Barbecue: A Beginner’s Guide on Its Origin, History, Types, & Seasonings (Part I) - The Tea & Spice Shoppe

Barbecue: A Beginner’s Guide on Its Origin, History, Types, & Seasonings (Part I)

Fire has played a crucial role in human history ever since we learned to harness it thousands of years ago. From fending off the cold during the winter, to forging superior metals, fire quickly became our best friend. Next to dogs, of course. But there are questions about our history with fire that remain uncertain. Like when exactly did we decide to throw meat over a fire? One thing I know for certain about human history, is it’s full of happy accidents.

Entertain my imagination if you will.

One night, after the tribe’s successful hunt, one clumsy caveman named Tuktuk stubbed his toe on a sitting rock and accidentally tossed his portion of the hunt onto the communal flame. His fellow cavemen and cavewomen howled and laughed as the tribe’s inadvertent jester scrambled to get his slice of wild boar off the devouring flames. Oh, Tuktuk. He was always good for a laugh or two. But as he held the blackened and sizzling porkchop up for inspection, the suckling pig’s juices spilling over his hairy hand, he caught an intriguing scent. And an idea.

Tuktuk tossed the chop back on the glowing rocks, filling the campsite with the aroma of charbroiled pig. One whiff later, the entire tribe rejoiced in celebration: barbecue was born. Tuktuk became a local legend and when word of his discovery reached faraway tribes, he had his portrait drawn upon cave walls everywhere. Mind you, no one was very good at drawing back then.

I’m kidding of course. Kind of. After all, the idea of grilling meat had to happen somehow. From there, based on the ingenuity of human beings and our natural curiosity, it’s safe to say that various versions of barbecue have been created throughout our tenure here. But human history wasn’t always recorded, nor did it always survive when it was. Fire helped see to that too.

So instead of looking for (or speculating about) barbecue’s most ancient roots, we can look to the origin of what we call barbecue today. And that brings us to the Taino people of the Caribbean and their art of “barbacoa”.

Before we dive in, here’s a quick outline of what we’ll cover in this guide so you can skip ahead to the questions you want answered.

  1. What are the origins of barbecue?
  2. What role has barbecue played in recent human history?
  3. What types of barbecue are practiced around the world?

From here we’ll delve into various dishes and artforms found in distinct regions. Now let’s get into it.


What are the modern origins of barbecue?

The Taino were the indigenous inhabitants of the Caribbean islands when Christopher Columbus arrived in the late 15th century. And like all indigenous tribes connected to the land, they had a rich culinary tradition that revolved around local ingredients like wild game, fish, and cassava. Where the Taino differed from others was the wooden framework they used for cooking meat over an open fire.

In his journal entries, Columbus referred to this structure as a “barbacoa” or “barabicu” – perhaps a European interpretation and not a direct Taino translation – and being much like a “grill”, it was how the Taino slow-cooked their meat.

Now with no stretch of the imagination, we can see where the word “barbecue” has its roots. And much like the word itself, over time, as the indigenous cooking method was assimilated into European culinary traditions, barbecue evolved into the diverse and multifaceted culinary phenomenon that we know today. Just think of America’s BBQ Belt with all its regional variations. Each was shaped by factors such as local ingredients, adopted cultural influences, and historical context. We’ll get more into that later when we explore different regions.

While the Taino may not have called it "barbecue" in the same way we do today, their innovative use of fire and wood to slow-cook meat laid the foundation for a culinary tradition that has transcended centuries and continents. But barbacoa went beyond simply cooking food. The fire pit was a central gathering point for the community, where people would come together to socialize, share stories, and celebrate important events. It’s a tradition that has continued to play a significant role in our history.

What role has barbecue played in recent human history?

Barbecues have long been a symbol of community and social gatherings around the world. They provide an informal setting for every day people to come together, network, enjoy good food, and converse and exchange ideas. And when it comes to events that bring people together, there is vast potential for power. It’s something politicians recognized as early as the 19th century when barbecues were held as part of political campaigns and rallies.

