The American Barbecue Story

Where there’s smoke, there’s probably barbecue!” 

Marc Gonick, American Barbecue History 101
Caribbean Barbacoa

American barbecue is typically the process of smoking tough cuts of meat “low & slow” over indirect heat and never grilling meat directly over high heat. While barbecue is often considered an American tradition, the actual origin of barbecue comes from the Caribbean. Barbecue is credited to the Taino Indians of the Caribbean islands who smoked meats on wooden sticks over an open pit. European slave traders would bring “purchased” West Africans to the Caribbean to exchange for sugar, and then bring the sugar to the American south to sell. This cooking style came with them. The Spanish traders of the mid-1600s called it “barbacoa”, which means “a raised frame of sticks” in Spanish.

In the United States, the four major centers of BBQ that emerged were the same ones we recognize today: the Carolinas (whole hogs and pulled pork butts and shoulders with vinegar or Carolina Gold mustard sauce), Kansas City (spare ribs lathered in sweet BBQ sauce), Memphis (dry-rubbed spare ribs with ketchup-based sauce on the side), and Texas (salt and peppered smoked beef brisket and sausage).  All of the regions, as well as the endless other “sub” regions in the US, share one constant- meats are smoked over hardwood and cooked at low temperatures for long periods of time. Different types of sauces developed in these regions depending on favored spice rubs, cures, meats and sauces which are vinegar-based, tomato-based, and mustard-based. In addition to different styles of beans, coleslaw, and cornbread that accompanies all barbeque, regional side dishes emerged reflecting local ingredients.

Roadside BBQ Shack

Barbecue evolved in big strides in the decades following the American Civil War.  After the war many barbecue stands sprang up all along roads through the South, mostly run by freedmen after the war. 

The oldest BBQ joint in Texas

Sit down BBQ restaurants began to emerge in the late 1920s. Many of the stands that lined the roads were converted into restaurants. People around the country learned how to barbecue and opened restaurants of their own. Over time, barbeque transformed from a necessary way to impart flavor and tenderize tough cuts of meat into a uniquely American culinary art form. Lets get grilling!

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