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Entry from February 15, 2009
“Barbecue is as old as fire”

"Barbecue is as old as fire” writes John Egerton in his book Southern Food. A 1973 newspaper article about barbecue declared that “the practice is as old as fire.” New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne wrote in 1975 that “smoke ‘cookery’ and the preservation of foods through smoking are almost as old as fire.”

What the writers intended was that any primitive man who possessed fire was probably also barbecuing his food.

However, barbecue is not “as old as fire” or “almost as old as fire.” Fire is surely much, much older than barbecue. Fire almost certain existed millions of years before the first animals roamed the planet.

22 July 1973, Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Cookout history,” pg. N12:
THE WORD “barbecue,” meaning an open-air gathering at which animals were roasted whole, came into common usage in the American South in 1700. The word may be relatively new, but the practice is as old as fire.

3 February 1975, New York (NY) Times, “Where That Smoky Taste Comes From” by Craig Claiborne, pg. 45:
It is axiomatic that smoke “cookery” and the preservation of foods through smoking are almost as old as fire. It is also true that the original smoking process came about not to enhance the flavor of food but rather to make it last from one season to the next.

Primitive man was no fool, however. Early on he discovered that smoke not only extended the camp life of food but gave pleasure to the palate as well. Subsequently the flavor of smoked foods became an end in itself.

Google Books
Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History
By John Egerton
Photographs by Al Clayton
Contributor Ann Bleidt Egerton
new York, NY: Random House
Pg. 149:
Barbecue is as old as fire. The cave dwellers started it when they discovered that meat tastes better cooked than raw. Spanish explorers in the New World found Indians in the Caribbean roasting meats over open fires on frames made of green wood, and they gave a name—barbacoa—to this framework. In time, barbecue came to mean a way of cooking, the meat thus cooked, and the social event that often surrounded the serving of it. The name and the meanings have stuck. (The popular belief that barbecue is from the French babe a queue—beard to tail—meaning whole-hog cooking, is dismissed by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an absurb conjecture.")

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Sunday, February 15, 2009 • Permalink