A Brief History of Grilling, Barbecuing and BBQ

barbecue chicken
Photo: Emilian Robert Vicol

May is National Barbecue Month, and if the growing presence of top-flight grilled fare on the East End is any indication, it should come as no surprise that the convalescence of food and fire has inspired not only a national culinary celebration, but one worthy of an entire 30 days. Yes, there is sure to be some debate over semantics when it comes to trying separate “barbecue” from “grilling” from “BBQ,” but really, when it all tastes so good, what are we arguing about? Instead, let’s come together around the fire to honor our collective love of all things charred as we offer a (mostly) true account of grilling milestones through the ages.

1 million BC: Man discovers fire.

999,999 and 59 seconds BC: Man puts meat over fire. Raw-food movement put on hold for next 1,002,000 years.

1492: Columbus discovers America, or at least runs into the Caribbean, where he makes an even more important discovery—the Taino people grilling game and fish over coals, using a wooden structure whose name sounds like “barbacoa” to the explorers.

1706: Edward Ward publishes “The Barbacue Feast: or, the three pigs of Peckham, broil’d under an apple-tree” in London. Centuries before Kitchen Confidential, the account of a night in Jamaica filled with rum, an open fire, a porcine trio, and the crowd that gathered to watch the feast unfold from start to finish remains the foundation of grilling literature. Yes, there is such a thing as grilling literature.

1793: George Washington lays cornerstone of U.S. Capitol, then follows with a celebration whose centerpiece is a tribute-to-the-grilling-gods 500-pound ox. July 4 cookouts have been trying to live up to that one ever since.

1920: Henry Ford takes waste wood from his automobile production facilities and finds a method to turn it into charcoal briquettes. Ford’s brother-in-law E.G. Kingsford selects a site to mass manufacture the briquettes and winds up with his name on one of America’s most famous backyard-barbecue-related businesses.

1952: Sick and tired of ashes blowing around his yard, George Stephen finds inspiration in the shape of the harbor buoys made by the Weber Bros. Metal Spinning Company, cuts one in half, adds a grate and joins the ranks of Da Vinci, Franklin and Edison when the first Weber grill is released to the public.

1970s: “Kiss the Cook” aprons become staples of the Father’s Day gift catalogue. Grilling couture set back at least 100 years.

1980: When Robert De Niro unleashes rage over an overcooked steak in Raging Bull, the importance of perfectly cooked meat transcends the kitchen and enters American pop culture. Two years later, Rocky Balboa will reintroduce the art of hand-tenderizing.

2008: More than 30,000 people consume more than 61,000 pounds of meat cooked over open fires covering an area larger than a football field in Paraguay, setting the Guinness Book of World Records mark for Largest Barbecue in the World. The event will stand as the greatest grilling event ever, until…

July 12, 2013: An all-star lineup of grill masters from Long Island’s North Fork and South Fork—including Robby Beaver of The Frisky Oyster, Noah Schwartz of Noah’s, Main Restaurant & Oyster Bar’s Keith Luce, Billy Oliva of Delmonico’s of Southampton, Bryan Futerman of Foody’s, Emanouil Aslanoglou of Old Stove Pub, Colin Ambrose of Estia’s Little Kitchen, Bay Burger’s Joe Tremblay, Victor Tapia of the Palm, and David Hersh of Cowfish and Rumba—take on a team of New York City luminaries—including Commerce’s Harold Moore, Joey Campanaro of The Little Owl, Stanton Social’s Chris Santos, Paul Denamiel of Le Rivage, Niles Noren of Red Rooster, Sam Hazen of Veritas, and Elizabeth Karmel of Hill Country BBQ—in the first annual Blue Moon GrillHampton presented by Pat LaFrieda competition. With crowds cheering the chefs on and chowing down, who will be crowned “Master Grill Chef” that night in Bridgehampton? History awaits…

GrillHampton kicks off a food-filled Dan’s Taste of Two Forks weekend on Friday, July 12, at Sayre Park in Bridgehampton. For tickets and info, visit DansTasteofTwoForks.com.

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