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Your definition of "barbecue"

I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were discussing where the term "barbecue" came from, but they then also when on to talk about the different definitions of what a bbq really is, usually regional. For example, bbq is ONLY consider bbq if: it's pork only, or has to be slathered in is sauce, has NO sauce, or is cooked slow on in-direct heat, hot and fast, burgers and dogs only, or any umpteen possibilities. This isn't meant to become a debate as to what is the "correct" way to bbq.

Not to mention the definition of "grilling" which would be the topic for another thread. :) (In England, grilling is broiling in the oven.)

For me, I'm easy. BBQ is any form of cooking over and open flame, in-direct or direct. If it's an open flame, it's bbq to me.

How about for you?

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  1. Not just in England but throughout our country, grilling is what Americans call broiling. The word "barbecue" has a number of meanings. Depending on context, it can be an event, a method of cooking or the equipment used to cook food.

    As in "Hi Midknight. I'm having a barbecue on Sunday, would you like to come? I'm going to barbecue some lamb chops on the barbecue."

    1. My definition of BBQ depends on context.

      Loosely, I'm with you on your interpretation - cooking, direct or in-direct, with open flame - with one modification: I'd change "open flame" to "either charcoal or fire".

      However, I consider "true" BBQ to be low and slow cooking with indirect heat from a charcoal or fired source and including smoke.

      In my neck of the woods, however:
      1. most people think BBQ means grilling.
      2. "a BBQ" is a social event centered around outdoor cooking, usually grilling.
      3. any food will suffice at "a BBQ" from hot dogs & hamburgers to steaks to ribs to corn (pork/poultry/beef/game/fish/vegetables - doesn't matter).
      4. people in the know will differentiate grilling from BBQ. They usually refer to BBQ "real BBQ" meaning "low and slow cooking with indirect heat from a charcoal or fired source and including smoke"

      4 Replies
      1. re: porker

        If you ask any of the competitors at the numerous barbecue competitions nationwide (I have mostly attended the one back home in Reno NV) they will adamantly agree with #4. Anything else is grilling.

        1. re: PotatoHouse

          Thats kinda what I mean by "in context". It'll depend on person to person and place to place and situation to situation.

          Not too many people in my neck of the woods know the difference between grilling and BBQ anyway.

          I was in Australia and their "BBQ" was cooking on a sheet of metal heated by a gas flame. I asked "why are you cooking on the hood of a chevy? Thats not BBQ". It was more of an outdoor griddle....
          Had I more resources and time, I would have done a true BBQ for them. Who knows, maybe they wouldn't have liked it anyway...

        2. re: porker

          I'm with # 4. Low and slow, with smoke. Meat type may vary, but of course some lend themselves better to barbecue than others. Grilling is higher heat, shorter time, and food that lends itself to such treatment. Tomorrow I will be grilling, not barbecuing, a turkey, sweet potatoes, even rolls and pies. My grills are grills, not barbecues. But I can produce barbecue on my grill. Clear as mud yet?
          Oh... if it's cooked in the oven or a crockpot and loaded with sauce, PLEASE do not call it barbecue! That's just wrong...

          1. re: porker

            As you point out, in many areas, and in several contexts, BBQ = grilling, but not to everyone. I interchange the terms, but only among close friends, who will not call me on it. Others are as lenient, as I am. Others, however, would jump from their chairs, and issue a challenge. I am not of that ilk.


          2. On tv seconds ago. Ward Cleaver, "We're barbecueing tonight, how do like your steak?" Miss Landers over for dinner at the Cleaver house, "Medium is fine." In 1959 USA, bbq was the open flame. Here in Texas, it's low and slow, sauce not needed, but not against the law.

            3 Replies
            1. re: James Cristinian

              There are a few places around here that'll give you "the look" for saucing up your meat though. In Texas, it seems beef is more the thing. Pork sausage is pretty big as well, but it seems like brisket is king everywhere I go.

              1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                Yes brisket is king, and all places are judged by theirs. The sausage is usually a mixture of pork and beef. Pork ribs are the rib of choice at most places, spare ribs specifically, and surprisingly, beef ribs are relatively rare.

                1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                  There are areas of North Carolina, where you WILL get "the look," should you ask for sauce for the pork. One is best served by asking politely for it to be "on the side."

                  However, in many areas of the US, you just cannot get their BBQ, without sauce.

