BBQ Sauce History: Caveman Flavor To Modern Culinary Masterpiece
December 10, 2020 / Comments
Grilling over a roaring fire filled with the sweet smell of smoke is a tradition many of us hold dear. Whether your tradition revolves around cooking dinner for your family or gathering the whole neighborhood for a good old fashioned cookout, we all have fond BBQ memories.
Naturally, we might believe that the concept of barbequing meat and developing BBQ sauce recipes is a modern one. But we’d be dead wrong.
Believe it or not, barbecue and BBQ sauce history goes way back. It’s a human tradition that’s been around for hundreds of thousands of years!
Barbecue is a timeless tradition passed down from our ancestors who roamed the earth all those years ago. That’s why we’re so fond of the sweet and smoky, spicy and tangy flavors—because it took thousands of years to perfect!
To truly appreciate the art of BBQ, it’s important to understand:
- The history of smoking meat and BBQ sauce (+ why BBQ isn’t an American invention!)
- BBQ traditions around the globe and right here in the United States
- Why BBQ sauce today would rock a caveman’s world (pun 100% intended!)
And, as your trusted Redneck guide, we’re here to tell you about all of that and more.
The History of Barbecue and BBQ Sauce: A Tasty Evolution
The concept of barbecue began about 2.5 million years ago when humans discovered that meat tastes great!
(Okay, it’s a bit more complex than that—a lack of nutritious leaves and such—but it was a wondrous discovery nonetheless.)
Fast forward a million years or so…
As our diets began to consist primarily of meat sources, one brilliant caveman got the idea to see what happens when meat and fire are combined.
Whether this idea was an accidental fire that got out of hand or completely on purpose, we’ll never know. But we applaud the brave caveperson and thank them for their contribution to mankind!
This discovery revolutionized human eating habits as we know it. And, as of approximately 700,000 years ago, humans ditched raw meat in favor of the smoky, flavorful taste of cooked meat. We think you’ll agree that the switch was for the better.
The Origins of Barbecue as We Know It
Sorry, Redneck friends and family. BBQ wasn’t invented in America!
Historians state that the concept of barbecue comes from the Caribbean. There, a Caribbean Indian tribe called the Taino used a raised wooden grate called a barbacoa to grill meat seasoned with spices, sauces, and herbs.
It is believed that barbecue comes from the term, barbacoa. This was first documented in a Spanish explorer’s account in 1526. And, in 1540, the Chicksaw tribe, in what we now know as Mississippi, cooked a similar-style meal for explorer Hernando de Soto.
Naturally, as word of this outstanding cuisine spread across the world, so did its influence on our culture. The concept of barbecue as a meal and as a gathering quickly gained traction worldwide.
In fact, in the 1650s, one of the first laws in Colonial America prohibited shooting guns at a barbecue!
Historians have even found mentions of lavish BBQ parties in George Washington’s journals. From that point on, BBQ had become a staple in communities nationwide and globally.
And, did you know the first commercial barbecue business opened in 1830 in Ayden, NC? The family’s descendants still operate the BBQ company to this day!
BBQ Sauce’s Pivotal Role in History
We know what you’re thinking.
“The history of BBQ is great and all, but more importantly, what about the sauce?!”
We hear you. The sauce is our favorite part of BBQ too.
You’ll be happy to know that barbecue sauce has just as fascinating of a history.
Prehistoric humans used oils, wine, spices, herbs, seeds, salt, and even blood to season the meat before and while cooking. As they quickly found out, dry and bland meat tastes awful. Essentially, they used whatever they could get their hands on to add some semblance of flavor and preservatives to the meat.
In his book, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee reports about a Chinese Chef, I Yin, who wrote about balancing the flavors we know and love—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami—in sauces in 239 A.D.
It was from these foundations that the concept of a sauce was born. As the historic French, Italian, and Spanish chefs began to experiment with various sauce concepts, the coveted title of a “saucier” was born.
