WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN BBQ

The history of BBQ is as rich and tender as a perfectly primed and smoked brisket. As long as people have been cooking over fire, BBQ has been around. The story starts in the hills of South Africa’s Northern Cape where archaeologists found remains of meat being cooked over fire dating back almost two million years. But the story of American BBQ? That’s a little more contemporary…
 

 
 

“What we now think of as classic American BBQ – with juicy pulled pork and succulent ribs – grew up in the south of the country,” reveals Grillstock (the largest most authentic BBQ festival outside the US) co-founder and Black Deer Live Fire curator, Jon Finch.
 
“Cooks learned to slow roast tough meat over fire pits to make them tender. These cuts were generally the off-cuts and a very economical way of feeding several families – but with plenty of seasoning, attention and patience they turned into something wonderful.” BBQ gives mom’s homemade apple pie a run for its money in the live-fire cooking stakes and Jon, who co-authored an Amazon best-selling book on BBQ, is perfectly placed to point out its authentic Americana credentials: “Every country on the planet has its own history of cooking over fire – but America is so big that each state has its own BBQ heritage,” he reveals.

 

 
It’s true that the evolution of BBQ in the States has led to the so-called ‘BBQ belt’ of the country becoming home to four different traditions: Carolina, Texas, Memphis and Kansas City all have their own methods. “But cooking over fire has always been a celebration,” argues Jon. “For thousands of years it’s been a way to bring communities together.”
 
The history of American BBQ is littered with references to Caribbean cooking, Spanish conquistadors and European culture, all bringing their own flavours to the melting pot we know and love as the US. Sure, debate still goes on as to whether BBQ is only authentic if its porcine (the southern settlers who brought BBQ to the country were mostly low-maintenance pig farmers), but the story of the south’s love of pork is only one thread of the tale. There’s the ‘whole hog’ philosophies of Virginia and North Carolina, Texas’ devotion to beef-based BBQ and the mutton-based menus of Kentucky.

 

 
“Cooking together, eating together and sharing stories around a warm campfire forges endearing bonds,” says Jon. “In the end, this tradition always brings old friends and new together to feast and celebrate the age-old art of cooking over the flames.”
 
Live Fire at Black Deer is always a festival food experience like no other – and one set to take centre stage at the deer park in 2021. Watch this space…