What is the history of BBQ in America?

Barbecues are different in other countries. Argentina has asado, while Korean BBQ is famous for thin slices of meat grilled and served with white rice. Although BBQ did not first come from America, America’s BBQ culture is still distinct.

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Table of Contents

    Follow the following sections to understand better the history of BBQ in America and its techniques and types. 

    What is BBQ? 

    Barbecue or BBQ, in short, has various meanings. The well-known meaning is a cooking method creating smoke and cooking meat above an indirect heat. The word barbecue can be a cooking device producing smoke for grilling meat. Additionally, barbecue is an outdoor event where people roast meat on the barbecue (the device). Lastly, barbecue mentions the flavor, including a sweet tomato sauce or a barbecue sauce. 

    The word barbecue originated from the Taino Indian word that sounded like barbacoa. The Indians used this name for many meanings. It was a bed-like device, a storage unit, a cooking appliance, a shelter, and maybe cooked food on the device.      

    BBQ across the world

    Over the world, different countries have different terms for barbecue in other languages. The process of preparing food in different countries is unique as well. Let’s take a look at several names and how BBQs evolve in several countries.

    Asado – Argentinians call barbecue “Asado” and prepare Asado with whole animals or huge meat slices.

    Braai – This term is the South African barbecue, which is prepared outdoors.

    Lechon – The Philippines organizes and enjoys “Lechon” in every significant celebration. 

    Gogigui – The Korean barbecue offers not only meat but also many side dishes called “banchan.”

    Mezze – Lebanon named barbecue in “mezze,” which includes grilled meat served with nuts.

    The brief history of barbecue in America

    18th century – The origin of BBQ in the colonial era

    The indigenous tribe which Christoper Columbus first came across on Hispaniola had invented a unique cooking method. This method of cooking is barbacoa, the original barbecue, which cooks meat above an indirect flame. Spanish explorers followed the expeditions of Columbus to the north and brought the barbacoa technique with them. 

    According to Robert Moss, an author and editor of Southern Living BBQ, both British and Spanish colonists use barbecue cooking styles for cooking along the coast at the beginning of the 18th century. He also stated that New England was the place that received the earliest mentions. 

    From New England, barbecue spread to Virginia, where this cooking method became a common form of social leisure activity. Barbecue continued its southwards journey to Alabama, Appalachians, Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. By the 1840s, it eventually reached Texas and Mississippi.      

    19th century:  Social events and political strategy 

    BBQ in a social event
    Source: bittersoutherner.com

    In the 19th century, BBQ became a social ritual such as a standard during elections or a method to celebrate the American independent day on the Fourth of July. In such social activities, hundreds or even thousands of people would join in grilling pork, beef, chicken, and lamb. Barbecue stands appear to be popular in fairs and outdoor festivals towards the late 1800s. 

    Barbecue was also one of the policy strategies. Public officials and election candidates usually organize a barbecue feast to their advantage. This grilled-meat party was an event to gather people for the delivery of the politicians’ messages. 

    In July of 1884, a Democratic Party held a barbecue gathering 10,000 people in Lexington, Kentucky. This meat feast used up 85 oxen together with many chickens, sheep, and hogs. 

    Barbecue became a partisan debate or civic celebration. For example, people would arrange a big barbecue to raise money for a railroad’s construction.

    The barbecue in the 19th century depends on whatever types of meat available. As the refrigerator was not available, people made a barbecue from whatever livestock they owned. The roast event would have a butcher cutting meat and putting it on the pits for grilling. There would be iron bars or wood poles to put the ready meat for the barbecue.       

    1920s-1950s: BBQ moved to restaurants and became a dominant style in restaurants

    Source: www.texasmonthly.com

    During the 1920s, barbecue stands were situated on low-price real estate in the suburb of the town.  These types of barbecue gained popularity as they were convenient for Americans to drive through by car. One of the most popular stands was The Pig Stand on the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in Dallas in 1921.

