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Barbecue, BBQ, Barbeque, Bar-B-Q

I've been eating barbecue for over six decades. The first that I remember was from a place called "Johnny's Drive-In" in the fifties. Johnny's had curb service and you could see the meat smokers behind the shop from your car. Johnny's was almost as famous for their hamburgers and "dough-burgers" as for their bbq, and they're especially well known today because Elvis Presley ate cheeseburgers there frequently when he lived in the area as a youth. Johnnie's opened in 1945 and is still going today.

The words "barbecue" and "barbeque" are just two spelling variations, as are "Bar-B-Q", and "Bar-B-Que. "BBQ" is just an abbreviation. The original word is said to have been a Spanish word, something like "barbacoa", and was derived from a Caribbean Indigenous People's word for a framework made of sticks that was placed over a fire and used to cook meat or fish slowly. That framework of sticks is now made of metal, and we call it a "grill". Sometimes you hear someone talk about "barbecuing a steak", meaning that they broiled it on a gas or charcoal fired grill. That's technically correct because the word "barbecue" originally referred to the framework on which the meat was placed for cooking.

In my home state, though, 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 pork chops or hot dogs but we'd say "barbecue a chicken" or "barbecue some ribs" if we intended to baste them with barbecue sauce while grilling them or cover them with sauce after grilling. Whether or not the meat 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 pork" is just that. It 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 place I grew up. Also, what about "oven bbq" or "crock pot bbq", for which you will see recipes. In these recipes, the meat isn't even cooked on a grill. It's the sauce that makes it bbq. There's a lot of gray area, I guess.

In the Southeastern U.S., pork is the favored meat to barbecue, but sometimes beef is barbecued as well. In Texas and Kansas, beef is somewhat favored over pork. Mutton is often barbecued in parts of Kentucky. Chicken and ribs are barbecued everywhere. After cooking, except for ribs and chicken, sometimes the cooked meat is sliced, sometimes it's chopped, and sometimes it's pulled from the bones with the (hopefully clean)fingers. If it'ss pork, that's what is called "pulled pork."

The BBQ that I've had most and that I usually prefer, is "Memphis-Style BBQ" - usually pork and ribs with a tangy Memphis-style sauce - but there are a lot of good regional variations around the USA, particularly in the sauces. For a discussion of the different regional U.S. types of bbq sauces and styles, see:
Regional BBQ Sauce Styles

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