Barbecue - Defined

Barbecue—Means an animal roasted whole; although in recent years the word has been applied to gatherings at places where an animal roasted whole and served to the guests is the principal feature of the party.

Barbecue is a framework of sticks set upon posts. In Cuba barbacoa designates a platform or floor in the top story of country houses where fruits and grain are kept.

  1. A wooden framework used for supporting over a Are meat or fish to be smoked or dried.
  2. An iron frame on which large "joints are placed for broiling, or on which whole animals are roasted; a large gridiron.
  3. The carcass of an ox, hog, or other animal roasted whole.


Southern Barbecue

A barbecue means the roasting of an animal whole, over a clear fire, out-of-doors. Thus the roasted ox which used to mark the feast given at the coming-of-age of an heir to landed estates in England was often a barbecue.

Since the larger the animal the more difficult it is to cook properly, a lamb or kid, a young veal or deer, is most commonly used for the barbeque in this country.

As we have seen it done, a trench is dug and filled with hardwood, and this is heaped up and kept replenished until the trench is nearly full of clear, glowing coals.

Bars are then stretched across, and the animal, cleaned and cut in halves lengthwise, is laid across and broiled;

As in broiling, the temperature is, at first, very hot and then reduced, so the high initial heat of the coals gradually reduces itself, and if the meat is kept turned it will be perfectly cooked before the fire is out.

At the open-air picnics where we have seen meat barbecued, roasted corn or potatoes, or cooked vegetables of any kind, were served, or fresh tomatoes and lettuce. The whole thing is very informal, and nothing is specifically prescribed for an accompaniment.

How to Prepare a Barbecue

By Mrs. Henry Ward Beecher.

AMONG many letters of inquiry on various topics, we have had several requesting explanations of and receipt for preparing a barbecue. Any animal split in two down the back and laid on a gridiron is “barbecued,” according to the dictionary sense of that word; but, as the term is usually understood, it is roasting the animal whole for social gatherings or some great public occasions.

It is an excellent and easy way for hunters camping out to cook their small game or fish. In ancient and more barbarous times the animals were literally roasted whole, but a more decent and palatable mode is after the following fashion:

First dress and clean the animal; wash thoroughly, and drain, and wipe dry; and if desired, fill the interior with any stuffing that may be fancied — vegetables, with force-meat balls, small birds, etc.; for it will take hours to cook the whole.

Meanwhile dig a hole in the ground in size to suit the body to be cooked. Drive four stakes or posts just far enough outside the hole to be in no danger of burning.

On these posts build a rack of poles to support the carcass; these should be selected of dried wood of a kind that will not impart any flavor to the meat.

This being done, build a large fire of hard wood in the hole. When the wood has burned down to clear coals, without any smoke, lay the animal to be roasted on the rack over the coals.

Have ready a bent stick, with a large well-cleansed sponge fastened to one end, and the other end of the stick made fast to one corner of the rack. Arrange this stick so that it will hang directly over the sheep, calf, or ox to be roasted.

Have ready a mixture of ground mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper; add to it sufficient water to fill the sponge as often as it drips dry, so that it can drip constantly over the meat until done.

Have another fire burning near at hand, so as to replenish the coals under the carcass as often as needed.

Before putting the body over the coals, fasten it to three strong poles extending far enough-beyond the carcass, one as a stay or support down the back to prevent the meat, when nearly done, breaking apart, and the others as handles by which three or four men can turn over the roast, so that all parts may be roasted evenly, and occasionally sprinkled with flour, and basted, if desired, with butter or clarified drippings.

The rack should not be raised so high from the coals as to make it inaccessible to this last operation, nor placed so close to the pit as to scorch.

This mode of cooking is all very well in the excitement of some great public occasion but is lacking in the delicacy of flavor imparted that best suits an epicure's palate.

But for hunters it is an excellent way to cook small game or fish. Clean them nicely, but leave them as nearly whole as may be, and season them well.

After the wood in the pit, which need not be large, is burned to a coal, wrap the game in several thicknesses of clean coarse paper. Have the last wrapper wet.

Rake the coals one side; scrape the ashes back, leaving only a small portion on the hot earth; lay the game or fish, thus carefully wrapped up, on this bed; cover first with the hot ashes, then with the coals.

A fish will be deliciously cooked in this manner, and all the juices preserved. Undo the wrappers, and when the last paper is loosened, the skin will all peel off, leaving the fish almost like a jelly.

With birds, ducks, turkeys, etc., which take longer to cook, it may be necessary to keep the pit hot by burning more small wood on top of the closely covered game. But when done, the result will be the same.

The game will be most delicately cooked, almost jellied with its own juice, in which it has been sodden, and with the skin, which will peel off easily, any taste of paper that may be possible will disappear.

Game and fish in the sandy soil of Florida, which retains the heat longer than our soil, can be wrapped in the long palmetto leaves, and buried, in accordance with the above directions, under hot sand and ashes and coal, and cooked in an astonishingly delicious manner.

The American Barbecue.

It is commonly called roasting oxen or other animals whole; the word itself is French barb-a-que—from head to tail—but in practice so many disappointments occur through the meat coming from the bars burnt to a coal on the outside and too raw to be eaten inside, that those who have had experience take care to roast only quarters or sides.

The way it is done is the same in the beginning as the clam bake; a trench is dug in the ground and a wood fire made in it. When it has burned about six hours and the pit bottom is covered with a bed of glowing coals and red hot rocks, instead of the covering up in sea weed as at the clam bake, some bars of iron are laid across the pit, making a monster grid-iron.

Perhaps the iron can be obtained from the village blacksmith, or some old rails from the railroad, or two or three rails and small iron for cross-bars.