    Memphis was also well-known for a high reputation for barbecue restaurants. The Shanty Inn could earn this reputation on behalf of Memphis barbecue culture. In the 1920s, Leonard started this restaurant serving a fantastic barbecue grilled in an oven.

    In the South of America, people not only have a barbecue, but they also provide barbecue shanties, stands, and shacks. The trend “roadside eats” even attracted people in Arizona, California, Kansas, Missouri, and Utah to make a living by the barbecue. During World War II, the shift of Southern blacks relocating to the North to join the auto industry made Detroit a barbecue hub.

    Many barbecue restaurants like The Pit Stands or The Shanty Inn gained success. However, this success was not enough to transform barbecue restaurants into nationwide chains.

    1960s-1980s: The downturn and reborn of BBQ

    fast food

    BBQ restaurants were the dominant amongst the American restaurant market between the 1930s and 1950s. The roast restaurants appeared all the way from Florida to California. 

    However, throughout the 1960s to 1970s, BBQ restaurants disappeared everywhere instead of the Northeast. Pitmasters struggled to make a living because their business decreased. It was hard to find a labor force, and these BBQ men’s family members didn’t want to work hard. Hence, the BBQ places vanished gradually. Another cause came from the birth of fast-food chains. These restaurants could prepare food in a shorter time compared with the BBQ restaurants.

    Until the 1980s, BBQ came back to its popularity thanks to various factors like the barbecue competition and the Food Network promotion.

    20th century: The regionalization of BBQ

    A BBQ map
    Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/140033869637464179/

    BBQ styles varied in the states of the United States. Experts divided the American barbecue into four regional styles: Texas, Memphis, Carolinas (North Carolina & South Carolina), and Kansas City.


    Texas barbecue style earns its reputation by the grilled beef. Here, beef is king in the BBQ restaurants. Texas BBQ has many varieties. The must-try dish in a Texas smokehouse should be brisket. BBQ fans can taste the Texas flavor with dry-rubbed and slow-cooked brisket. You can have beef short ribs, full-sized beef spareribs, and smoked prime ribs in Texas smokehouses. The Lone Star State’s BBQ restaurants also offer smoked sausages, pork ribs, pulled pork, chicken, or even turkey.

    Texas barbecue


    Other than Texas, Memphis citizens love pork. You can find pork ribs in any form like St.Louis, full spare ribs, and baby backs. Rib tips become a special treat, including bite-sized, tender nuggets. 

    Memphis BBQ style includes several sauces you rarely find elsewhere: BBQ spaghetti and BBQ cornish game hen. Dinners can have a taste of spaghetti Bolognese pasta soaked in BBQ sauce and topped with pulled pork.

    Memphis barbecue


    Carolina barbecue also uses pork; however, the pork forms vary from North Carolina to South Carolina.

    South Carolina’s popular pork forms are pulled, shredded, or chopped pork and ribs. For example, pulled pork comes from a pork shoulder and can be eaten on its own or with a sandwich. 

    Besides, a traditional BBQ specialty from North Carolina is the whole pig or whole-hog barbecue. Restaurants chop the whole-hog into pieces, including crispy bits of skin, a tomato sauce in the north blends with a vinegar sauce.

    Carolina barbecue

    Kansas City

    Among four regional styles, Kansas City barbecue provides the most diverse selection of meat. Kansas City BBQ smokehouses serve a wide range of grilled dishes from beef short ribs to sausage to turkey or ham. The main serve is always pork ribs and brisket, while pulled pork is less prevalent. 

    A specific thing about Kansas BBQ styles is the tomato and molasses sauce or the tomato blending with brown sugar sauce. Kansas restaurants often apply these sauces after cooking the meat instead of basting on during cooking. 

    Kansas barbecue

    BBQ techniques


    Grilling is one of the most straightforward cooking techniques. It’s easy to set up, and the variety of food being suitable in this way is diverse. Of course, this is the best technique to start, as it will help you improve your barbecue skills.