                  As I mentioned elsewhere, the sauce can differ wildly, depending on where you stopped your car.


              2. For me, BBQ is first and foremost a noun, not a verb. And it is only pork, cooked slowly over wood or charcoal, served with a vinegar based sauce.

                7 Replies
                  1. re: MGZ

                    Sorry? I don't understand your comment.

                    1. re: carolinadawg

                      Simply a lighthearted reference to the notion that placing meat "over" the fuel is grilling. Barbecue is the result of the meat being "near" the fire.

                    2. re: MGZ

                      Do you mean, only over charcoal, or something else?


                    3. re: carolinadawg

                      Sounds like you might be from NORTH Carolina, Carolinadawg. Also, IIRC, the vinegar-based sauce is more of a Western NC thing, and more tomato-based sauces are used to the East, in the same state. Did I get that differentiation correct, or reversed?

                      Now, SC has some other ideas about BBQ, but then do regions in North Carolina.

                      So long as it is good, I have zero complaints.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Somewhat reversed. Both eastern and western NC sauces are primarily composed of vinegar and spices. Western style adds a small amount of ketchup or tomato sauce and sometimes a little sugar or brown sugar. It is still a thin, primarily vinegar sauce. To me, it's really not that much of a difference, although many vehemently disagree.

                    4. "Real" BBQ to me is low and slow over a real wood fire. It can be direct or indirect, but it can't be gas. It may or may not include sauce, and does not necessarily have to be pork, although that is always my first choice.

                      1. The definition I've lived with is "something cooked on a barbecue" with the latter being a gas or charcoal heated grill that goes outside, and usually has a lid that can cover it. The alternate definition being "something with barbecue sauce on it" in the sense that a BBQ chicken burger at a restaurant is likely to be cooked on an indoor grill and covered in bottled BBQ sauce.

                        I will note that I've never lived in an area that prides itself on barbecue.

                        1. to me, "real" barbecue is low and slow, and actual flame isnt needed, but actual smoke is.
                          however, i am not offended by anyones uses of the word barbecue or bbq. with one exception, i dont like seeing restaurants offer barbecued ribs when they havent barbecued said ribs. (im looking at you apple-ruby-tgi-mc-funstix.)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: charles_sills

                            What bugs me is restaurants who advertise "grilled ______" (steak, chicken, whatever) or "cooked on the grill", when in fact its on the griddle (flat top). Not as bad but still a no-no (to me), are restaurants who advertise grilling when its actually broiling.
                            Grilling ain't BBQ, but to me, grilling should be on a grill *over* live charcoal or flame. Anything else ain't grilling.

                          2. Barbeque where I lived in Indiana and Ohio was just cooking on the grill.
                            Here in Georgia, it's smoked low and slow. Usually pork.

                            The ones that made me nuts were the few in Indiana that referred to sloppy joes as 'barbecue sandwiches'.

                              1. re: Steve

                                The wood has to be real wood - not some lame-ass chips you bought at the Home Depot. Real barbecue (no more of this BBQ sh*t) requires an ax - possibly a chain saw too. I mean, let's be honest barbecue is art - smoking meat is some wussy science thing that just doesn't count. Oh yeah - one more thing, barbecue requires canned beer - plenty of it!

                                1. re: Steve

                                  ...and don't forget the meat.
                                  Lots of fruitwoods and hardwoods are used these days, but I grew up
                                  with hickory smoked cue in KC. 1/2 oak, 1/2 hickory and a wide variety of meats: brisket, pork ribs, sausage, mutton, chicken, pork shoulder (sliced, not pulled)
                                  This idea that KC cue has to include gloppy sweet sauce covering everything is a result of Dr. Rich Davis and his KC Masterpiece sauce, not really indicative of the array of tastes available in the
                                  100 or so KC joints, both Black and White.
                                  add: Henry Perry was the father of KC cue, which is really a mixture of SE style and Texas style
                                  owing to the confluence of Rivers and Stockyards.
                                  and more prose from Doug...

                                  1. re: bbqboy

                                    When I would prune my apple tree, the larger limbs were put aside to dry, and then used for my BBQ operations. Now, it's my mesquite tree, that gets the same treatment.

                                    However, I am not equipped to be a purist, so I do cheat a bit, and use indirect, IR heat, on the gas grill, with the wood in a "smoker bin" filled with water. That is the best that I can do, but then I do it for personal consumption, and not commercially.


