Like the exclusive combination of traditional barbecuing styles that make Smokehouse BBQ so unique, the history of barbecue represents the combination of old world cuisine and the cooking secrets discovered of Native Americans by the earliest settlers.
Spanish colonists arrived in South Carolina in the early 1500's. It was the Spanish who first introduced the pig into the Americas. Pigs were an economical and abundant meat source for settlers struggling to survive the cultivation of the New World. The Indians, in turn, introduced the Spanish to the concept of slow-cooking with smoke.
Although exact origins of the term 'barbecue’ are widely debated, it is generally accepted that the West Indian term barbacoa, which denotes the method of slow-cooking meat over hot coals, became barbecue in the lexicon of those early Spanish settlers. Some contest that the term we came into popular use after a South Carolina BBQ Shack began advertising their new services: BAR-BEER-CUE, meaning “We’re a bar that serves beer while you play pool. ”Whatever the true etymology of the word, the history of barbecue is undisputed: the Spanish supplied the pig, Native Americans showed them how to cook it, and barbecue was born.
Scottish families who settled primarily in the South Carolina low country were the first and most famous South Carolina preparers of Vinegar and Pepper sauces, the original barbecue sauce. In contrast, German families added the common use of mustard. South Carolina mustard sauce can be clearly traced to those German settlers and is still in abundant evidence today, even after 250 years, in the names of the families who sell mustard-based sauces and mustard-based barbecue to the public.
The early prevalence of barbecue rested on its reliability as a low-cost food staple for early settlers. Once sauces were added and hog production became more of an organized business in the south, the taste for barbecue remained, becoming a staple on every Southern menu.
As the restaurant industry took root throughout the US in the 1950's, the barbecue “joint” appeared everywhere: a simple restaurant, usually specializing in take-out, and frequently featuring pig images on its signs. Barbecue, however, with its Southern roots, has its own complex racial history.
Since black Americans often got the least desirable meats, they often perfected the most desirable cooking techniques to get the most out of the meats. Black pit masters became legends, often attracting white clientele in a south that was supposed to be strictly segregated. During the civil rights strife of the 1950's and 60's, barbecue acted as a great equalizer in a society bent on racial division.
Just as the marriage of modern distribution techniques with the information age has brought cuisine from around the world to neighbourhood strip-malls and grocery shelves, barbecue has emerged from its Southern roots to conquer the American palate. Because true barbecue takes so much time, attention and effort, it has yet to fall prey to the fast-food chain restaurant phenomenon so common in America.
While there may be a different kind of BBQ Shack in every city today, it is still the tradition of barbecue that defines true barbecue greatness. The history of barbecue is and will remain a journey through the history of America.