History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

What is BBQ, Who invented Barbecue?

Humans began cooking meat over fire around 1.8 million years ago so the origins of barbecue belong in our distant past. However, these days the origin of BBQ – meaning meat cooked over a fire in a grill or pit and with the meat or vegetables marinated, and rubbed with spices and sauces comes from the Caribbean.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

History of Barbecue – the origins of the word barbecue

The word barbacoa first appeared in a journal from a Spanish explorer’s account of his journey to the West Indies in 1526 (according to Planet Barbecue). The explorers came across the indigenous Taino people who cooked their meat on a raised grill over the fire and the Spanish called it barbacoa. Translated to English barbacoa means barbecue.

The first indigenous tribes Christopher Columbus met on Hispaniola had developed a unique method for cooking meat over an indirect flame, created using green wood to keep the food (and wood) from burning. From Hispaniola, the Spanish explorers moved northwards and in 1540 there are records of Hernando de Soto experiencing a cooked feast of wild pig that was cooked over the barbacoa by the indigenous Chickasaw tribe. I would hazard a guess that most indigenous people cooked their food this way as did the populations of Europe before the stove was invented.

The origins of barbecue

The Evolution of American Barbecue – Barbecue and black culture in America

Barbecue history is integral to Black history and, by default, American history. But its roots are traced back to the Indigenous Caribbeans. American barbeque was the work of black slaves in the Southern USA. By the Civil War, Southerners had been cooking barbecue for more than two centuries, and a great many of these cooks were African-American slaves, who tended the pits at barbecues organized for the white community as well as at events for their own families and friends

Barbecuing is not easy work many hours are spent over a flaming fire in the deep south with those temperatures and humidity and it is clear that in the United States, African Americans were the group that managed, tended and created the BBQ traditions that we know today.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

As slaves their labour was free and when slavery was over the slaves became cheap hired labour to work in restaurants and cafes across the USA. And yes white people have BBQ’d for generations but the bulk of the tradition is down to the slaves that were bought and sold in the South.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Michael Twitty, a food historian and author of the 2018 James Beard Foundation’s Book of the Year “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South,” is an outspoken advocate for making sure the history of barbecue is not rewritten to downplay the contributions of those who crafted the art while suffering under oppression.

“If America is about people creating new worlds based on rebellion against oppression and slavery, then barbecue is the ideal dish: it was made by enslaved Africans with inspiration and contributions from Native Americans struggling to maintain their independence,” Twitty wrote in The Guardian.

In America, there is a Barbecue Hall of Fame but sadly as of this year, only three African American pitmasters — Henry Perry, John “Big Daddy” Bishop, and C.B. Stubblefield — have been inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame, and all three were honoured posthumously.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World
Henry Perry inventor of Kansas BBQ

A word here on the origins of the word barbecue – the word barbacòa eventually made its way into English but likely had some French influence before that which is how the two spellings barbecue and barbeque came about. The word barbecue can be used to mean both the means of grilling food with wood or charcoal or the actual oven/stove/pit or method of fire used.

Frequently Asked Questions – History of BBQ

1. What is the origin of barbecue?

The history of BBQ dates back to indigenous people in the Caribbean who cooked meat over open flames. The term “barbecue” comes from the Spanish explorer who observed this cooking technique known as barbacoa. It made its way to America and evolved into American barbecue as we know it today.

3. What are the different styles of barbecue?

There are various styles of barbecue across America, such as Kansas City barbecue, Southern barbecue, and pit barbecue. Each style has its own unique barbecue traditions, cooking methods, and barbecue sauces like vinegar-based or tomato-based sauces.

4. How did enslaved Africans contribute to American barbecue?

Enslaved Africans played the most important role in the evolution of American barbecue by bringing their barbecue technique and cooking method to the American South. They introduced rub and vinegar-based sauces to enhance the flavor of meat cooked over hot coals.

5. What is the significance of beef brisket in barbecue?

Beef brisket is a popular cut of meat used in barbecue due to its rich flavor and tender texture when smoked low and slow in a smoker. It is a staple in Kansas City barbecue and other American barbecue traditions.

