The charcoal barbecue is far more than just a mere way of cooking food. It is an institution and tradition that is indelible to the American public consciousness.
A charcoal barbecue is a summertime tradition that first received a great deal of attention in the 1950’s from a protracted television commercial campaign; however, the actual roots of the barbecue are rumored to have originated from native islanders in the Caribbean who often roasted meat over charcoal fires.
According to a University of Virginia study, this tradition was picked up by the French and Spanish who colonized the islands – and later became prominent in the pre-Civil War South in the United States. Since pork was the staple meat in the South, the charcoal roasting method caught on quickly and eventually developed in the charcoal barbecue that was marketed heavily in the 1950s; and still remains a popular symbol of American culture today.
Today, the charcoal barbecue has evolved considerably from its roots. It used to consist of a pit filled with chopped and burned wood (charcoal) and a spit, which was used to turn the meat. Now, the charcoal barbecue is considerably more sophisticated. The first major advance was “lighter fluid,” which made it easier to catch the coals on fire, but recently, this has been replaced by a far safer method: a natural gas igniter. Rather than tossing in the general direction of explosive liquid-soaked coals and running for the hills, you can simply turn on the gas igniter – and then use the charcoal to cook the food.
Regardless of the origins, this barbecue remains a popular summer outdoors activity. And for good reason: it really can cook food really well. Maybe that is the true reason for the charcoal barbecue having such a longstanding tradition after all.