First form of cooking still best
Since the dawn of creation, man has been barbecuing. Ever since he first stood erect, hunted that animal, and built a fire, man has barbecued.
Barbecuing has evolved into tailgating, and few things have changed since the dawn of man’s first open pit. The entire caveman theory of cooking over an outdoor fire was learned early on. And the dangers of cooking with indoor fires has stirred constant debate.
Whereas the arsenal of weapons has not changed much over time, the debates over gas versus charcoals for fuel or direct grilling versus indirect grilling only recently caused a stir.
How can something as simple as fire and wood become so complicated?
In a 1588 etching by Thomas Hariot, he illustrated the Taino Indians of North America smoking grilled fish and meat. Barbacoa is the Taino word for the framework of the stick grate built to smoke or grill meats, soon after the geographic styles of barbecuing came to evolve.
The East and West coasts consider barbecuing as cooking quickly over an open fire, a great example of direct grilling. The South, Midwest and Hawaii, for that matter, tend to roast or smoke their meats longer and slower, which is an example of indirect grilling. Both methods have their advantages depending upon what you are cooking. If you have thin strips of chicken or filet, direct grilling done quickly will retain more natural flavor. If the cut of pork is big and tough, indirect grilling will soften up the pig. Controlling the height of the food grate over the flame determines how long the meat is to cook. Texas pit masters take up to 16 hours to smoke their briskets.
Barbecue recipes date back to 1732 by R. Bradley of London, who, along with a sauce recipe, gives instructions on killing and removing the “inwards” of the pig.
Sauces started showing up in the early 1800s, consisting of butter, wine and tomatoes. Ask any pit master and he will agree when it comes down to it, it’s the sauce.
Nothing beats the convenience of a gas grill – just step outside and fire it up. They are easy to keep clean, keep a consistent heat and are self-igniting.
Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are messy, dirty and smelly. However, charcoals get hotter then gas, which means better searing and much more efficiency when it comes to smoking.
Charcoals produce their own flavor in grilling. A wood fire imparts a very distinct flavor in food. Texas has its mesquite wood for grilling and California uses old grapevines for grilling. Each enhances the meat differently. Mesquite is a smokier flavor and grapevines offer a spicier flavor.
We should thank the caveman and the Taino Indians for their part in the evolution of barbecuing, and of course for the evolution of the opposing thumb. For how else can we eat ribs?
– Peter Arcuri is Tahoe Daily Tribune’s food and wine writer. He can be reached at email@example.com