Barbecue (barbeque, BBQ, BarBQ) is a popular cooking method used primarily for meats served at parties, picnics, family gatherings, and fund-raisers. It is also the name of the food itself, the cooking event, and the cooking equipment.
The word is derived from barbacoa, an Arawak Indian name that Spaniards applied to a sturdy wooden or cane framework on which meat was grilled or dried. On their expeditions across the South, Hernando de Soto and his men discovered Native Americans roasting game on barbacoas.
Cooking methods include pit cooking, grilling, and smoking. Each of these methods imparts a different flavor to the final product. Pit cooking, the favored method in Georgia, originated in the early settlement days. Grilling and smoking were influenced by Native American cooking methods. The heat used to cook the meat can be generated from charcoal, coals, gas, or wood, especially hickory and oak. Georgia barbecuers also use such fruitwoods as pecan and apple.
Many types of meat are barbecued, ranging from beef and whole hogs to chicken and, along the coast, fish and shellfish. Pork—primarily ribs, shoulders, and hams—is the meat of choice for Georgia barbecues. In other southern states, chicken, mutton, goat, or beef is the preferred meat.
The meat is flavored by the spices and herbs used in the rubs or marinades that season the meat before cooking. These seasonings can be very mild or extremely spicy and hot, depending on the tastes of the preparer. Dishes traditionally served with barbecue include corn on the cob, Brunswick stew, baked beans, coleslaw, and potato salad.
Whether homemade or commercial, the barbecue sauce is an integral part of the dish. Each area of the South has its own characteristic sauce. Vinegar-based in eastern North Carolina, it becomes thicker and more tomato-based farther west. South Carolina barbecue sauce traditionally is mustard-based, while north and middle Georgia boasts a spicy and sweet thin, red sauce made with tomatoes, vinegar, and mustard.
Barbecue has far-reaching cultural significance for Georgians. It is usually the food of choice at tailgate parties, regardless of outdoor temperatures. As an extension of the custom of serving barbecue at political rallies, the Georgia General Assembly traditionally has a “wild hog supper” featuring barbecued pork before the legislative session opens. Cook-offs and contests are held to determine the best among the great pitmasters. Several barbecue festivals are held in Georgia annually, and southern homecomings invariably include barbecue as the featured item. Most Georgians know that a Fourth of July celebration would be incomplete without barbecue on the menu.
Barbecue restaurants (also known as huts, joints, shacks, and kitchens) have proliferated throughout Georgia and the southern states. Not all establishments serve an authentic barbecue, however; some use a mass-produced product instead of cooking it on the premises, which is labor intensive. Local residents are usually willing to tell a traveler where the best barbecue can be found.