Barbecuing Fish, Virginia, 1705

The Origins of Southern Barbecue

Dave DeWitt State-By-State Barbecue History Leave a Comment

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“Their cookery has nothing commendable in it, but that it is performed with little trouble. They have no other sauce but a good stomach, which they seldom want. They boil, broil, or toast all the meat they eat, and it is very common with them to boil fish as well as flesh with their hominy; this is Indian corn soaked, broken in a mortar, husked, and then boiled in water over a gentle fire for ten or twelve hours, to the consistence of frumenty : the thin of this is what my Lord Bacon calls cream of maize, and highly commends for an excellent sort of nutriment. They have two ways of broiling, viz., one by laying the meat itself upon the coals, the other by laying it upon sticks raised upon forks at some distance above the live coals, which heats more gently, and dries up the gravy; this they, and we also from them, call barbecuing. They skin and paunch all sorts of quadrupeds; they draw and pluck their fowl; but their fish they dress with their scales on, without gutting; but in eating they leave the scales, entrails and bones to be thrown away. They also roast their fish upon a hot hearth, covering them with hot ashes and coals, then take them out, the scales and skin they strip clean off, so they eat the flesh, leaving the bones and entrails to be thrown away.”

“These individuals, if the term is applicable to the phenomena in question, were Buccaneers. The name is derived from the arrangements which the Caribs made to cook their prisoners of war. After being dismembered, their pieces were placed upon wooden gridirons, which were called in Carib, barbacoa. It will please our Southern brethren to recognize a congenial origin for their favorite barbecue. The place where these grilling hurdles were set up was called boucan, and the method of roasting and smoking, boucaner. The Buccaneers were men of many nations, who hunted the wild cattle, which had increased prodigiously from the original Spanish stock; after taking off the hide, they served the flesh as the Caribs served their captives.”

“Barbecues.—A favorite amusement (and generally, at the same time, an act of hospitality) in many parts of the Southern States, is what they term a barbecue. This is a feast in the open air, a fête champêtre, either under the shade of trees or in an artificial bower. This rural banquet (resembling in some respects the turtle-feasts at Hoboken) is prepared under the direction and at the expense of such neighboring gentlemen as choose to unite for the purpose; each of whom usually contributes such edible dainties as his taste or convenience may suggest. Independent of these picnics, however, there is always some savory animal roasted whole, for this occasion, after the manner of the ancients. This is, most commonly, a fat corn-fed swine; and from hence originated the phrase of “going the whole hog.” In different places, and under other circumstances, the victim may be a fine fat buck, a fallow deer, a sheep, or other animal. But, to constitute a barbecue, it must be roasted whole,—not a bone of it must be broken. These festivals take place during the summer and autumn months, when every luxury that the season can afford, accompanied with wine, punch, ices, and other suitable refreshments, is provided in generous abundance. Both sexes sometimes partake of this banquet, which is then enlivened by a band of music, and succeeded by a rural dance.”


The History of Virginia: In Four Parts, by Robert Beverley. Richmond, VA: J. W. Randolph, 1855. Originally published in 1705.

“The Horrors of Santo Domingo,” by John Weiss. The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 10 (Sept.), Atlantic Monthly Co., 1862, (Bound in Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1862, p. 347.)

Festivals, Games & Amusements, Ancient & Modern, by Horace Smith and Samuel Wordsworth.

New York: Harper, 1831.

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