As The Economist referred to it back in 2010, barbecue is “perched somewhere, somewhere between science and art”, with the science lying in the construction of the BBQ vessel, and the art lying in the treating of the meat to turn a slab of meat into a tender and beautifully seasoned delicacy.
But the prevalence of barbecue culture suggests that it is much more than this.
Is it the nostalgia? Smells and tastes are two of our strongest senses when it comes to recalling memories. The smell of steak soaking in a sea of smoke can trigger memories of summer nights, graduation parties, family visits and more.
One of my own personal accounts which is testament to the sudden heightened excitement that barbecue causes among us, was when the cafeteria at our office announced they would be serving BBQ on the lawn outside our building. I have never heard furore break out so quickly in a working space. The food in our cafeteria was infamous for being sub-par (putting it mildly there), so we were naive to believe that this would be much different, but just the word ‘BBQ’ stirred up an incredible wave of emotion in our sterile, white, bland office. Was it down to the memories of chewing on barbecue outside of this environment?
The popularity of barbecue has grown exponentially as people have gathered their friends around the grill, and families have passed the culinary baton on down the generations, but what is it about barbecue that makes it such a great centerpiece to almost any social occasion?
Although barbecue culture is one with very firm roots all over North America, its influence and origins spread far further afield.
A fine example of this would be Brazil’s Churrasco, a grilled food that is prepared by skewering the meat and supporting it over burning coal instead of directly placing it on the grill (although this varies across different countries in South America). This helps the meat cook more evenly through instead of just on the skin. Churrascos are generally served with a whole smorgasbord of smaller dishes, such as pate, farofa or potato salad.
Originating in Rio Grande do Sul, Churrasco is a way of life for Brazilians. The Barbecue capital of Brazil is the city of Nova Brescia which has a statue of a man cooking barbecue in the central plaza. In the 1940’s this city had a population of about 150,000. Since then the population has dropped to about 30,000 due to the mass exodus of people leaving to open Barbecue restaurants across Brazil.
In all of this one country that cannot be neglected is the land of India. In India the barbecue culture is centered on the Tandoor, a cylindrical and almost beehive-like clay oven, in which temperatures hit upwards of 900° fahrenheit.
Before cooking, the fire is allowed to die down to coals so that the temperature remains at a constant temperature while food is cooked, giving the meat a whole new kind of ‘smoky’ flavor. One of the biggest advantages of these ovens is that once they are heated, they will maintain a consistently high temperature for hours with very little additional fuel. This is a big plus in parts of the world where fuel is scarce.
Despite the advent and increasingly widespread use of more convenient means of cooking, in India the tandoor has remained as a steadfast fixture in kitchens across the country. Although for many this is more for economic reasons, the tandoor’s influence is very much still alive in Southern Asian barbecue culture.
These kind of cultures are are hugely different to what we in North America may be used to, but one that comes really close to that of America is Australia.
The barbecue is a national icon on the Australian landscape but the humble barbecue has a long history in Australia. Not only will you find a barbecue in most homes but also in wide range of locations around the country, such as parks, beaches and even business sites.
With its roots in Aboriginal cooking, the tradition of cooking outside has remained and has birthed the widespread use of BBQ across the country. It is far more encompassing than merely throwing something on the grill, but is in fact close to the true sense of barbecue: Allowing the food to soak up the smoke and rub flavors, and to become very tender and moist.
A lot of Australian barbecue culture differs to our own in its wide use of seafood, but also don’t surprised to see more unusual meats, such as kangaroo and emu. However, nowhere is the sense of social bond through barbecue stronger than in Australia.
The barbecue cultures of nations around the world may vary but the feeling surrounding the barbecue remains the same. Barbecue is like a whole new bond between humans beyond that of which evolution tells us. It is a culture of the world and it is something you can enjoy no matter where you are, much like music. And much like music, it evokes memories and a happiness that very few other things can. Bon appetit.