Styles of Barbecue and history of BBQ around the World

Because barbecue is a relatively simple process using wood or charcoal you don’t need anything fancy to build one. A pit dug in the ground, a metal grate or rack even a simple clay oven can be used for Barbeque. Around the world, most countries have their own version or style of BBQ and barbeque has evolved into a distinct food culture category.  

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through a link, I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you. These commissions help keep this website up and running, and I thank you for your support. Read my full disclosure here.

Types of Barbeque around the World

American Barbecue

There are four distinct barbecue traditions in the United States – Carolina, Texas, Memphis and Kansas City. Southern Barbecue is where the meat is cooked slowly over indirect heat. The style originated in the southern part of North America and varies from region to region. From there each region of the USA has a BBQ Style that it slightly different using various meats, sauces, mops and rubs.

Carolina BBQ

North Carolina uses a vinegar-based sauce which came from the British love of the condiment and its ability to keep the meat juicy, but in South Carolina, they tend to prefer a mustard-based sauce that originated with the French and German immigrants. South Carolina is the only state that traditionally includes all four recognized barbecue sauces, including mustard-based, vinegar-based, and light and heavy tomato-based sauces

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Texas BBQ

Texas barbeque became dominantly beef-based thanks to the German immigrants that moved to the state to raise cattle. However, in Texan molasses was added to create a sweeter barbecue flavour and the meats are generally speaking grilled over mesquite giving the meat a distinctive flavour. Texas brisket is also unique to this area, the meat simply seasoned with salt and pepper is slow-cooked for hours and melts in your mouth.

Smoked barbeque beef brisket sandwich with pickles

Memphis BBQ

Memphis-style BBQ is mainly done with pork and it can be pulled or pork ribs. The other distinctive feature is the rub which is a dry rub massaged into the meat and containing dozens of different herbs and spices. 

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Kansas City BBQ

This BBQ style was born when a man called Henry Perry opened a barbecue restaurant.  Perry preferred a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce. Kansas City-style sauces are sweet and thick. The recipe usually includes a base made with tomato and molasses, and you may find brown sugar as well. The sauce is cooked into the meat or brushed on immediately after cooking.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Favourite Barbecue reads

African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture: Ranging from seventeenth-century West African fare to contemporary fusion dishes using soul food ingredients, the essays in this book provide an introduction to many aspects of African American foodways and an antidote to popular misconceptions about soul food. Individual chapters examine how African foodways survived the passage into slavery, cultural meanings associated with African American foodways, and the contents of African American cookbooks, both early and recent.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

An Irresistible History of Southern Food: Four Centuries of Black-Eyed Peas, Collard Greens and Whole Hog Barbecue: Fried chicken, rice and gravy, sweet potatoes, collard greens and spoon bread – all good old-fashioned, down-home southern foods, right?Wrong. The fried chicken and collard greens are African, the rice is from Madagascar, the sweet potatoes came to Virginia from the Peruvian Andes via Spain, and the spoon bread is a marriage of Native American corn with the French souffle technique thought up by skilled African American cooks.

Savage Barbecue: Race, Culture, and the Invention of America’s First Food: In Savage Barbecue, Andrew Warnes traces what he calls America’s first food through early transatlantic literature and culture. Building on the work of scholar Eric Hobsbawm, Warnes argues that barbecue is an invented tradition, much like Thanksgiving-one long associated with frontier mythologies of ruggedness and relaxation.

Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ: In the first cookbook by a Black pitmaster, James Beard Award-winning chef Rodney Scott celebrates an incredible culinary legacy through his life story, family traditions, and unmatched dedication to his craft.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Origins of Barbecue around the world

Spanish Asador

Stretching back centuries to those first Spanish explorers a parrillada is a barbecue and is sometimes referred to as barbacoa in Spain. In Spanish-speaking countries, the word parrillada is commonly used but you will also hear parrilla and Asado.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

In Spain, it’s not just about the meat as it tends to be in South America. Fish, shellfish, and vegetables are popular on la Brasa – over hot coals or on a Parilla, a grate or grill; a la Brasa, and a plancha, a metal hot plate set over coals.

