Barbecue’s history is smoking hot.

Barbecue has become a staple in American cuisine. In fact, one may even offer that barbecue is the original American cuisine, as it is a blend of other influences and evolved into what it is today through the blending of cultures, mirroring the melting pot that is this country. But exactly when and where was barbecue invented? Let’s find out in this brief history of BBQ.

It may sound strange, but the word ‘barbecue’ is actually a derivative of Caribbean dialect, according to Southern Oral History. Barbecue comes from Taino, a pre-Columbian Caribbean language. The word, the website states, describes the native method of cooking sliced meats over an open flame; other sources say barbacoa specifically referred to the wooden frame on which the meat was smoked.

Related Reading: The Difference Between Barbecuing and Grilling


It seems as if every state in the U.S. has their own versions of barbecue, however, according to the experts, there are four main styles in which the cooking method evolved: North Carolina, South Carolina, Memphis, and Kansas City barbecue. Each of these are different in their own way, down to the types of sauces used.

Barbecue, according to research done by The Smithsonian, began during the Colonial Era in Virginia. Colonists observed Native Americans smoking and drying meats over an open flame. Then, the British settlers put their own spin on it with basting, using mostly butter or vinegar, to keep the meat moist while grilling over an open flame. Years later, as slaves from the Caribbean were brought to the U.S., they also brought their own flavors, spices, and techniques. Thus, barbecue was born.

When it comes to BBQ sauce, the U.S. can claim this delectable condiment as its own, as barbecue sauce was born to enhance the grilling experience. According to research by The Smithsonian, there are three main types of barbecue sauces that were developed around barbecue, all influenced by who settled in the area. For example, North Carolina’s vinegar-based sauce is derived from those sauces from the Caribbean, while South Carolina’s sauce, which uses mustard as a main ingredient, was developed by the German settlers. And if you know anything about German cuisine, mustard is basically a food group.

Memphis barbecue sauce is a tomato-based sauce which uses molasses to create its famous sweet and spicy flavor, as molasses was an ingredient that was easily attainable in the port city.

Kansas City barbecue, however, follows the same sauce recipe as Memphis barbecue, yet it is used a bit differently.

Out of the four styles of barbecue, while the basic process of smoking meats is the same across all of them, there are nuances that each style claims that make it different.

In North Carolina, there are two types of cooking styles—Lexington style and Eastern style. While Eastern style is pork based and is said to use the entire hog, Lexington style uses only the pork shoulder. Additionally, Lexington style has tomato paste in its vinegar-based sauce, while Eastern style is vinegar and pepper based.

South Carolina barbecue follows North Carolina’s traditional barbecue cooking style, however, it’s the “golden style” sauce that makes it stand out from its sister state.

Memphis barbecue holds tightly to the tradition that pork is the only meat that should be smoked out and sauced, according to Southern Oral History. Ribs and pulled pork are covered in the area’s saucy calling card, but you’ll still find smoked brisket too.

Kansas City barbecue, however, is the one that really seems to blend all of the types. The style uses Memphis sauce, but is inclusive of all meats, including chicken and beef.

Once you pick your sauce and your preferred cut of meat, get some expert tips for barbecuing it, and consult some of our favorite BBQ cookbooks for more pointers, lore, and delicious barbecue recipes. Then, check out our Ultimate Guide to BBQ & Grilling for everything else you need to know: