If you thought that barbecue was a recent fashion or that it only dated from the last century, you’re mistaken. Indeed, it appears that its name actually derives from the Spanish word barbacoa, which itself derives from the Caribbean native term barbicù, used by the Taíno peoples. This cooking method requires lighting embers in a hollow over which a green wood grill is placed in order to cook meat and game. However, many centuries passed before this cooking method became widely used. Then the European settlers brought it home with them.
Certainly, one could argue that cooking with embers has its roots far back in time, but its widespread use according to methods we’re familiar with is a modern phenomenon. Actually, many languages and traditions seek to claim the origins of the name and also the culture of roasting meat on embers. For example, the French insist that the word derives from barbe à queue, meaning “from the beard to the tail”, to evoke the method using an animal skewered on a stick to be roasted in its entirety.
There are various types of BBQ or barbecue. According to the most traditional methods, the meat is placed on a horizontal grill, on which it is quickly smoked, before being transferred to a vertical grill, in order for the meat to be cooked through gradually.
In some states in the Midwest and Southern US, the meat is placed a certain distance from the embers and exposed to a relatively low temperature, just over 110 degrees centigrade or in any event always below 180. This technique is known as Low&Slow and can be considered (with ample licence) as a sort of early version of low temperature cooking. For many people, this technique is more like smoking than cooking on embers, but the Americans consider it a real BBQ method.
There is also a variant of cooking over embers through direct contact, using a hot stone plate placed on the embers. This is a high speed, high temperature barbecue.
Here in Italy, there are various regional “rules” for the cooking of certain cuts of fine meat on a grill. The most famous example is the Florentine steak, which uses a very specific type of meat that should be cooked over embers made from specific types of wood.
Barbecue is open to individual creativity. It’s possible to try all the types of cooking over embers that have ever existed in history or which have developed differently in various parts of the world. Any such culinary experiments serve to enrich an enjoyable heritage of grilled feats, which Italians all enjoy sharing.