The Sizzling History of BBQ: From Caveman Cuisine to Backyard Bliss (and Pirate Lore!)

Everyone loves to claim their ancestors invented BBQ. For example, BBQ is as “American as apple pie,” neither of which was invented in the USA. South American natives, on the other hand, proudly proclaim the word Barbecue comes from ‘Barbacoa,’ a lattice used to cook and smoke meat. Polynesians will top it by pointing out they have been slow-smoking pork for thousands of years.

But if we are honest, it would not be surprising if the first hunter who killed a mammoth and did not have a stadium to feed, would have to come up quickly with a solution to preserve meat.

Since refrigeration was not an option (unless you lived on the North Pole), you had few alternatives. Which meant sun-drying. Unfortunately, this method also attracts flies and other bugs. Not super appealing and is likely to get you sick.

Another option was to salt meat. This was a great option up to recently, especially for sailors on long voyages. The downside is that you had to steep meat for a long time to leach out the salt, and even then, it may not taste the best.

Finally, someone may have figured out that building a fire with lots of smoke nearby while sun drying would keep the bugs away. After one bite, he must have been convinced this was the best thing ever! Unfortunately, the Nobel prize was yet to be invented; otherwise, he would have been the clear winner.

As an aside to the women folk out there, I say ‘he’ and ‘him’ because while the dude may have killed the critter, she likely skinned it, sliced it, spiced it, invented BBQ sauce, the 5 beans and potato salad, made her own charcoal and lit it by rubbing 2 sticks! And thereafter clean up after everybody.

All that buddy had to do in the meantime, was slap it on the BBQ. I can even see him grumbling about that! “But I’m watching my favorite cave painting with my buddies, now I’m gonna miss most of the action and replays are just not the same”.

Everyone then heaped praise on him for the best meal ever! Somehow, things never change.

Next on his agenda was to invent the ‘backyard’ (which she had to design and decorate) and tailgate BBQ party (all his). Of course, BBQ tasted better once beer was invented and some sport could be watched while eating it. (The first game of kicking a ball made of a big round stone was not as popular as first thought. Especially for the players. Hence, the NFLPA was born (No Foot Lost Probably Again). But that’s another story.)

What BBQ is not!

One does not ‘BBQ’ a burger, a hot dog wiener, steak, or anything that needs sizzling. Why? BBQing is a low and slow method of cooking that requires hours of patience. So, unless you smoke your wieners for 5 to 8 hours, you are, in fact, grilling.

Some purists claim only pork should qualify as BBQ. Other meats need not apply. Tell that to your ancestors who used this method to cook all sorts of wild game animals.

The history of BBQ - pork

BBQ, Barbeque, Barbecue, or Bar-B-Q?

Good question, and the real answer is none of the above. There are a lot of disputes about the root word of BBQ, but let’s discuss the most likely.

  • Barbacoa: As per History Today2. “The Spanish word barbacoa was first used by the explorer and historian Gonzalo Fernàndez de Oviedo y Valdés (1478-1557). On returning to Europe after nine years in the New World, he published a series of books describing the course of his voyages and the customs of the peoples he had encountered. In La historia general y natural de las Indias (1535), he introduced his readers not only to tobacco and pineapples, but also to the barbacoa, a word he claimed to have learned from the Taínos, an Arawak-speaking people, who were the main inhabitants of Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba. Its meaning was, however, curious. According to Oviedo, a barbacoa was a type of lattice, made from a variety of natural materials and put to a wide range of purposes.” And the article goes on and on about what this word may mean. But it could also be applied to any latticed frame such as a bed.
  • Another origin story3 is that barbecue is a contraction of the name of a popular US roadhouse with pool tables: “Bar, Beer, and Cue.” There are no historical records to back this one up.
  • Certain cookbooks3 from Texas have perpetuated the myth of a rancher named Bernard Quayle or Barnaby Quinn, depending on who you talk to. His favorite thing to do was cook up various types of meat over open pits and serve the food to his friends. On his ranch, his animals were branded with his initials—B.Q. Thus, his ranch became “Bar B.Q.”. Sound a little far-fetched to you? Yeah, us too.
  • Barbe à queue or Barbe au cul4: This is French, meaning from the “beard to the tail or butt”. So, if you were cooking a goat on a spit, for example, you could say you were roasting it from “barbe à queue” (from its beard to its tail/butt). Why French, you ask? My, you are an enquiring lot! French pirates of the Caribbeans were called ‘Boucanier’ (Buccaneers in English). It comes from the French word ‘Boucane’ or ‘smoke’. Apparently, these ruggedly handsome rogues were fond of smoking meat and ended up smelling like it. This combination of French bad-boy BBQ-smelling pirates proved irresistible to the womenfolk.

