Grill-B-Q / World

Ah, the flavors of the world! Although the American barbecue is the "standard" for this web site, the rest of the world has a rich history of grilling and barbecued foods that need to be considered. First a bit of "European" history about this cuisine, then we'll follow that with some interesting regional flavors and grilling styles the world offers

The European Influence:

The Spanish word barbacoa is a variation of the Arawak-Carib word brabacot and probably the root of the English word barbecue. A brabacot was a grill of green sticks which the Caribs would place at a good distance above a slow fire. They would then arrange their meats on the grill and cover them with leaves to retain the smoke.

Of course, the Caribs didn't invent barbecue. Smoke has been used to preserve meat since prehistoric times. The prevailing theory is the preservative qualities of smoke were first discovered in the Neolithic age when smudge fires were built under racks of meat and fish that had been set to dry in the sun. The smoke was actually intended to keep the flies away. But when it was found that the meats cured with smoke kept longer than regular air-dried meats, the practice caught on.

The art of smoking meats was well known in Roman times. The epicure Apicius gave us a recipe for curing ham which included 17 days of salting, two days of open-air drying and two days of smoking.

But to this day, the chemical reactions that give smoke its preservative properties are dimly understood. Of course, the heat of the smoke can play a major role in the cooking and drying process, and the open-air draft can aid in retaining moisture in the meat. But wood smoke contains upwards of 200 other components including alcohols, acids, phenolic compounds, and various toxic substances. Scientists believe that the toxins in the smoke are actually part of the reason smoke is such a great preservative. They inhibit the growth of microbes in the meat. The phenolics retard fat oxidation which keeps the fat from going rancid. Other processes taking place when we apply this complicated chemical treatment to our meat is still something of a mystery.

It is also something of a mystery why the early European settlers who came to the New World had to learn this ancient technique from the natives. Perhaps the invention of the indoor kitchen caused European cultures to give up smoking because the technique was better suited to the outdoors. Whatever the reason, the early Spanish settlers on the island of Hispaniola regarded the Caribs barbecue unique enough to borrow the name.

The Caribs smoked only small game animals and fish on their grills; they had taboos against cows and pigs as well as salt. It could be argued that when the newly arrived Europeans began to apply the Caribs techniques to the cooking of beef and pork and added a little salt, American barbecue was born. But if you hang around with barbecue crazies, this theory will only lead to very long debate about just what exactly barbecue is.

Some argue that the definition of barbecue is meat with a spicy sauce, but some of the best barbecue in Texas is smoked meat with no sauce at all. Some say barbecue means smoked meat, but in Memphis some of the most famous barbecue pork ribs are simply grilled with sauce and no smoke. In the Carolinas, barbecue most often means slow-cooked pulled pork in a spicy sauce. And for a huge number of Americans a "barbecue" just means cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill in the back yard.

The word brabacot is probably the reason for this ambiguity. The word was a noun for the grill itself. Since the Caribs' grill was used for smoking, and they had a preference for highly seasoned foods, and we didn't have a special word in English for the meat itself, the word barbecue seems to have come to mean all sorts of things. The same word now describes the grill, the meat that is cooked on it, the process of doing it and the party surrounding it. No wonder we can never agree on just what barbecue really is.

Other languages have a variety of words that shed a little light on barbecue history. The Spanish word charqui means dried meat and is the root of the words jerk and jerky. The word jerk ties the barbecue traditions to its Caribbean roots. Of all the barbecue techniques I've seen, the one that comes the closest to the historical descriptions of the Caribs' methodology is Jamaican jerk barbecue.

The French word boucan is also used to describe early Caribbean barbecue. It comes from a Brazilian Amerindian language and appears to be a synonym for the Carib word brabacot. A derivative of the word entered the English language in the form of "buccaneer." The buccaneers (or boucaniers) were an all-male crew composed mostly of French and English outlaws who lived on the island of Tortuga off the coast of Hispaniola in the mid-1600s. Although they would later be known for their seafaring exploits, their original fame -- hence their name -- was in the barbecue business.

