It's grilling season

Barbecue

by Sydney Bender

Barbecue

Elizabeth Cecil

Conventional wisdom reveals that the word barbecue derived from the West Indian term barbacoa, denoting a method of slow-cooking meat over an open flame and blazing coals. The word entered the Spanish dictionary in 1526. English essayist Samuel Johnson’s 1756 dictionary defines the word as a hog dressed whole. “To ba’rbecue. A term used in the West-Indies for dressing a hog whole; which, being split to the backbone, is laid flat upon a large gridiron, raised about two foot about a charcoal fire, with which it is surrounded.”
There’s also the belief that the word derives from barbe à queue, a French word translating to mean from beard to tail, insinuating the grilling of an entire animal. As a verb, barbecue can mean spit roasting or rotisserie (meat impaled with a spear above smoke, rotated), open pit cooking (pits dug in the ground, with stones or bricks), Caribbean Barbocoa (with the meat on an open air rack), and grilling, when the heat radiation is direct. These loose definititions leave both the noun and verb open to interpretation and, over the centuries, experimentation has been extensive, spanning cooking vessels from fireplaces to formal smokehouses, and including meat from cows to alligators. Entire cuisines have been built upon the word barbecue, and in this country especially, barbecue is deeply entwined into regional cultures, although interpretations between states can be considerable, even slightly hostile at times. But here and now, in the summer months on Martha’s Vineyard, barbecue is often practiced in the simplest meaning of the word, meat cooked over an open flame. And the actual interpretation becomes overshadowed by where you are, the friends you are with and, most importantly, who’s manning the grill.