Politicians at local levels of government to federal incorporate barbecues into their campaign strategies. They may range from small backyard gatherings to larger community cookouts or campaign rallies, depending on the scale of the campaign and the preferences of the candidate.

But unlike the strict and structured format of traditional town hall meetings or campaign speeches, the laidback atmosphere of barbecues allowed candidates to engage with their constituents on a more personal level. An important factor when trying to garner support.

As for the people, meeting candidates face to face when you’ve only ever heard about them through the media grapevine has a humanizing effect. Dare I say, it may even make them feel more relatable. Which, of course, is the whole goal and why hosting barbecues remains a strategy among political hopefuls.

But that’s about as far into the political side of barbecue as I’ll go. Because while we all don’t speak the same politic, there’s one language that’s universal among all humans and it’s one that we can all agree upon as soon as the charbroiled scents reach our nostrils.

That language is barbecue.


What types of barbecue are practiced around the world?

Barbecue has evolved into numerous regional styles around the world, each characterized by unique cooking methods, ingredients, sauces, and flavors. But again, before we dive in, here’s a quick outline of what we’ll cover in this guide so you can skip ahead to the region you’re most interested in.

  1. Canadian & American
  2. Mexican & Latin American
  3. Caribbean
  4. Western European
  5. Eastern European

Part II of our Beginner’s Guide will cover BBQ found in the Middle East, Africa, China & East Asia, Thailand & Southeast Asia, India & South Asia, and Australia & Oceania. For now, we'll begin our journey closer to home.

Canadian & American BBQ

Canadian BBQ: Canada isn’t exactly known for barbecue, at least not like the southern States. But we do have methods and spices to call our own. Maple syrup-infused marinades or glazes are used to add a touch of Canadian flavor to grilled meats or bacon. Cedar planking, a traditional Indigenous cooking method, is used to impart smoky flavor to Pacific salmon and other fish. And we can’t forget about St. Laurent Steak Spice originating in Montreal, Quebec and the flavors it brings to steaks and other grilled meats.

Still, Canada doesn’t share the same spotlight as America’s BBQ Belt. And it’s a big one. Big enough that BBQ is sacred to these states. We also know that regions within these states have their differences in their approach to BBQ, but for simplicity we made generalizations.

Texas BBQ: Texas barbecue is renowned for its emphasis on beef, particularly brisket, which is slow-cooked over indirect heat for several hours. Other popular meats include ribs, sausage, and pork shoulder. Texas barbecue is often seasoned with a dry rub and smoked using hardwoods like oak, hickory, or mesquite. Sauces, if used, are typically served on the side rather than applied during cooking.

Kansas City BBQ: Kansas City-style barbecue is known for its diverse array of meats, including pork ribs, beef brisket, and burnt ends. It's characterized by a sweet and tangy tomato-based sauce, often applied generously during cooking or served on the side.

Memphis BBQ: Memphis barbecue is famous for its pork-centric offerings, particularly ribs and pulled pork. The ribs are typically dry-rubbed with a mixture of spices and slow-cooked in a pit until tender. Memphis barbecue is known for its emphasis on smoke flavor, with wood varieties like hickory and oak commonly used for smoking. Sauce in Memphis is typically tomato-based, but there is also a tradition of serving ribs "dry," without sauce.

North Carolina BBQ: North Carolina has two main styles of barbecue: Eastern and Western. Eastern North Carolina barbecue is characterized by its use of whole-hog cooking, where the entire pig is slow-cooked over hardwood coals and then chopped or pulled. The sauce is a vinegar-based mixture with red pepper flakes. Western North Carolina barbecue, also known as Lexington or Piedmont style, focuses on pork shoulder that is chopped or pulled and served with a tomato-based sauce that is slightly sweet and tangy.