                                2. Here in Oregon, for the most part, home barbecue is grilling. We do have some real barbecue restaurants in town, with the whole setup out back.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: tracylee

                                    We have a few good places around the state. :)

                                  2. To me, it's any meat smoked and covered in or served with BBQ sauce. I also consider a hunk of beef or pork cooked in BBQ sauce in the oven or crockpot to be semi-BBQ. It isn't something I would pay for out or serve to a guest as authentic BBQ, but it is an okay substitute that we enjoy for BBQ sandwiches from time to time.

                                    1. The usage in Australia and the UK is quite different to what I've heard from USA TV and Movies.

                                      In the USA It seems it possible in the to use "barbeque" as an uncountable noun like "milk" which is not allowed in UK or Australian English.

                                      ie US: "We ate barbeque."

                                      However this usage sounds nonsensical in Australia where its usage is more limited to:

                                      - Verb "to barbeque" : the act of cooking outside over high heat on a grill or even flat metal surface
                                      - Noun 1. "a Barbeque" : an event, like a party where you cook things in the above method, "We had a BBQ on the weekend".

                                      - Noun 2. "a Barbeque": the thing you cook on which can use coals, wood, or even gas to generate heat.

                                      - Adjective: "barbequed chicken" which is actually a whole chicken cooked on a Rotisserie.

                                      So yeah that USA usage where you mean some meat (pork) cooked slowly and then covered in some disgusting sauce is unheard of in Australia. Thank god! its horrible anyway.

                                      16 Replies
                                      1. re: echoclerk

                                        As above...
                                        "...in Australia...their "BBQ" was cooking on a sheet of metal heated by a gas flame. I asked "why are you cooking on the hood of a chevy? Thats not BBQ". It was more of an outdoor griddle....
                                        Had I more resources and time, I would have done a true BBQ for them. Who knows, maybe they wouldn't have liked it anyway..."
                                        ...then "Thank god! its horrible anyway."

                                        Guess I hit the nail on the head. Hehe.

                                        1. re: echoclerk

                                          "So yeah that USA usage where you mean some meat (pork) cooked slowly and then covered in some disgusting sauce is unheard of in Australia. Thank god! its horrible anyway."

                                          Interesting. Where in the US have you eaten BBQ?

                                          1. re: carolinadawg

                                            I'm guessing its aversion based on unfamiliarity.

                                            1. re: porker

                                              I have eaten at http://www.bodeansbbq.com/ and I've had American Style BBQ ribs and some things at Food Markets in the UK coked by American Expats.

                                              The gist of it seems to be cook some meat and then slather it with some noxious sweet sour BBQ sauce. The meat seems to function merely as a vessel for funnelling that sauce down your throat.

                                              I find it lacks depth - its more the sauce I find disgusting.

                                              1. re: echoclerk

                                                Obviously you haven't had real Southern or Texas BBQ. No slathering of sauce. Rubbed with spices. Slow cooked at low temp. for many hours. Maybe mopped with a very light thin sauce. Served with some sauce, or none, or a thin, vinegar based sauce. That gloppy, sweet sauce is the chain restaurant crud, and for those who have never had real BBQ and don't know any better. Never tasted a single store bought sauce that was any good.

                                                Although Kansas City style does use a heavier sauce. As for Bodean's, a Kansas City style BBQ place in London? Do you really think that's what real BBQ tastes like? If so you are fooling yourself.

                                                I worked at a whole hog, BBQ joint in Georgia during grad school. Butterflied hogs, rubbed down with spices, slow cooked for 8-10 hours over coals from burning logs. Mopped down with apple juice every now and then to keep in the moisture. Served with a thin slightly spicy vinegar based sauce that people added as they saw fit. Amazing BBQ.

                                                I also worked with several teams on the pro BBQ competition circuit here in the US. Never saw any gloppy, sweet, sauces there. If any sauces are used they are to accentuate the flavors of the tender, smokey meat.

                                                1. re: echoclerk

                                                  American BBQ is pretty diverse, with many different regional styles that vary based on the meat, the cut, flavouring/marinate, sauce and smoking. Can't generalise, but for a number of styles, serious places serve the sauce on the side for light dipping that's added by the person eating, not the kitchen. BBQ is definitely centered around the meat, rather than the sauce.

                                                  Unfortunately not every American BBQ one gets in London (including some of the better rated ones) are good. Try the beef shortribs at Bukowski's in Brixton Market in London (cooked slow and low for 50 hours).

