A simple search for bbq grills brings up a seemingly endless array of items to choose from. There are countless brands, styles, add-ons, and tools that it is almost an impossible task to even look at all of them, let alone choose the one that will be the best for you. In this article, we’ll ignore all of that and instead learn a little about the fascinating history of barbecuing in the USA and in the world.
Barbecuing is definitely one of the most worldwide cooking styles; the food is cooked by applying heat from underneath, and the cooking equipment used ranges from a pit and a stick in the ground to a simple bbq unit to fancy products that take up half a backyard.
In the Americas, there was a people called the Arawak. They were the indigenous people of the West Indies whom Christopher Columbus met after his fateful voyage. The Arawak roasted their meat on a wooden structure, which was then called “barbacoa” in Spanish. It wasn’t for a few centuries later that the word came to also refer to the type of food cooked on the wooden framework. Now, the word barbecue also refers to the style of cooking that is found on every corner in the Southeastern United States. Many of the fiercely protected recipes from this area of the States require days of preparation, and you’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t at least call for an overnight marinade. Slow cooking is a key element, and the temperature will rarely, if ever, be above 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
As for the modern charcoal briquette, we have Henry Ford to thank. The now infamous assembly line, used to assemble Model T’s, produced an extremely large amount of wood scraps that were then just thrown away. In the 1920’s, Ford became aware of a process by which wood scraps could be turned into charcoal briquets. He built a charcoal plant and became one of the world’s first mass recyclers. One of Ford’s relatives, E.G. Kingsford, brokered the property that the charcoal plant was built on, and the company was then named after him.
The well-known hemispherical shape of traditional bbq grills was designed by a Mr. George Stephen. Stephen worked for a metal fabrication shop whose main business was making buoys- you know, spheres. Barbecue legend has it that Stephen was tired of ash blowing into his food while grilling, and was inspired to use the bottom half of one of the buoys, weld three legs onto the bottom, and created the first now-traditional bbq grill.
Today when it comes to bbq grills, the debate rages between gas and charcoal, and I can see no end to this heated argument until the world either 1) runs out of carbon, or 2) ends. (That means it will really never end). There are plenty of pros and cons to each, and it really just comes down to a personal preference. I prefer eating food that has been cooked on a charcoal grill, but at the same time, I prefer cooking food on a gas grill. That’s how deep this debate runs- I can’t even agree with myself! I won’t go any deeper into that matter, and I’ll leave you to decide which fuel you’ll be using.
However, there are even more variations of grills within the realm of charcoal. The brazier grill is the most basic option available- it is made of wire and sheet metal, and made by placing a cooking grid over a charcoal pan. There’s no lid or vent system, and temperature is controlled by moving the cooking grid up or down over the charcoal pan.
A pellet grill is an interesting contraption. These run on compressed hardwood pellets that are fed into a fire box at the bottom of the grill from a hopper through an electric powered auger, and this is all controlled by a thermostat. An electric igniter rod ignites the pellets, and once in the firebox, they turn into coals and burn down. Pellet bbq grills are especially useful if you’ll be doing a lot of smoking- where the temperature needs to be 100 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, or if you like slow cooking for meals like brisket and ribs. Even so, they’re perfectly capable of reaching temperatures high enough for regular, safe grilling, and are an all around good choice.
From early American tailgates to modern backyard grilling, bbq grills have been a part of the American landscape for centuries. Enjoy this traditional style of cooking in your own backyard and savor the fruits of your own culinary labors.
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