The buccaneers hunted the wild cows and pigs which were the sole survivors of failed Spanish settlements on the island of Hispaniola. Then they smoke-cured the meat and sold it to passing ships. Hunted themselves by the Spanish, the buccaneers banded together for their own protection. Eventually they gave up on the meat business and went to sea, discovering quickly that capturing Spanish vessels by surprise attack was a lot more lucrative than chasing wild pigs. Before long, the buccaneers came to be remembered more as fearless seamen than as barbecue aficionados. But, in my opinion, it was in their first occupation that they made their most significant contributions to humanity.

The part of barbecue history that fascinates me the most is the association between barbecue and leisure time. It seems that we can thank the Caribs for several inventions that have helped create this tradition. Not only did they contribute the word barbecue to the English language, they also taught us the word "hammock." They might as well have invented summer weekends altogether.

In order to appreciate barbecue as a leisure-time activity, it is critical to understand the relationship between the barbecue smoker and the hammock. It was the Carib custom for a hunter or fisherman to retire to his hammock for as many days as he had been out hunting or fishing in order to recover his strength. There in the hammock, he would wait for his meat or fish to slowly smoke to perfection.

An incredulous French observer once reported that: "A Caribbee has been known, on returning home from fishing fatigued and pressed with hunger, to have the patience to wait the roasting of a fish on a wooden grate fixed two feet above the ground, over a fire so small as sometimes to require the whole day to dress it." That a hungry man could relax in a hammock all day waiting for his dinner to be properly smoked was obviously something of a mystery to the Europeans. But this delicious form of patience is something that modern barbecue lovers can completely understand.

Worldwide Flavors:

Jamaica

The word is "Jerk". Or more accurately, "juk", which means to "stab with a stick or sharp implement", an activity applied to the wild pigs of Jamaica. But Jamaican Jerk sometimes feels like a sharp stab in the eye...as the scotch bonnet pepper (the hottest pepper in the world) is the base for this Carribean barbecue style.

The meat is seasoned with peppers and spices and wrapped in leaves, a natural means of preservation. Sometimes the marinated meat is buried in a hole filled with hot stones and steamed in its own juices. But sometimes it would be "jerked"–-cooked very slowly over a fire of green (pimento) wood after being rubbed with the spices.

Brazil

Brazilians were the first to raise cattle in South America, imported from Cape Verde to São Paulo in the 1530s. Churrasco (pronounced shoo-RAS-koo) or Brazilian barbecue was the traditional staple food of the gaúchos or cowboys of Southern Brazil for centuries before it spread to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. It has become very fashionable and there are excellent churrascarias (restaurants specializing in Brazilian barbecue) all over Brazil and around the world. These are called churrascaria de rodízio because waiters move from table to table bringing different types of meats on skewers from which they slice portions onto your plate.

The meat was originally cooked over coals, usually in a pit dug in the ground, skewered in metal spits. The only seasoning was coarse salt and each gaúcho had his own churrasco knife which he used to cut pieces of meat from the spit. People in southern Brazil have churrasco pits built in their backyards with bricks or incorporated into a wall with decorative tiles around the edges.

Korea

For centries,the Koreans have eaten the the products of the sea, the field, and the moutain because of the features of Korean peninsula and a distinguished climate makes Korean food more abundant. Korean foods are very special,exotic,and particular. The most distingushing feature of the Korean food is the spiceness. The basic seasonings-red pepper, green onion, soysauce, bean paste, garlic, ginger,sesame, mustard, vinegar, wine have been combined in various ways to enhance Korean foods.

Traditional Korean Barbecue, known as Pulgoki, is a key pillar of Korean cuisine. It is marinated meat in a sause made with soy sauce, garlic, sugar, sesame oil, and other seasonings. For "effect" it is cooked over a fire in front of a table, but in Korea it is often cooked on a grill or over an open fire. Other barbecue dishes from Korea include popular dishes such as Kalbi (barbecued short ribs) and Dak Guyee (barbecued chicken).

More to come later!