    You’ll cook over high heat when you barbecue, relatively fast, and you’ll have smaller things to cook like chops, kebabs, sausages, or steaks. Place your charcoal in the middle of 1⁄3 of the barbecue while grilling on your BBQ. Doing that, you might have a space to transfer the food away from the sun.

    Hot Roasting

    Hot roasting is an ideal technique for pork loins, chicken, and other large slabs of meat. It will be easy to set up a hot roasting process if you have a barbecue with a lid. This technique takes longer to cook than grilling. So you should spare enough time to make a hot roasting barbecue. 

    The barbecue lid lets the heat circulate meat and cooks it evenly and thoroughly. When you try a hot roasting barbecue, you should put the charcoal by two lines and a spare room in between. 

    Low and Slow

    Low & Slow technique means a method with low cooking heat and slow cooking time. You can have vast slices of cooked meat falling apart with just some mild shakes by doing this technique. The taste of the meat is juicy and tender. If you like brisket, pulled pork, or ribs, you master this low and slow cooking method.  

    Hot Smoking

    The hot smoking technique requires a lid along with a barbecue and some wood chips. You can use most of the hardwoods like Oak, Apple, Pecan, and Manuka. Using wood from trees with a sticky pine-like sap may not add a great flavor to the hot smoking process.

    BBQ types


    Charcoal is the essence of barbecue. Charcoal offers you a delicious taste of food that the gas obviously can’t. Of course, charcoal barbecues can seem complicated if you are new to it. Otherwise, you’ll cook a great barbecue with that distinctive smokey taste benefiting from a BBQ using charcoal. 

    You may use a kettle barbecue for this type of BBQ. These barbecue devices can grill food over hot charcoal, but they are also flexible enough to make a hot roast. Hot roasting of a whole chicken or pork loin provides ‘wow’ flavored food with juicy inside meat but crispy on the skin. Kettle barbecues also allow you to cook the low and slow technique.


    Being more costly than the charcoal type, gas barbecues offer comfort and predictability in terms of compensation. It’s also the case that they’re cleaner because you’ll not touch charcoal. These gas barbecues can be a perfect choice on a busy day when they have instant heat from gas. Almost everything can be suitable for a gas barbecue. Picking one with a lid, you can start to barbecue, low and slow, and roast meat. 


    Portable barbecues come in various types, including mini kettles, simple buckets with barbecues over the top, and skottel braais being wildly popular in Southern Africa. Portable barbecues allow you to cook small amounts of meat rapidly. If you don’t have a lot of food to prepare or you’re on a trip, portable barbecues are perfect.


    Electric barbecues are also a popular method that delivers safe and comfortable gas. Pellet smokers are currently the most common type of electrical barbecue. The fundamental principle of a pellet smoker is that the electrical aspect burns wood pellets fed to it from a hopper using an auger. The temperature regulation is very reliable, and the hopper can be loaded for the last few hours.

    The electric barbecue can cook most things. The note you should keep in mind is to select the model carefully when you want the electric barbecue to reach the high temperatures. 

    Wrapping up

    Although the barbecue did not originate from America, it became a must-try dish in American cuisine. The history of barbecue in America dated back to the colonial era and then gained its popularity to spread from the North to the South of America. The taste and cooking method in other regions is different as well. These characteristics make BBQ an irresistible try for dinners.

    Don’t hesitate to add up your knowledge about BBQ of all aspects! Raise your voice below!

    Roger Lee
    Roger Lee

    Thanks for visiting my website. My name is Roger Lee, and I am a 30-year-old man with a hybrid blood of Chinese and Russian. I decided to set up this site to share with everyone my love and passion for open-air cuisine. It all started when my parents opened a restaurant and I had the chance of getting exposed to the art of outdoor cooking.
    This website aims at sharing about my hobby, recipes, and tips for cooking to everyone. Try them out and tell me about your experience.