Barbecue, BBQ, Barbeque, Bar-B-Q
The words "barbecue" and "barbeque" are interchangeable. "BBQ", "Bar-B-Que,
and "Bar-b-q" are just abbreviations. The original word was something like
"barbacoa", and was a Caribbean Native American word for a framework made
of sticks that was placed over a fire and used to cook meat or fish, after
first marinating them in herbs and spices.
Sometimes you hear someone talk about "barbecuing a steak", meaning that they
broiled it on a charcoal fired grill. That's technically correct because the word
"barbecue" originally referred to the framework on which the meat was placed
for cooking. That framework of sticks is now made of metal, and we call it a
Where I grew up, if you said "barbecue a steak", you might get some puzzled
looks from people wondering why you would want to ruin a perfectly good steak
by covering it with barbecue sauce. We would say "grill" a steak or a hamburger
or "smoke" a pork roast or a chicken, but we'd say "barbecue a chicken" or "barbecue
some ribs" IF we intended to baste them with barbecue sauce while cooking or cover
them with it after cooking. Whether it has bbq sauce on it is what makes the distinction.
The sauce has become solidly associated with the word "barbecue". It's almost to the
point that "smoked, pulled pork" isn't "barbecue" until the sauce is added. If you
smoke a pork roast in your smoker or cook it on your charcoal or gas grill and slice
it and serve it without barbecue sauce, then it's just "smoked pork". If you served
it as "barbecue", people I know would be looking around for BBQ sauce to pour on it.
Similarly, at least in the Southern U.S., if you invite people to your house for a
"barbecue", they would expect real barbecue, sauce and all. If the meal featured
grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, or steaks, it would more likely be called a "cookout", at
least in the South.
There are dozens of regional variations in barbecue. Not so much the cooking, which is
nearly always a form of smoking or grilling, but sometimes in the meat used and nearly
always in the sauce ingredients.Often, the meat will be marinated before cooking, but not
always. Sometimes a "rub" will be used in addition to the sauce.
In the Southeastern U.S., pork is the favored meat to barbecue, but beef is barbecued as well.
In Texas and Kansas, beef is somewhat favored over pork. Mutton is often barbecued in parts of
Kentucky. Sometimes the pork is sliced; sometimes it's chopped, and sometimes it's pulled from the
bones with the fingers.
Ribs, both pork and beef ribs, are another BBQ choice. Chicken can be barbecued as well,
but unqualified "barbecue" usually means pork or beef.
For a discussion of the different regional U.S. types of bbq sauces and styles, see:
Regional BBQ Sauce Variations