Spanish explorers claimed that the word “barbecue” derives its name from a Taino Indian word, which Spanish explorers believed sounded like barbacoa. Because the Indian word had multiple meanings, it presaged today’s controversy. It could have been a storage or cooking device, as well as a bed-like or shelter device.
The barbacoa was used by most Caribbean and AmerIndian tribes for drying and smoking fishes, turtles and alligators as well as birds, dogs and small animals for both preservation and dinner. Sometimes, turkey and deer were also cooked on the barbacoa. Many times, the smoked, salted and dried meats were reconstituted weeks later and used in stews. This was more like making barbecue jerky.
Carl O. Sauer wrote in “Geographical Review”, published in 1981 by American Geographical Society: “Indian Food Production and Trade in the Caribbean”: “Salting and smoking were well-established and extended to shellfishes and other sea creatures. The stands that were used to prepare the fish for barbacoa (which is what we call barbecue) were a part of this preparation. These grills were used to quickly dry the fish that had been taken from tropical waters.
This is a 1583 engraving of a barbacoa by Theodore deBry, based on a painting by Jacques LeMoyne (1564), which depicts a French explorer in Florida. Click here to learn more about modern barbecue, its roots in the Caribbean, and the origins.
Samuel Johnson, a British essayist, lexicographer and editor, included the word “barbecue” correctly in his landmark Dictionary of the English Language published in 1755. It reads: “To ba’rbecue.” The West-Indies term for dressing whole hogs. It is usually done by placing the hog flat on a large gridiron that is raised two feet above the charcoal fire with which it is surrounded.
Johnson then quotes from Alexander Pope’s Satire on The Second Book of Homer, which was written in 1730s.
“Oldfield, with more than harpy throat endu’d,Cries, send me, gods, a whole hog barbecu’d.
This is not true, however, as the Caribbean Indians were already doing barbacoa before the Spaniards introduced hogs to New World in 1539. However, the trend was established. Confusion.
Students of history in the Carolinas still insist that barbecue cannot be pork, which is a subtle white supremacy at play as they attribute too much influence to American and Spanish cultures. Remember that barbacoa originally consisted of fish, lizards and alligators cooked by native Americans.