So, for you guys out there, if you want a romantic evening with your better half, you may want to sprinkle yourself with some hickory smoke concentrate and murmur some sweet, sweet French words in her ears that every woman longs to hear… “Ma petite côte de porc fumée” (My sweet little smoked pork rib). Adding a few “Shiver me timbers!” won’t hurt either. You’ll thank me later.

Guess which one is my favorite version? Argh, me matey, you’re a pirate, and you know it!

6 interesting statistics about BBQ:

  • About 7 out of 10 U.S. adults possess a smoker or a grill, while in Canada, the ratio is 8 out of 10.5
  • Canada is the leading destination of BBQ appliance exports, with 228,647 USD in export value. Mexico follows at 35,573 USD, and Australia at 31,302.6
  • The most preferred side dishes served with barbecue are potatoes, corn, and grilled vegetables.7
  • 75% of owners grill during the winter months.8
  • Smoking is one of the leading trends in the BBQ world and continues to be popular despite the pandemic.6
  • Among grill owners, gas continues to be the preferred fuel with 61% using propane, next is charcoal with 49%, followed by the electric grill with 10%, while 9% use the natural gas grill and 3% use wood pellet grills.8

Fun Facts about BBQ:

  • U.S. presidents were known to be big fans of the laid-back pastime. George Washington‘s diaries abound with references to barbecues, including one that lasted for three days. When Abraham Lincoln‘s parents were married, their wedding feast was a barbecue9.
  • Along the way, famous inventors left their mark on the American barbecue: the first commercial charcoal briquet factory was designed by Thomas Edison and built by Henry Ford in 19219.
  • Barbecue competitions have been taking place since at least 1959. The first one seems to have taken place in Hawaii just a few months after it became a state, and was only for men. Twenty-five men entered the cook-off, competing for the grand prize of $10,000 (about $80,000 today). More recently, “Barbecue Pitmasters” aired on TLC, featuring people cooking up their best barbecue recipes to compete for a $100,000 grand prize9.
  • The largest attendance at a barbecue is 45,252 people at an event organized by Estado de Nuevo Leon (Mexico) at Parque Fundidora in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, on 18 August 20139.
  • The longest barbecue measured 8,000 meters (20,246 feet) and was created by the people of Bayambang (Philippines), on 4 April 2014. The barbecue was made up of 8,000 grills connected to each other, each measuring 1 m in length, 58 cm in height and 21 cm in width9.
  1. The History of Apple Pie | Back Then History
  2. The History of the Barbecue | History Today
  3. The Origin of the Word Barbecue (
  4. Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Revised and Expanded Second Edition: Moss, Robert F.: 9780817320652: Books
  5. Five Grilling Facts From HPBA Recent Survey (
  6. 43 BBQ Statistics, Trends, and Facts [2023] (
  7. 58 Hot BBQ Grilling Industry Stats, Facts, And Trends (
  8. 2020 State of the Barbecue Industry: > Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA)
  9. Interesting facts about barbecue | Just Fun Facts


Below is a list of fireplace and grill stores that service Virginia (VA)

Manassas, VA

Winston's Chimney Service
11301 Industrial Road
Manassas, VA 20109

Winston's Chimney Service LogoVisit Store Page

Mechanicsville, VA

Hearth & Home Shoppe
8151 Mechanicsville Tpk
Mechanicsville, VA 23111

Hearth & Home Shoppe LogoVisit Store Page

Roanoke, VA

Dixie Building Products Inc.
3342 Melrose Ave NW
Roanoke, VA 24017

Warrenton, VA

Costello's Warrenton Fireplace & Hot Tub
251 West Lee Hwy
Warrenton, VA 20186

For more information, contact your local fireplace and grill store..

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