                                                  1. re: limster

                                                    BTW for North Carolina-style BBQ, here are some write-up/photos from Jim Leff's chow tour:

                                                    Notice how the meat is largely unadorned, and sauces are on the side.

                                                    1. re: limster

                                                      A nosy round the restaurants listed on the North Carolina BBQ Trail map will be of interest. I'm hoping that my tour of that part of the world next year will touch on at least a couple of places. http://www.ncbbqsociety.com/bbqmap/tr...

                                                  2. re: echoclerk

                                                    Echo - you mustn't judge American BBQ by the poor imitations we see in the UK (in the same way as I would hope Americans would not judge British food on the basis of that served in the faux pubs that I hear about over that side of the Atlantic).

                                                    I don't know Bodean, although I know it's London reputation as a "good" place, but I'm sure that it is also not a good representation. Here in the northwest, we have a couple of places styled on American chain BBQ places. They are OK for what they are and I've enjoyed meals at both. But, as you say, it's food slathered in BBQ sauce. And, no, they are not as good as even the chain places I've visited in America. And certainly nowhere near the cooking style that you might come across in, say, North or South Carolina where, generally, sauce will be served separately for you to mix into your pulled pork as you wish.

                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      Well ok before I write it off completely I'll try and taste some next time I'm in the USA. Actually might be in Michigan next Summer - but I guess that might not help as it seems more a southern thing.

                                                      Can one get good BBQ on Lake Huron - Michigan ?

                                                      1. re: echoclerk

                                                        I'll be subject to correction but suggest it does not travel well outside the southern states - and that applies almost as much to the northern states as it does to the UK. It'll be worth some research and a post on the relevent Chowhound board to see if there is anything worthy wherever you're visiting.

                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                          One of the greatest pitmasters of all time as well as what has become a BBQ shrine, his restaurant, are in Illinois, a state which borders on Lake Michigan...
                                                          Mike Mills and his 17th Street Bar&Grill.
                                                          Granted, Illinois dips into the south - Murphysboro, the locale of 17th St., is more south than Lexington Kentucky...also, I can appreciate your post, Harters, and I agree, real BBQ becomes rare outside the American South.
                                                          I just wanted to point out the Illinois thing for fun. {;-/).

                                                          echoclerk, where you gonna be in Michigan? maybe a CHer can point out a relevant BBQ joint. Until then, perhaps worth perusing:

                                                          1. re: Harters

                                                            Actually there is excellent BBQ is in New England. I've had incredible BBQ in Maine, and there are quite a few excellent places in NYC like RUB, Daisy Mae's, Hill Country, Wildwood, John Brown's, Fette Sau, etc. The pitmasters at some of these places have won the top awards in the industry.

                                                      2. re: echoclerk

                                                        Nothing sweet about NC BBQ sauce. You haven't had the real deal.

                                                  3. re: echoclerk

                                                    There are many places in the US, where all of your terms apply.

                                                    What, you are not allowed to drink "milk" in Australia... ? [Grin]


                                                    1. re: echoclerk

                                                      A sauce depends on exactly where you are. Then, the exact sauce depends on the geography, as well.

                                                      The range of US BBQ sauces differ, as there are stars in the sky. Also, some US BBQ shuns ANY sauce, so you only have the au jus of the meat (usually pork there).

                                                      Unfortunately, in quick and casual encounters with BBQ in the US, it's almost like meeting a fellow, now living in Sydney (but from Nevada, USA, originally), and saying "Oh, I now know all about Australians. Same would be if that fellow was a native, and running a station in the Gibson Desert. It is much too broad a subject to easily pigeonhole. One look (or maybe many), might well not paint a full, and true picture.

                                                      Heck, even for purists of BBQ, when a Texan, a KC resident, someone from Eastern North Carolina, and someone from Memphis, TN get together, they would all totally disagree about "true BBQ." Nothing wrong with that, so long as each has great examples handy, of what THEY contend is "true BBQ." Coming from a cuisine, where it was not part of the "culinary landscape," I can appreciate examples of many different versions of BBQ - both with, and without sauce, and with many different sauces. Good is good, at least to me.


                                                    2. To me BBQ is cooking low and slow, many times with smoke, low and slow may mean 225f for as much as 24 hours to make something tough like pork butt or brisket very tender. Out here in California I think many people incorrectly call grilling - barbecue. Grilling is hot and fast.