Chile – Asado

In Chile, during the summer months, everyone takes part in fiestas which include an Asado.  The asado is always taken care of by men who are known as the parrillero or grill master.  This is a social occasion that gives communities a chance to drink, celebrate and generally catch up with each other.

The women prepare the side dishes the anticuchos (meat skewers). And the pebre, a condiment made with onion, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, olive oil, and cilantro that’s essentially Chile’s national topping and is put on all kinds of meats.

There are two main components of a Chilean barbecue, the first is the choripan, which is a small sausage served in a roll like a small French baguette and this is followed by a steak or lamb. In the southern Chilean area, the meat is dominantly lamb, but beef and chicken are also served.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Argentina – Asado

Like Chile the asados are similar but probably by now, everyone is familiar with an Argentine steak house where cuts of beef, lamb and pork are brought to the table on skewers and you can choose your favourites.

The asado tradition comes down from the gauchos or cowboys of the early 1800s. The meats usually include pork and beef sausages, blood sausage, and steaks, which are served with chimichurri sauce for flavour. Argentinean chimichurri is made with chopped fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and red pepper flakes. 

Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Nicaragua – Churrasco

Brazilian Barbecue also known as Churrasco made by Gauchos, Brazil.

A churrascaria is a type of restaurant where meat is cooked in churrasco-style which basically means barbecue. Similar to the Argentinian asados the cuts of meat are marinated with garlic and lemon or lime juice and marinated for hours. They are then simply seasoned with salt and pepper and then charcoal grilled. 

At a Brazilian Churrascaria, a fine yuca flour called farofa is served on the side to sprinkle on top of the meat and a condiment called Molho Campanha is made with red and green peppers, onion, and tomato and the drink of choice is a Caipirinha.   

Mexico – Barbacoa

Mexicans love barbacoa, which is generally mutton or pork slowly cooked over an open flame, or more traditionally in a fire pit. Also, as in many other places in Latin America, there is a strong tradition in Mexico of preparing pollo asado which is chicken on mesquite charcoal-fired grills after the chicken meat has been marinated overnight in an often secretly guarded recipe adobo sauce. Adobo is of paprika, oregano, salt, garlic, and vinegar to preserve and enhance the flavour of the meat.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Korean – Barbecue

A Korean BBQ is a unique experience that everyone at the table participates in. The grill is usually set in the centre of the table and servers bring plates of meat and side dishes known as Banchan and then everyone grills their own food.  The meats will include thinly sliced beef called bulgogi, galbi which are beef ribs, and dak Galbi which is marinated chicken. You will also see the side dishes Gochujang which is the Korean sweet and spicy sauce, fermented bean paste, sesame oil raw scallions and ssamjang a thick spicy paste.

Kimchi Korean cuisine barbecue grill meat and vegetables

France, Switzerland – Pierrade

These countries have a very unique BBQ called pierrade, or Pierre chaude. The meat is sliced very thin and then seared over a hot stone plate sort of similar to Korean BBQ but with a hot flat stone as the grill. 

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

German barbecue

Similar to the USA’s Barbecue culture Germany calls it grillen but it never includes burgers only sausages. The German are of course famous for the sausages and their methods of infusing flavour using mustard and the way they grill meat is very Texan style BBQ.

Merguez Sausages with harissa on wooden board.style rustic.selective focus

South African – braai

In South Africa, you will likely be asked to come to a braai that comes from the Afrikaans language. Generally speaking meats such as lamb, beef and pork sausage are grilled on a wood-fired braaistand. These braais are like a potluck the host will tell you what meat to bring and it’s usually a party-like event.