Whole sheep and lambs can be roasted very well over such a bed of coals, also small pigs, chickens, possums, turkeys and such small animals, but oxen are better cut in quarters, as in that case it does not take more than an hour or two to cook them sufficiently.

Occasions requiring a resort to the barbecue are constantly arising, either political or otherwise, for anniversaries, camp meetings, celebrations of various descriptions, and it only needs the trench to be dug the longer to give cooking facilities in the meat line to an indefinite extent; the bread is easily baked at a distance and hauled to the spot.

But the great trouble experienced generally is to get the provisions divided among the people after the cooking; if this is not well managed two or three persons will drag a quarter of beef from the fire into the dust of the ground, hack off their few slices and leave the rest in such a condition that it is almost if not quite lost.

Some well-intended barbecues for army reunions and monument raisings and the like have become hideous failures through such want of management.

There must be a fence around the barbecue fire and another around the benches to eat from, and proper arrangements made for cutting up and passing around the meat after it is cooked, if suffering to the invited multitude and life-long reproach to the providers are to be averted.

The Improved Barbecue.

Barbecues have taken place in late years where oxen were actually roasted whole and made superior as roasted meat to the product of city kitchens by fastening the entire carcasses on iron spits on frames with band wheel fixtures and revolving them horizontally by means of a small portable steam engine over the heated pits of coals until done.

In one case recorded when the ox was considered sufficiently done it was moved by means of a crane to a table where six skillful carvers were ready with extra-large knives and forks and cut it up and distributed it in a proper manner.

The Primitive Barbecue.

"Messrs. Cody and Salsbury, of the American Wild West Show, invited a number of their friends recently to an Indian 'rib-roast' breakfast, at which the principal item that figured upon the 'bill of rations' consisted of ribs of beef roasted, served, and partaken of in the primitive Indian style as follows:

A hole is dug in the ground, a wood-fire lighted therein, and over this is suspended from a tripod the huge sides of beef; these are kept moving by a squaw or scout for three-quarters of an hour, at the end of which time the joint is sufficiently done, and resembles a bunch of 'devilled bones.'

Each 'brave' squatted upon the ground on a carpet of loose straw was provided with a sharp stake stuck into the earth in front of him, and a goodly portion of the roasted ribs, which, when not engaged in biting the meat off the bone held in h s hands, he stuck on to the sharp stake, which thus took the place of a plate.

He then licked his fingers clean and wiped them dry on his hair. The majority of the guests adopted the Indian manner of eating the meat—bar the licking-finger performance, as a substitute for which table-napkins, etc., were provided.

The meat was said to be so toothsome, that an eminent English legislator present expressed his opinion, thereon to the effect that ' civilization was a well-intentioned mistake.'

The rest of the menu was American, viz., grub-steak, salmon, roast-beef, roast-mutton, ham, tongue, stewed chicken, lobster salad, American hominy and milk, corn, potatoes, cocoanut-pie, apple-pie, Wild West pudding, American pop-corn and peanuts, which, with other etcetera’s, ended this unusual form of entertainment."

An Electric Lighted Barbecue.

"Over four thousand persons, from the neighborhoods and towns of both High and Low Harrogate, assembled and took part in the proceedings, which were, from beginning to end, conducted in a successful manner.

To commence with, a splendid red and white four-year-old ox was purchased by Mr. Samson Fox, and fed by Mr. Stephen Bradley in a field adjoining his residence.

Here it became an object of much curiosity and comment amongst the town folks, who watched it graze with eager interest in anticipation of roast beef ad libitum in the near future.

Upon the eventful day, Mr. M. Church, chef at the Queen Hotel, superintended the cookery arrangements, and succeeded to perfection; for, as Mr. Fox (the spirited gentleman who liberally came forward to defray all expenses) afterwards said, ' the ox had been as well roasted as though it had been done in separate pieces.'

The animal was slaughtered, dressed, and duly fixed upon the spit of solid iron, revolved by steam power at the rate of about three times a minute. Two huge fires were employed—one stationary, and the other movable.

A barricade was erected around the ox, and, although it was not ultimately called into use, a suitable covering was provided to guard against inauspicious weather.

A powerful dynamo illuminated the whole scene with the electric light during the hours of dusk and night, and sounds of revelry (music and dancing) contributed to the enjoyment of all, whilst the ox was kept constantly revolving throughout the night.

At noon on Tuesday, the 21st June, the cutting up and serving out of the animal was inaugurated by the committee, who mounted a wagon placed alongside of the roasted ox on its spit.

Five carvers were told off, and each one received a huge carving knife and fork, specially made for the occasion. After a brief but appropriate speech from Mr. Fox, three cheers were given and each carver made a primary incision; and then followed up quickly the division, presumably along the principal lines of the six-and-thirty usual 'joints,' and the slicing off of the tit-bits.

About 4,000 pieces of meat, buns, and tickets for beer were rapidly distributed amongst the guests ranged around the 'festive board,' and as daylight waned the dynamo once more shone forth upon a scene of innocent revelry, 'where all went merry as a marriage bell.' "

Portions from:

The Century Dictionary: An Encyclopedic Lexicon of the English Language, Prepared under the Superintendence of William Dwight Whitney, PhD, LLD, Revised and Enlarged Under the Superintendence of Benjamin E. Smith, A.M., L.H.D., Vol. I, A. to C. New York: The Century Co.© 1911.

Queries and Answers, American Cookery Magazine, Vol. XXVI, No. 10, May 1922.

Harper's Bazar, Vol. 14, April 23, 1881 p. 269

Jessup Whitehead,The Steward's Handbook, Part Three -- Catering for Private Parties: A Guide to Party Catering, Wedding Breakfasts, Fatasies of Party Givers, MOdel Small Menus and Notworthy Suppers, Chicago, 1889, p.163-165

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