South Carolina BBQ: South Carolina barbecue is known for its mustard-based sauce, particularly in the central part of the state. This tangy and slightly sweet sauce is often used to complement pulled pork. In the coastal regions of South Carolina, a vinegar-pepper sauce is more common, similar to the sauce used in Eastern North Carolina barbecue.


At The Tea & Spice Shoppe, you can use these spices to re-create Canadian & American BBQ flavors: Texas BBQ spice, Hickory BBQ & Sea Salt, Mesquite Blend, St. Laurent Steak Spice, Smoked Applewood Sea Salt, Cherrywood Smoked Sea Salt, Chile Powder. Find them all and more in our Canadian / American collection.

Mexican / Latin American BBQ

Mexican and Latin American barbecue, often referred to as “asado”, are known for their bold and dynamic flavors, showcasing a diverse range of ingredients and techniques. Asado gatherings are social events that often last for hours, with friends and family coming together to enjoy grilled meats, wine, camaraderie.

Argentine Asado places emphasis on grilling various cuts of beef, lamb, and pork over an open flame or wood-fired grill, known as a "parrilla." Popular cuts of meat for Argentine asado include chorizo (sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), vacío (flank steak), entraña (skirt steak), and asado de tira (short ribs). The meat is seasoned simply with salt and sometimes chimichurri sauce, a flavorful blend of parsley, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil.

Chilean Asado features various cuts of meat such as beef, pork, lamb, and chicken cooked over an open flame or hot coals. The meats may be seasoned with simple ingredients like salt, pepper, garlic, and sometimes a squeeze of lemon or a sprinkle of herbs. Asado de tira (short ribs) and choripán (chorizo sausage served in bread) are popular choices at Chilean asados.

Mexican Barbacoa: Typically made from beef, lamb, or pork, barbacoa involves marinating meat with a blend of dried chilies, garlic, onion, cumin, Mexican oregano, and other spices. The meat is then wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooked in an underground pit or a covered pot until tender and flavorful. Barbacoa de cabeza (head barbacoa) and barbacoa de borrego (lamb barbacoa) are popular variations, each with its own regional twists and preferences. No barbacoa would be complete without fresh tortillas, salsa, onions, and cilantro.

Uruguayan Parrillada is similar to Argentine asado and is a beloved culinary tradition in Uruguay. It features a variety of meats, including beef, lamb, pork, and offal, grilled over a wood-fired grill or parrilla. The meats are seasoned with salt and cooked slowly to allow the natural flavors to shine. In addition to meats, Uruguayan parrillada may include grilled vegetables like bell peppers and onions. It's often served with chimichurri sauce, salads, and crusty bread.

Colombian Llanero Barbecue: The Colombian Llanos region is known for its vast plains and cattle ranching. Consequently, Llanero barbecue features cuts of beef, including ribs, sirloin, and flank steak, grilled over an open flame or charcoal grill. The meat is typically seasoned with salt and cooked until tender and juicy. Llanero barbecue is often accompanied by arepas (corn cakes), yuca (cassava), and chimichurri sauce.


At The Tea & Spice Shoppe, you can use these spices to re-create Mexican & Latin American BBQ: Argentinian Chimichurri Blend, Chile-lime seasoning, Merken Chile Blend, Mexican Mole blend, Mexican Oregano, Ancho Chile Powder, Cayenne, Chipotle BBQ Seasoning & Chile Powder, Cilantro. Find them all and more in our Mexican / Latin American collection.

Caribbean BBQ

Caribbean barbecue is a fusion of African, Indigenous, and European culinary influences and offers an array of flavors and dishes that reflect the vibrant culture of the region. It’s characterized by bold spices, fiery marinades, and slow-cooked meats that capture the essence of island life.

