Try to define the true meaning and origin of the barbecue and you will wind up in one big smoky quagmire. There are ferocious arguments on the subject and according to Derrick Riches, a renowned writer on the subject: “The debate over the origin of the barbecue is one that will probably never be resolved… Wars have been fought over less.”
On Riches’ webpage, he credits the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean with the invention of the barbecue as a method of preserving meat. Previous attempts using solar power had failed, as the flesh quickly spoiled and become infested with bugs. But when it was placed on racks over smouldering logs, the bugs left it alone and a cooking method was born.
In suburban Britain, we have certainly embraced it with vigour. Just a thin, weak sliver of sunshine is all it takes for us to drag out the barbie, throw on the coals and slap on the meat.
And it is with this slapping-on of the meat that we seem to have lost our way. Burnt-banger cooks take note. Soft, succulent meats require long, slow cooking and/or overnight marinating in herbs, spices and flavoured oils.
Any barbecue with a well-fitting lid can become a smoker, or a slow-cooker. And as flavour does not come from scorched, blackened skin (which is not only so-last-decade, but is also believed to be carcinogenic), special flavours can be added by using smoke chips with scents like apple, plum, cherry wood or hickory.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that a barbecue is also a social occasion – you know, the call from neighbours to “come round for a burger” kind of event. Interestingly, those who in all other walks of life lay claim to green credentials and tot up their brownie points in the recycling department often totally overlook the impact of the cookout.