Early versions of BBQ sauce included lots of butter, pepper, sage, and of course, vinegar. We’re thankful for these early sauce recipes, as these BBQ pioneers paved the way for the sweet and tangy sauce we know and love today.
The One Thing the Whole World Can Agree On: BBQ is Delicious
BBQ is a universal cuisine. It’s not limited to the Southern states in America by any means!
Take a look at how cultures around the world celebrate BBQ.
If you’ve ever gone to a Japanese steakhouse or sushi bar, you may have noticed Yakitori on the menu. This Japanese BBQ staple is served in street food stands and 5-star restaurants alike. The meal consists of chicken skewers slowly grilled over white charcoal, giving the flavor a super savory taste.
Similar to American culture, barbecues are a communal meal. In South Africa, Braai refers to meat cooked over a wooden grill known as a braaistand. Traditionally, everyone helps out with the braai and these events are by invitation only!
Also, you never, ever mess with the host’s braiistand fire. You wouldn’t fiddle with another person’s grill, would you? (You better not…)
In Brazil, a popular type of barbecue is called Churrasco. You’ll recognize these culinary sensations by the gigantic hunks of meat on strong metal skewers. The meat is then shaved off tableside onto an individual’s plate with the goal of eating as much Churrasco as possible until you physically have to give up.
Churrasco can refer to all types of meat, but typically uses beef smoked on high heat or an open flame.
Ironically, the German term closely resembling American BBQ is Grillen. This communal feast usually has a massive barbecue menu featuring everything from sausages to pork chops and of course, cold beer. But, you’ll never find a burger at a grillen!
American BBQ Traditions: The BBQ History We Know Best
Although barbecue is consumed around the globe, nowhere else has quite as much BBQ diversity as the United States.
In our country alone, one can enjoy iconic BBQ styles such as:
- Memphis BBQ – Memphis-style BBQ is known for dry rub BBQ, with a heavy emphasis on pulled pork. Cooked in a giant pit, the meat is served with a thin tomato-based BBQ sauce that packs a super tangy punch.
- Kansas City BBQ – Slow and low is the name of the game in Kansas City. Any type of meat is fair game here, too. You’ll know you’re in Kansas City by the super thick BBQ sauce combining tomato and molasses!
- North Carolina BBQ – In North Carolina, you’ll find Eastern-style BBQ and Lexington-style BBQ. Those that subscribe to the Eastern doctrine use the entire pig, while Lexington enthusiasts only smoke the shoulder and ribs. Both styles, however, use a spicy vinegar brush before grilling and are served with a ketchup-based sauce.
- South Carolina BBQ – Head south and you’ll find BBQ served with a mustard-based sauce that features brown sugar and vinegar as the main ingredients. Popular South Carolina BBQ staples include ham and pork butt.
- Texas BBQ – Ah, Texas. Home of the brisket BBQ. But make sure you distinguish between Central Texas and East Texas BBQ! Central Texas likes their BBQ smoked over pecan and oak wood, while East Texas BBQ is smothered in hot sauce and commonly served as some form of a sandwich. No matter which style you choose, you’re in for some mouth-watering BBQ either way.
- Alabama BBQ – While Alabama’s meat smoking technique is reminiscent of its Southern neighbors, it’s the sauce that makes this state’s BBQ stand out. Alabama BBQ always, always, always uses a white vinegar style BBQ sauce. The mayo and vinegar combination, while sounding grotesque, is delicious.
Although friendly fights have happened over which region has the best BBQ, know that you can’t go wrong no matter where you eat!
Making History, One BBQ Sauce at a Time
Today’s BBQ sauce recipes would rock a caveman’s world.
Long gone are the days of using leaves, salt, and oils to season meat as our ancestors once did. We now know the secrets to making BBQ sauce so good, it’s impossible to go a meal without it.
If only our ancestors knew how good BBQ could taste with a few dabs of sauce!
Our Arkansas-inspired BBQ sauce infuses multiple American BBQ styles into one decadent recipe for a flavorful mouthful with every bite. Whether you want BBQ with a spice kick or a tangy treat, rely on Redneck Lipstick to get the job done.