Jamaican Jerk is perhaps the most famous Caribbean barbecue style. Jerk seasoning typically includes a blend of spices such as allspice, Scotch bonnet peppers, thyme, garlic, and ginger, among others. Meats, often chicken, pork, or fish, are marinated in the jerk seasoning and slow-cooked over pimento wood or charcoal, imparting a smoky and spicy flavor. Jerk chicken and jerk pork are classic Jamaican dishes, often served with rice and peas, fried plantains, and festival (sweet fried dumplings).

Cuban Lechón Asado, or roasted suckling pig, is a traditional Cuban barbecue dish often enjoyed at festive occasions like weddings, holidays, and family gatherings. The pig is marinated in a mixture of citrus juices, garlic, cumin, lime zest, bay leaves, oregano, and other spices, then slow-roasted over an open flame or in a pit until the skin is crispy and the meat is tender and succulent. Lechón asado is typically served with rice and black beans, yuca (cassava), and fried plantains.

Trinidadian and Tobagonian BBQ, also known as "lime and BBQ," are popular social gatherings where friends and family come together to grill meats, enjoy music, and relax. Popular barbecue items include grilled chicken, pork, fish, and seafood seasoned with a variety of spices and marinades. Trinbagonian BBQ often features dishes like BBQ chicken, bake and shark (fried shark sandwiches), and grilled lobster, served with sides like coleslaw, macaroni pie, and fried plantains.

Barbadian (Bajan) BBQ features grilled meats like chicken, pork, and fish, seasoned with a mixture of herbs, spices, and sauces. Fish cakes, made from salted codfish, flour, and seasonings, are a popular appetizer at Bajan BBQ gatherings. Other dishes may include grilled flying fish, cou-cou (cornmeal and okra pudding), and macaroni pie. Bajan seasoning mix or salt is a popular blend of thyme, garlic, onion, paprika, black pepper, salt, celery salt, mustard powder, turmeric, allspice, nutmeg, and cayenne.

Bahamian BBQ traditions often center around seafood, particularly conch, lobster, shrimp, and fish. Bahamian BBQ dishes may include grilled conch skewers, cracked conch (fried conch), grilled lobster tails, and BBQ shrimp. These dishes are often served with sides like peas and rice, Bahamian macaroni and cheese, and coleslaw.


At The Tea & Spice Shoppe, you can use these spices to re-create Caribbean BBQ: Jamaican Jerk, Jamaican Curry Powder, Chile-lime seasoning, Garlic, Ginger, Oregano, Allspice, Thyme, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Turmeric, Cayenne, Celery Salt, Paprika. Find them all and more in our Caribbean collection.

Western European BBQ

Western European BBQ encompasses a wide range of grilling traditions and culinary styles across the continent, each offering its own unique flavors, techniques, and regional specialties. While there are exceptions, Europeans tend to rely on simple seasonings and marinades that enhance the natural flavors of the ingredients rather than overpowering them.

British BBQ often involves grilling meats like sausages, burgers, chicken, and ribs over charcoal or gas grills. Accompaniments may include grilled vegetables, potatoes, and salads. British barbecue sauces and marinades vary, but they often include ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and herbs.

Spanish Asado: While the specific techniques and seasonings may vary by region, Spanish asado often features meats like chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), pork ribs, and lamb, seasoned with spices like paprika, garlic, and herbs. A key ingredient in many Spanish dishes is pimentón or Spanish paprika which adds a smoky, earthy flavor to grilled meats.

Italian Grigliata often includes meats like sausage, steak, and chicken, as well as seafood like shrimp and calamari. Meats and vegetables are typically seasoned with olive oil, herbs, and garlic before being grilled over charcoal or wood-fired grills. Grigliata is often accompanied by bread, wine, and fresh salads.

German Grillfest features sausages, particularly bratwurst and currywurst, as well as pork chops, chicken, and beef steaks. Sauerkraut, potato salad, and bread are common accompaniments to German barbecue, along with mustard and various sauces like curry ketchup.

