The History of BBQ: From Africa to America

Barbecue, often shortened to BBQ, is a style of cooking that uses indirect heat to cook meats and vegetables slowly. This method of cooking is used to tenderize the ingredients, infuse them with flavor, and preserve their nutrition. BBQ is a beloved tradition around the world, with unique regional styles and recipes. This article will explore the history of BBQ from its earliest origins in Africa to its modern-day form in the United States.

Origins of BBQ

Early Barbecue in Africa

Barbecue has its earliest origins in the African continent, where the practice of cooking meats over an open fire was used by ancient civilizations. In particular, the Bantu people of Central and Southern Africa developed a style of roasting meats over a wood-fired pit. This method of cooking was used to tenderize the meat and preserve its flavor.

Introduction to the Americas

Barbecue was introduced to the Americas during the 16th century, when Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought the practice to the New World. The earliest barbecues in the Americas were cooked in a similar fashion to those of Africa, using a wood-fired pit to roast the meats.

American BBQ

Rise of BBQ

The rise of BBQ in the United States can be traced to the influence of African American cuisine. African Americans, who were brought to the United States as slaves, brought their traditional cooking techniques with them. These techniques were adapted to the ingredients and flavors of the American South, creating a unique style of BBQ.

The rise of BBQ was also fueled by the popularity of barbecue competitions, which began in the 1960s. These competitions gave rise to regional styles of BBQ, such as Carolina, Kansas City, Texas, Memphis, and Hawaiian-style BBQ.

Regional Barbecue Styles

Carolina-style BBQ is characterized by the use of pork, mustard-based sauces, and a vinegar-based mop sauce. Kansas City-style BBQ is known for its sweet, tomato-based sauces and slow-smoked meats. Texas-style BBQ is characterized by its use of beef, mesquite wood for smoking, and a dry rub. Memphis-style BBQ is known for its use of pork ribs, dry rubs, and a sweet, tomato-based sauce. Finally, Hawaiian-style BBQ is characterized by its use of the “imu”, an underground oven used to slow-cook meats.

Modern BBQ

BBQ Today

Today, BBQ is a beloved tradition in the United States, with a variety of regional styles and recipes. Popular BBQ trends include the use of exotic ingredients and flavors, such as Korean-style kimchi and Vietnamese-style lemongrass.

BBQ Restaurants

BBQ restaurants are popular throughout the United States, with both regional and chain restaurants offering their own unique take on BBQ. Regional BBQ restaurants can be found throughout the South, offering traditional styles of BBQ. Popular chain restaurants, such as Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and Famous Dave’s, offer a variety of regional BBQ styles.

BBQ Competitions

Competition BBQ is a popular sport, with teams from all over the United States competing for cash prizes and bragging rights. The Kansas City Barbecue Society is the largest BBQ competition organization in the United States, with competitions taking place throughout the year.


BBQ has a rich and storied history, with its origins in Africa and its rise in the Americas. Today, BBQ is a beloved tradition, with regional styles and recipes, popular restaurants, and competitive BBQ teams. As BBQ continues to evolve, its future looks bright.