Barbecue (also barbeque, BBQ and barbie) is a method and apparatus for char grilling food in the hot smoke of a wood fire, usually charcoal fueled. In the United States, to grill is to cook in this manner quickly, while barbecue is typically a much slower method utilizing less heat than grilling, attended to over an extended period of several hours.
The term as a noun can refer to the meat or to the cooking apparatus itself (the "barbecue grill" or simply "barbecue"). The term as an adjective can refer to foods cooked by this method. The term is also used as a verb for the act of cooking food in this manner.
Barbecue is usually done in an outdoor environment by cooking and smoking the meat over wood or charcoal. Restaurant barbecue may be cooked in large brick or metal ovens specially designed for that purpose.
Barbecue has numerous regional variations in many parts of the world.
Most etymologists believe that barbecue derives from the word barabicu found in the language of the Taíno people of the Caribbean and the Timucua of Florida, and entered European languages in the form barbacoa. The word translates as "sacred fire pit." The word describes a grill for cooking meat, consisting of a wooden platform resting on sticks.
Traditional barbacoa involves digging a hole in the ground and placing some meat (usually a whole goat) with a pot underneath it, so that the juices can make a hearty broth. It is then covered with maguey leaves and coal and set alight. The cooking process takes a few hours.
It has been suggested that both the word and cooking technique migrated out of the Caribbean and into other languages and cultures, with the word (barbacoa) moving from Caribbean dialects into Spanish, then Portuguese, French, and English. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first recorded use of the word in the English language as a verb in 1661, in Edmund Hickeringill's Jamaca Viewed: "Some are slain, And their flesh forthwith Barbacu'd and eat." It also appears as a verb in the published writings of John Lederer, following his travels in the American southeast in 1672. The first known use of the word as a noun was in 1697 by the British buccaneer William Dampier. In his New Voyage Round the World, Dampier writes: And lay there all night, upon our Borbecu's, or frames of Sticks, raised about 3-foot (0.91 m) from the Ground.
Samuel Johnson's 1756 dictionary gave the following definitions:
"To Barbecue – a term for dressing a whole hog" (attestation to Pope)
"Barbecue – a hog dressed whole"
While the standard modern English spelling of the word is barbecue, local variations like barbeque and truncations such as bar-b-q or bbq may also be found. The spelling barbeque is given in Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary as a variant.
In the southeastern United States, the word barbecue is used predominantly as a noun referring to roast pork, while in the southwestern states cuts of beef are often cooked.