Barbecue remains one of the most traditional foods in the United States. While many festive foods, such as roasted turkey or ham, are usually served on particular days or holidays, barbecue can be served on any day. Barbecue is often served on the Fourth of July, however, it is not only confined to that day. Barbecues tend to bring people together and serve as a bonding experience at any time of the year. It brings people back to their roots, providing a cooking experience that is often an escape from civilization and closer to nature. Barbecues are traditionally held outside. They could be small informal gatherings with a few of people in a backyard or a formal event that could last all day, typically held for larger amounts of people. Barbecue has been a tradition in the United States beginning with Native Americans. As author Andrew Warnes states, “its mythology of savagery and freedom, of pleasure, masculinity and strength” is part of what makes barbecues so popular to date. By the 19th century barbecues became one of the main forms of United States public celebration, especially in celebration of July 4. As barbecues continued to be held through the times of U.S. expansion the traditions began to migrate with the people. Today barbecues held in different regions of the country vary in cuisine but the cuisines all hold the same concept of cooking outside and over a fire. Barbecues today have taken on new meaning yet again with the emergence of competitive barbecue. Competitive barbecue competitions are held throughout the country in which people will compete by cooking barbecue and having it judged by the events judges. The constraints of what one may barbecue and the qualities that are judged vary by competition. Usually competitions are held in big open areas where spectators will be admitted as well and barbecue is served to all.
Barbecue cooking using smoke at low temperatures
Barbecuing encompasses four or five distinct types of cooking techniques. The original technique is cooking using smoke at low temperatures—usually around 240–280 °F or 115–145 °C—and significantly longer cooking times (several hours), known as smoking. Another technique, known as baking, used a masonry oven or baking oven that uses convection to cook meats and starches with moderate temperatures for an average cooking time of about an hour. Braising combines direct, dry heat charbroiling on a ribbed surface with a broth-filled pot for moist heat. Using this technique, cooking occurs at various speeds, starting fast, slowing down, then speeding up again, lasting for a few hours.
Grilling is done over direct, dry heat, usually over a hot fire over 500 °F (260 °C) for a few minutes. Grilling may be done over wood, charcoal, gas, or electricity. The time difference between barbecuing and grilling is because of the temperature difference; at low temperatures used for barbecuing, meat takes several hours to reach the desired internal temperature.
Chicken, pork and bacon-wrapped corn cooked in a barbecue smoker
Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, and/or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering material, most often wood. Meat and fish are the most common smoked foods, though cheeses, vegetables, nuts, and ingredients used to make beverages such as beer or smoked beer are also smoked.
The masonry oven is similar to a smoke pit; it allows for an open flame but cooks more quickly and uses convection to cook. Barbecue-baking can also be done in traditional stove-ovens. It can be used to cook meats, breads and other starches, casseroles, and desserts. It uses direct and indirect heat to surround the food with hot air to cook, and can be basted in much the same manner as grilled foods.
It is possible to braise meats and vegetables in a pot on top of a grill. A gas or electric charbroil grill are the best choices for barbecue-braising, combining dry heat charbroil-grilling directly on a ribbed surface and braising in a broth-filled pot for moist heat. The pot is placed on top of the grill, covered, and allowed to simmer for a few hours. There are two advantages to barbecue-braising; it allows browning of the meat directly on the grill before the braising. It also allows for glazing of meat with sauce and finishing it directly over the fire after the braising. This effectively cooks the meat three times, which results in a soft, textured product that falls off the bone. The time needed for braising varies depending on whether a slow cooker or pressure cooker is used; it is generally slower than regular grilling or baking, but quicker than pit-smoking.