What is barbecue sauce?

Just as there are many flavors and variations of barbecue sauce flavors, so are the stories of barbecue's origin…

According to Food Product Design, new evidence that barbecued meats were enjoyed by royalty and the rich as far back as 700 B.C. The first scientifically documented proof of barbecued meat consumption comes from the tomb of King Midas (730 to 700 B.C.), ruler of an empire that stretched from today's northern Iraq to central Turkey. In the king's tomb, pottery food jars were found to contain food residues. These residues were found to be barbecued goat or lamb.

Tracing the history of barbecue sauces in America is difficult because there are very few barbecue sauce recipes to be found in early cookbooks. 

A few recipes for true barbecue, usually open-pit style, have been passed down in English and French literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In Nouveaux Voyages aux Isles d'Amerique by Jean B. Labot (1693), there is a description of a barbecued whole hog that is stuffed with aromatic herbs and spices, roasted belly up, and basted with a sauce of melted butter, cayenne pepper, and sage. The fragrant meat was sliced and served on leaves of an aromatic West Indian plant.

This distinctively French way of roasting pig-utilizing sage and melted butter for basting - was apparently brought from the French West Indies to the shores of America by early slaves and Creoles. No written record exists of the simple recipe, so the exact basting and barbecuing process for this method will never be known.

Prepared Foods magazine reports that barbecuing originated in the New World. Upon their arrival in the Americas, Spanish explorers observed Native Americans (Cherokees and Creek Indians of the Carolinas) using crude wooden racks to smoke or dry fish, birds and meats. Later, the Spanish brought over cattle and pigs, which were also barbecued.

"Barbecue" is the English word adaptation from either the Spanish word "barbacoa" or the word "barabicoa" from the Taino Native American tribe of the Caribbean and Florida regions.

The early colonists learned to cook (barbecue) whole hogs from the Native Americans and the slaves. In colonial times, barbecue meant a big, festive community gathering. This custom was described by many, including George Washington, who noted he went to a barbecue in Alexandria, Virginia, that lasted for three days. Furthermore, when workers laid the cornerstone for the nation's Capitol in 1793, the leaders of the new Republic celebrated with a huge barbecue.

Barbecuing involved digging long, deep pits in the ground. Logs, added to the pits, were burned. When the logs burnt down to low-temperature coals, whole animals and fish were suspended above and slow-roasted over the wood smoke fire.

For many years, barbecue remained an East Coast and Southern tradition. Barbecue was spread across the U.S. as African Americans-knowledgeable in cooking the less meaty and less desirable cuts of meat-migrates to the northern and western states. Barbecuing became prevalent in cattle and rail towns throughout the country.

Following World War II, outdoor barbecuing became part of the suburban "good life." The ground pits were replaced by 55-gallon drums, which were cut into barbecue grills. In addition, bagged charcoal became more widely used.

Barbecue Flavor Trends
Bold flavor profiles-from ethnic to spiced-up home-style-continue to make news across every segment because people love adventure and crave new and exciting, intense flavor experiences.

The year 2001 saw Buffalo and barbecue flavors spread across menus in all kinds of unexpected ways, such as with french fries to wraps, from pizza to Asian and seafood items. Buffalo and barbecue continue to travel beyond wings and sandwiches.

  • Sales of barbecue ribs increased 7 percent in 2001
  • Sales of barbecue chicken increased 10 percent
  • Some form of barbecue is now featured on 10 percent of top 200 appetizer menus (Source: NPD/CREST)
  • Barbecue is the number one flavor on menus and the second fastest growing flavor, according to the Chain Account Menu Survey, 2001

Barbecue lovers seek a taste for every region. Texans tend to prefer smoky barbecue sauces while those on the West Coast favor a trendier blend of sweet and bold flavors. Classic Kansas City barbecue has a taste of molasses and the South is home to its unique mustard-based Carolina gold sauce.

A New Kind of Barbecue Rub? Succulent Spa Treatments
At the spa at the Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas, Texas, patrons can experience a Texas-style barbecue sauce wrap which includes "paprika and cayenne pepper for heat, honey and cream for moisture, and tomato paste for skin-firming antioxidants." The treatment also includes an exfoliating pineapple-peppercorn rub and an application of cooling margarita lotion, minus the tequila. Cost? Ninety-five dollars. (Source: Cooking Light)

Barbecue Flavor Variations
According to the Beef Industry Council, there are five distinct flavors most loved in American barbecue. They are:

Southwestern BBQ: Utilizing seasonings of the region such as dry mustard, chili powder, red and black pepper, sauces are typically tomato-based and often contain ketchup or chili sauce. Horseradish and beer as well as thick sauces are often used to baste meats during slow-roasting.

Southern BBQ: Unique for using a variety of flavor treatment combinations such as marinades that combine Worchestershire sauce and molasses or apple cider vinegar and cayenne pepper, this style also features the flavor or liquid hickory smoke in its sauces.

Kansas City (Midwestern) BBQ: Known for slow-smoking meats in a pit over aromatic woods such as hickory, oak, apple, cherry and pecan, this region also favors sweet and spicy side sauces typically consisting of tomato base, sweetened with molasses or brown sugar and flavored with horseradish or dry mustard.

Western BBQ: Seasoned distinctly lighter than other regional styles, this style features flavor treatments with fresh herbs and tangy citrus fruits. Accompaniments often include flavored mayonnaises, fruit salsas and herbed compound butters.

Other areas: New Englanders take their cue from traditional clambakes and add seaweed to smoking coals. In Ohio, ribs are the cut of choice, but in Oklahoma (as in Texas), brisket is favored.

Rain or Shine Barbecue

1 Cup (8 ounces) Bottled red or Russian or sweet and spicy French dressing 
1 Jar (12 ounces) Apricot preserves 
1 Envelope Onion Soup Mix 
3 lbs. Spareribs, cut into serving pieces 
2 to 2.5 lbs. Chicken, cut into serving pieces

In medium bowl, blend dressing, preserves and onion soup mix; set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In large shallow baking pan, bake spareribs 30 minutes. Then, begin to bake chicken, arranged in additional large shallow baking pan. Brush chicken and spareribs with half the glaze; bake 30 minutes. Brush with remaining glaze, then bake an additional 15 minutes or until chicken and spareribs are done.

Grill spareribs 30 minutes. Then, add chicken and grill 20 minutes. Brush chicken and spareribs with glaze and continue to grill, turning and basting frequently, until chicken and spareribs are done.

Makes about 8 servings.

Sources: Barbeque Today, Food Product Design, Brands in Foodservice, a supplement to Nation's Restaurant News

For more information, contact: 
National Barbecue Association
1833 Centre Point Circle, Suite 123
Naperville, IL 60563

Fiery-Foods & Barbecue Business Industry Directory: www.fiery-foods.com