


So, which is it? Well, your opinion is probably heavily influenced by where and how you were brought up, so let’s look through history for the origins of barbecue and see if we can find out.

Placing pieces of meat in or over the coals of a fire is almost certainly the earliest method of cooking known to mankind, so it’s not easy to trace the term barbecue back through history to its origins.


The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word to the island of Hispaniola and, spelled ‘barbacoa’, gives the meaning as a “framework of sticks set upon posts” i.e. the cooking apparatus. 

The first recorded use of the word in English as a verb (i.e. as a method of cooking - to barbecue) is 1661.  However, use of the word in Spanish predates this by over a hundred years and, spelled ‘barbecoa’, was first used in print back in 1526 in a Spanish dictionary published by the Royal Spanish Academy. 

This use is, again, referencing the reports of the explorers of the Caribbean and the Americas following Columbus having landed there in 1492.  So, the word ‘barbecue’ would seem to have originated in the Americas and Caribbean islands; however, clearly barbecue predates the presence of Europeans in that part of the world.

Indeed, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean (the Arawak and the Tainos) and Florida (the Timucua) were observed by the first Spanish explorers roasting meat on a grill made of wood, resting on sticks over a fire (sometimes in a pit dug to contain the fire), giving the meat a distinctive flavour. 

And the word used by these indigenous peoples both for this type of food, its cooking method and the apparatus used to cook it..? ‘Barabicu’.  

Similar reports of the food and cooking techniques of the indigenous peoples are recorded in the journals of European explorers from their travels around what is now the American South East, although the spelling of barbecue generally differs from one account to another.

Well folks, that looks like an origin for barbecue - it’s certainly good enough for me. 


So, it would seem that we have the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and South-eastern America to thank for the term barbecue and, from the accounts of early European explorers, it would seem that, to those indigenous peoples, the term applied equally to the cooking method, apparatus and the food. 


So, here at Fat Daniel’s you’ll find we use the term barbecue interchangeably to describe both the food we love and the methods used to cook it.  We may also use the word barbeque as a generic term to describe the cooking apparatus but we’ll also use words like grill and smoker as these are more common terms in American barbecue.  However, we’re a broad church so if you want to call the event of having friends or family round to eat a barbecue then that’s fine with us too.  Heck, we don’t even care how you spell it - at the end of the day, Fat Daniel’s BBQ is all about Good Food - Good Times.