Getting into BBQ
Everyone's into BBQ right? Whether it be your average family BBQ or competition BBQ and smoking, I'm sure pretty most people have experienced something they would describe as BBQ food.
One of things I love the most about BBQ food is that it means something to pretty much everyone. Everyone has had it and everyone has their own opinion on what BBQ food is. To me when I think of BBQ, I think of outdoor parties, low n slow cooking and hot sauce. Always hot sauce!
So is BBQ an actual cuisine? I think that depends on where you are. Almost certainly in the USA BBQ is a cuisine, with many different traditions and styles varying across different states. I like to think of it in a similar sort of way to Italian food, with it differing from town to town and region to region. BBQ in style is hugely different from say Texas to Carolina and each state would claim their way of cooking and serving it to be the best and only way. Finding out about the different styles and ways to execute the same products and sauces is to me really interesting and what makes BBQ food in the USA a fascinating subject.
For us in Britain though BBQ food can mean something different. Although there are high level BBQ competitions and smokehouse restaurants, to the average non foodie BBQ simply means cooking outside at a party or family event. Everyone wants to BBQ regardless of cooking ability and that's what's nice about it, it gets people cooking and gets people excited. Whether it be a sausage in a bap or something more elaborate, everyone wants to go to a BBQ. You get your friends over, you get the beers in and it doesn't matter if its crappy burger from the store, team it up with some cheese and some hot sauce and you got yourself a party. In the UK its a celebration of the weather, of taking advantage of a short sunny spell and the long summer evenings. This is what I think BBQ means to the average person on the street in the UK.
My earliest memory of a family BBQ was when my dad brought a BBQ from B&Q. It was basically a gas grill. No charcoal, no wood. He used to put tin foil on the bars so it didn't get dirty, cook some prawns and maybe a burger and that was it. I can't actually believe he used to put tin foil on it! It wasn't even a real BBQ in my eyes anyway. To him though it was adventurous and a reason to get the family together for a meal.
That does though brings up a contentious point as to the use of gas in BBQ cooking. To me if its not wood or charcoal its not BBQ. I just can't see the point. There's a lot of equipment now days that try and merge gas and wood, giving more accuracy and control whilst still delivering flavour. You can even control your BBQ from an app now days. To me though this misses the point and cuts out the bit I love the most. And that's the very primal thing of man (or women) controlling fire. Controlling the smoke and they way it affects the food. Using your senses and cooking intuition to control the food, these are all the skills of a chef. To me this is what BBQ truly means. Mastering the art of fire, there's almost a romantic sense about it, very basic, yet infinitely complicated but ultimately extremely rewarding.
There does seem to be a shift however in how people approach BBQ food. I think its down to the wider food revolution that's happened in this country over the last ten years or so. With people becoming more ethically conscious about what they eat and broadening there horizons about different cuisines and cultures of food. This has ultimately led to a better educated public and therefor people are more willing to take on more adventurous cooking. BBQ is so successful now not only because when done right its bloody awesome, but because its exciting, its communal, it promotes sharing and more importantly you can't not have a few beers or a Jack Daniel's whilst you wait. I think more people are into BBQ as a passion now than any other type of food. You never really here someone say there a French food enthusiast or an Italian food enthusiast. BBQ on the other hand conjures up a passion in people that makes them want to be enthusiastic about it, leads them to spend whole days tending a fire, entering competitions and investing time and money into it. I don't think this is true of any other cuisine apart from BBQ. It must be the fire!! It has to be!! If you think about it BBQing is far less accessible than any other type of cooking. You have to get special equipment, special fuel and a place that's outdoors of the kitchen. You have to have an actual BBQ be it a kettle or an outside grill, you have to light a fire and let it die down before you can cook. Its harder to do, harder to control and a meal takes longer than just turning on the gas in the kitchen. It should be the least attractive way of cooking, but yet its one everyone wants to get behind.
From what I can tell BBQ cooking or BBQ cuisine nearly always involves cooking for a large number of people. Be it a family gathering or cooking a whole lamb or pig over the fire for the hungry masses like we do. This is what I think drives BBQ food and culture. A sense of community and sharing food to bring people to together. In a way that's true of all food cultures, but none more so than BBQ. Share the love as they say!! After all who wants to BBQ just for themselves?