                                                      1. Interesting question. I grew up in a Pennsylvania/Arizona mishmash, lived is the southeast and now Texas, so I can define it in a lot of different ways. But my first instinct is to fire up the grill and cook meat on it. Sauce optional, beer necessary. I also use it as a verb, like "let's barbeque tonight".

                                                        1. In Minnesota there are still a lot of people who say they're having BBQs for a meal when what they really referring to are Sloppy Joes (think Manwhich). By the way, when I hear that usage I go insane. BBQ meqns low and slow with smoke. After that, it's up to regional preference as to the cut of meat, kind of wood, and kind of sauce and/or rub if any. Cooking steak, burgers, hotdogs, etc. over an open flame is grilling not BBQ.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                            In Montreal, everyone says BBQed chicken, when in fact its rotisserie chicken...

                                                            1. re: porker

                                                              Now, and even for me, the "BBQ liberal," that is a major stretch. Even if one were to put sauce on it, it would STILL be a stretch. But, that is just me.


                                                            2. re: John E.

                                                              The Minnesota usage threw me way of base once. My best girlfriend from school days lives there, and after a day out in the (extreme) cold, we walk in the door and her hubby announces that barbeque is ready. I thought he was nuts, but it was, indeed, a sloppy joe.
                                                              And I am trying to correct myself and use "let's grill", but old habits die hard.

                                                              1. re: alliegator

                                                                Yes, I have been known to swap those terms, though "grill" is my normal verb. In Colorado, my "grilling dog," a squat English Bulldog, would tunnel through 2' of fresh powder, to be at my side, when I would say, "let's grill a steak."

                                                                Now, in Arizona, my two Bulldogs have no clue how to be a "grilling dog," and they refuse to come out if it's above 75F, or below 70F. What use are they? Still, my normal verb is "to grill," unless I am doing "low and slow, with indirect heat, and some wood somewhere," tough the grill is gas.


                                                            3. I think I know a little about 'Q, I used to be a Kansas City Barbecue Society Master Judge. At KCBS BBQ contest 4 meats are judged;pork ribs, beef brisket, pork shoulder and chicken. The first are usually cooked low and slow, indirect but the chicken is usually grilled.

                                                              Go figure

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: rich in stl


                                                                Still, if you go to the hills of Eastern North Carolina, you would probably be only talking about pork.

                                                                Now, for me, a great brisket is the epitome of BBQ, but then, I am not from NC - I only visit there to enjoy the BBQ pork.

                                                                I think that BBQ, though maybe not originally FROM the US, has developed into a US "thing," though with many regional differences.

                                                                Thanks for the observations from an expert,


                                                              2. I've always thought of barbecue as cooking meat low and slow over indirect heat, using a decent spice rub and/or including a barbecue sauce.

                                                                However, I've been to many places in the US, and almost everywhere I've been in Europe, where "barbecue" is a synonym for grilling or a cookout.

                                                                1. Slow grilling typifies BBQ, and often heavy smoke is part of the procedure.

                                                                  From Wikipedia, "Most etymologists believe that barbecue derives from the word barabicu found in the language of the TaĆ­no people of the Caribbean and the Timucua of Florida, and entered European languages in the form barbacoa. The word translates as "sacred fire pit."[1]"

                                                                  There are major regional differences in what is considered BBQ. In some areas, the only meat considered is pork, where in others, it is beef. Still, there are many regions, where the term is applied to chicken, turkey and sausage. It just depends.

                                                                  Even in larger regions, where maybe pork is the most-often chosen meat, there are differences - North Carolina is a good example, where some sub-regions use a BBQ sauce (and this differs sub-region to sub-region), where others would NEVER use any sauce.

                                                                  It is like liquor laws - depends on exactly (and I mean EXACTLY) where you are, and then, maybe to whom you are speaking.



                                                                  1. I grew up in New Jersey and live in New Hampshire. I have always and still call the summer party with hot dogs on the grill a BBQ. The action if cooking the burgers or whateverI call grilling. if I see that a restaurant serves BBQ I expect it to be a low and slow meat with variants depending on the origins if the owners. Ibknow enough to select my words carefully on chowhound when appropriate and would not ever argue that grilling is BBQ. I will also leave the definition of "Real" to thise who do it. Being in and of the northeast, I don't really have a dog in that fight.