Smoking Rolled sausage on the grilling pan with open flames

West Africa – Suya

Suya is a spicy meat skewer that is popular street food in West Africa. Suya is usually made with skewered beef, mutton, or chicken and sometimes kidney, liver and tripe are also used. The thinly sliced meat is marinated in various spices which includes a spice called Suya Spice or peanut cake which is a ground peanuts, garlic, ginger, salt, smoked paprika and onion powder which is used to coat the beef before barbequing Suya is served with extra helpings of dried pepper mixed with spices and sliced onions.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Australia – barbecue

Shrimp don’t exist in Australia as they are known as prawns and yes they are bbq’d and it is called a Barbie. The Australians love a Barbie on the beach and will cook anything from steaks to lobster and prawns. Free BBQ’s are located on most public beaches and all you have to do is bring the charcoal and a light.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Israel – Al-Haesh

In Israel, barbeque is knowns as “Al-Haesh” which is Hebrew for “on the fire. The most common is a kebab which uses chicken or steak with assorted vegetables. Most families have a small grill in the garden to BBQ with.

Iran – Kabab Koobideh

An Iranian BBQ usually serves koobideh which is ground meat such as lamb or beef blended with grated onions and spices and then formed around a skewer. The spices will include sumac and turmeric and the kabab is usually served on a dish of Persian steamed rice dish.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Turkey –  Mangal

In Turkey, a BBQ party or celebration is called a mangal. Families gather to cook copious amounts of meat which is usually lamb or beef cooked by the pitmaster who takes hours to ensure the meat is tender and tasty. The mangal refers to the large flat grill with charcoal and to the party itself.

Very much like an American-style BBQ party, there are dozens of side dishes of vegetables and drinks like Turkish tea and coffee or if the people are attending not Muslim wine and beer is available.

Delicious kebab sandwiches on wooden board

Japan – Yakitori

Yakitori is one of Japan’s favourite street foods. It is essentially chicken on a skewer which is grilled over charcoal and typically served two at a time. The chicken will be seasoned with either shio (salt) or tare (a sweet and savoury sauce).

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Japan – Yakiniku

Originally this term was used to refer to a western-style barbecue but today it refers to a style of cooking on a griddle over wood. The meats used for yakiniku are not marinated but a special sauce called tare which is made of soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, garlic, fruit juice, and sesame seeds is used as a dipping sauce.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia – Satay

One of my personal favourites is satay which is usually a simply seasoned meat like chicken served with a sauce coating the meat. Sauces can vary but satay itself means a peanut sauce which is combined with garlic, sugar, ginger, salt and of course chiles.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Each Southeast Asian country has a different way to make the sauce and even though it always contains peanuts some use coconut milk or fish sauce to add flavour to the basic sauce.

Hong Kong – Char Siu

Wander through any China town such as London’s and you will see char siu that’s often seen hanging in front of Chinese barbecue restaurants. Char siu is basically long strips of boneless pork seasoned with five-spice powder, honey, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and red food colouring. They are skewered and then placed on a charcoal grill and actually, Char Siu means “fork roasted” in English.  

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

China – Chuan’r

Chuan’r is actually a traditional Uyghur and since they are a Muslim community they use lamb. The lamb is coated with sesame oil, salt, pepper, red pepper and cumin and then roasted over charcoal. Other types of meat can be used from chicken to various edible insects and you will find this very popular street food in most major Chinese cities.

xinjiang roast lamb kebabs, sprinkle cumin powder

China – Shao Kao

Shao Kao is the traditional food of the Chinese Spring Festival. This is skewered meat and vegetables that are coated with Chinese five-spice powder and cumin and then cooked over a charcoal grill.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World
©Felix Andrews (Floybix), CC BY-SA 3.0

Mongolia – Khorkhog

Mongolian khorkhog is a version of BBQ that is cooked over hot stones. The Khorkhog is traditionally mutton or goat cooked with potatoes, carrots, and onions. The stones are heated over the fire and then put into a large pot and the meat and vegetables are added and cooked in the pot.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

India, Pakistan, Bangladesh – Tandoori Chicken

Glorious Tandoori chicken that luscious marinated chicken cooked in an intensely hot tandoor which is a clay oven that has a charcoal fire inside it.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

The chicken is marinated in yoghurt and seasoned with garam masala, garlic, ginger, onion and cayenne. The meat once marinated is threaded on a skewer and then placed inside the pot. The result is smoky moist pieces of bone-in chicken that have a trademark reddish colour.