French BBQ: French barbecue, while not as well-known as barbecue styles from other regions, still features flavorful spice blends and marinades that enhance the taste of grilled dishes. Herbes de Provence and French Mustard & Garlic Herb are two examples. The spices used in French barbecue often reflect the country's rich culinary traditions and may vary depending on the specific dish or region. 


At The Tea & Spice Shoppe, you can use these spices to re-create European BBQ: French Mustard & Garlic Herb, Mediterranean Spice Blend, Herbes de Provence, Italian Seasoning, Greek Seasoning, Lemon Dill Sea Salt, Vadouvan French Masala, Paprika, Garlic, Mustard Seed, Curry Powder (mild/hot). Find them all and more in our Western European collection.

Eastern European BBQ

Eastern European barbecue is characterized by robust and savory flavors, often achieved through simple seasoning techniques, that are deeply satisfying and comforting.

Balkan Barbecue, which includes Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, includes two popular dishes: "ražnjići" and "ćevapi.” Ražnjići are skewers of meat, often pork or lamb, grilled over an open flame or charcoal grill. The meat is typically seasoned with salt, pepper, and spices like paprika and garlic. Ćevapi are small, skinless sausages made from minced meat (usually a mixture of beef, pork, and/or lamb) and seasoned with spices like garlic, paprika, and onion. Both can be served with flatbread (like lepinja or somun), onions, ajvar (roasted red pepper and eggplant relish), and/or kajmak (a dairy product similar to clotted cream).

Shashlik is a popular barbecue dish in Russia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics, as well as in Central Asia. It consists of marinated cubes of meat, typically lamb, pork, or chicken, skewered and grilled over charcoal or an open flame. The marinade often includes ingredients like vinegar, onions, garlic, onion, paprika and bay leaf and is usually served with flatbread, grilled vegetables, and sour cream.

Kotlety are common in Poland and other Slavic countries. They are seasoned meat patties made from ground beef, pork, or chicken. The meat is mixed with breadcrumbs, eggs, onions, and spices, formed into patties, and grilled.

Bulgarian Kebapcheta are grilled minced meat sausages typically made from a mixture of pork and beef seasoned with garlic, paprika, and other spices. Kebapcheta are often served with fries and salad.

Serbian Plescavita consists of grilled ground meat patties, usually made from a mixture of beef, pork, and/or lamb. It is seasoned with spices like garlic, paprika, and pepper, and it's often served with traditional garnishes like onions, kajmak (a creamy dairy spread), and ajvar (roasted red pepper and eggplant relish).

Georgian Mtsvadi: In Georgia, "mtsvadi" is a traditional barbecue dish made with marinated chunks of pork or beef, skewered and grilled over an open flame or charcoal grill. The marinade typically includes ingredients like onions, vinegar, pomegranate juice, and aromatic herbs like tarragon and mint. Mtsvadi is served with flatbread, grilled vegetables, and traditional condiments like tkemali (sour plum sauce) and ajika (spicy pepper paste).


At The Tea & Spice Shoppe, you can use these spices to re-create Eastern European BBQ: Sweet Paprika, Hungarian Paprika, Smoked Paprika, Caraway Seed, Balkan Spice Blend (a common spice blend for barbecue includes a mixture of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and sometimes other spices like oregano or thyme), Tarragon, Mint, Dill, Marjoram, Bay Leaf, Mustard Seeds. Find them all and more in our Eastern European collection.


That's it for Part I. We would love to hear any BBQ traditions, dishes, or recipes you have, what region of the world they’re inspired by, or what types of world BBQs you’ve tried and which were your favorite. Especially, if you think everyone should try it at least once in their life. If so, leave a comment! We want this to be a growing list people can find inspiration from so we’ll be updating it regularly.

In the end, no matter what you call it – barbacoa, asado, yakiniku, bulgogi, mangal, grigliata – and no matter where you are in the world, barbecue is a universal language we all speak.

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