Barbecue by any other name...
barbecue(n., often attrib [AmerSp barbacoa, prob. fr. Taino]
1: a large animal (as a hog or steer)
roasted or broiled whole or split
over an open fire or barbecue pit
2: a social gathering esp. in the open air
at which barbecued food is eaten.
There is a strong indication that the word "barbecue"
comes from the Spanish word barbacoa which
is derived from an American Indian word for the
framework of green wood on which meat or fish was
cooked over a pit of coals. Others believe that the
French should be credited -- when Caribbean pirates
came stateside, they roasted animals barbe-a-queue,
head to tail, so to speak.
The style of cooking meats over an open fire pit has been around
since the days of the Peking Man. Many Southern barbecue lovers
still consider pit smoking the best method for preparing
barbecued meat. There's never been one specific design set up
for a pit, but when I was a child you always began with a very
large hole about six feet deep across and four feed deep. Then a
layer of heat-resistant rocks was added. A heavy mesh screen
was put down over the rocks, then a layer of hardwood such as
hickory, oak, alder, or fruit wood. Once the fire got going and
the white hardwood coals remained, the prepared meat (the whole,
skinned animal) was lowered into the pit on a spit and the
pitmasters, as the fire tenders were called, used their own
carefully guarded secret techniques for getting moist, smoky,
succulent results. A good pitmaster was a genius at controlling
the low heat for the sixteen hours necessary for the meat.
Nowadays, it's harder to find real outdoor pit barbecue. And
pit-cooked no longer necessarily means that the meat has been
lovingly tended and basted for hours at a stretch. Also, various
states have very stringent laws governing open pits. Consequently,
many fine barbecue restaurants and all commercial barbecue
manufacturers use gas- or electric-fired equipment to control
temperatures and conditions. A few landmark restaurants use real
open pits. And, of course, each of the owners is proud of his
or her accomplishment.
Pork shoulders, butts and spareribs are the most popular meats to
pit smoke. Once smoked, shoulders and butts are sold "pulled"
and partially "pulled". Popularized and most prevelant in the
South, "pulled" indicates that the cooked meat has been separated
along the grain into shreds with forks or by hand before the sauce
is added. Paritally "pulled" means that the meat has been
partially separated, then cut into one-inch chunks or strands.
Beef is also pit cooked, but requires a more moist heat than pork
This can be simulated in home methods by tightly covering the cut
of meat with a lid or aluminum foil.
From: A Passionate Cookbook by Jane Butel,
"Finger Lickin' Rib Stickin' Great Tastin' Barbecue"