 Greece – Souvlaki

Souvlaki in Greece is usually a pork kebab where the pork has been marinated in lemon juice, olive oil and lots of garlic.  The meat is then skewered and grilled over wood or charcoal and when ready served with a pita and some flavourful Tzatziki sauce which is made with yoghurt and includes salt and grated cucumber.

greek souvlaki, pita ma gyros, top view

Russia – Shashlik

Shashlik can be cooked with any meat, but it is always marinated and the marinades traditionally include an apple cider vinegar or yoghurt base with salt, pepper, garlic and sometimes finely sliced onions.

The word “shashlik” was originally from the Crimean Tatar word “shish” which means “a spit” and “shishlik” which means “something on a spit”.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

 Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean – Kebab

Kebabs are now pretty much ubiquitous around the world but they began in the Middle East and can be made from any type of meat and vegetables that are available. They are grilled and served with pita, or rice and will occasionally be made from ground meats that are shaped around a skewer and grilled over an open flame.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Indonesian and Malaysian –  Ikan Bakar

Ikan Bakar translates to “burned fish” in Indonesia and it is a very traditional barbecue treat. It is always a whole fish that is roasted crisply on a charcoal grill and it is topped with a sambal or chile sauce and served on a banana leaf.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

The Philippines – lechón

Lechón is a very slow-roasted over hot coals suckling pig. The skin is seasoned with various herbs and spices depending on what country you are eating it in. In the Philippines, the rub includes lemongrass, garlic, spices, fruit, soy sauce, and coconut water. While in Cuba the marinade is the perfect combination of citrus, garlic, and spices.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Jamaica – Jamaican Jerk

Jamaica is the heart of jerk culture and of course the country’s national dish. The Jerk spice is a rub made of Scotch bonnet chiles which are eye-wateringly hot combined with thyme and allspice. The meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with these 3 being the main ingredients the wet marinade is usually in a vinegar base.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Earth Oven Barbecues

Samoa – Umu

In the Pacific Islands, they have been grilling over open pits called umus for thousands of years. The umu is an earthen above-ground oven of a kind that is filled with red hot lava rocks. Anything can be cooked in an umu but the meat or vegetables are usually coated with coconut cream.

Hawaiian – Kalua Pork

In Hawaii, they use a similar method to Samoa but it is called an imu. This is a large bbq pit that is filled with kindling and lava rock and left to heat up for hours.  The imu is used to cook most food items but the most traditional is the kalua pork. Within the pit layers of leaves are placed which will create thick steam. The whole pig is then laid on top of these with another layer of coconut or banana leaves covering the pig.  

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

New Zealand – Hangi

The Māori, have cooked in an earth oven called a hangi for centuries. Depending on the availability of certain meats the hangi can include everything from fish to beef, lamb and chicken.

Rotorua New Zealand - April 2014; Smoke and dust fly as food is being prepared for a traditional maori feast or Hangi, by steaming through heat from underground thermal activity or heated stones in base of pit.

A hangi oven is loaded with stones which are heated and then covered in leaves to generate steam and then covered in earth to slowly cook the food to perfection. 

Tahitian Hima’a

A Hima’a is a large earth oven in which are placed baskets made of banana leaves that hold everything from suckling pigs to yams, taro, shellfish, breadfruit and any other seasonally available meat, fish or vegetables.

History of Barbecue and Evolution of BBQ around the World

Barbeque has a long history and we humans love cooking over fire – so go explore all the BBQ you can and enjoy your travels seeking out new barbeque flavours.

You might also like

UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage – food

148 National Dishes of countries around the world

Weird American food – 32 dishes to try

World of Drinks – the weird and wonderful

The Origins of Barbecue

38 of the best noodle dishes around the world


  • Faith was born in Ireland raised in Canada and has lived in over 10 countries in Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Wales, along with Mexico, Antigua, the US and has slow travelled to over 40 countries around the world. Graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies Faith is a student of history, culture, community and food and has written about these topics for over 40 years.

    View all posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top