Steven Raichlen's Barbecue! Bible



So where does the term “barbecue” come from? In 1516, a Spanish explorer named Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes encountered a band of Taino Indians cooking in this manner on the island of Hispanola–today, the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Asked what they called the grill, they responded, “Barbacoa”. So the original meaning of the term barbacoa was, indeed, a grill. Note a couple of interesting things:
1. When your grill grate is made of wood, you have to position it high above the fire so it doesn’t burn.
2. In this position, you’re cooking with hot smoke as much as fire.
3. Hot smoke both flavors the fish and helps preserve it.
4. The term “barbecue” does not come from the French “de la barbe a la queue”–“from the beard to the tail”.
Stay tuned for more barbecue history lessons in the coming months.

Join the Discussion

  • Karen F. Davis

    I have had the thrill (more than once) of fresh-hunted jerk pork grilled Jamaican Taino-barbacoa style, high in the Blue Mountains, tended by men of Maroon ancestry (Maroons escaped from enslavement and lived with Taino Indians in forested mountain hideouts). The grill is made from just-cut green very moist wood branches, with the grilling bed only c. 20 inches over the ground-level bed of coals. The grill does not burn. Even more moisture is provided by the banana leaves in which the pork and its spice mixture are enclosed before being placed on the grill and then covered by corrugated “tin” (zinc) roofing.