Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

barbecue refers to meat (or other food) cooked most frequently, but not invariably, in the open air on a framework over an open fire; or to an event incorporating such cooking; or to the framework and accompanying apparatus required for this.

The word comes from the Spanish barbacoa, which in turn had probably come from a similar word in the Arawak language, denoting a structure on which meat could be dried or roasted. When the word first entered the English language, in the 17th century, it meant a wooden framework such as could be used for storage or sleeping on, without a culinary context. However, by the 18th century it took on the first of its present meanings, and—at least in the USA—the second one too. The third meaning, like the apparatus itself, became commonplace in the latter part of the 20th century.