Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own and do not reflect the official position(s) of Gomez Barbecue.
Barbecue is the definitive type of American food.
Before you grab your pitchfork and create an outraged hashtag (#NOmezBBQ?), I would like to acknowledge/assert a few things:
1. Burgers, and the diner/fast food cuisine formed around them, are the undisputed emperors of restaurant sales in America.
2. Pizzas are popular and delicious.
3. I contend that apple pie is considered to be the most American food because "American" and "apple pie" both start with the letter "A." We are just a single letter away from saying "as American as arbecue."
Barbecue is the American cuisine because it has an unassailable history in America and because "barbecue" means different things depending on where you're from. Future blog posts will explore the American-ness of these regional variations, but I’ll begin here by staking a claim to history.
The American History of Barbecue
Burgers can only really reach back to the late 1800s as a distinct food. Calling back to the minced horsemeat of 13th century Mongols is a bit of a stretch, and it’s safe to say that serving a ground beef patty between two pieces of bread only really became established in the 1900s.
With its Italian lineage, pizza is another story altogether, but pizza should not be discounted because it began in another country. America is a land of immigrants and innovators, and that’s what we did to the simple flatbread, cheese, and tomatoes of Italy. Because it’s America, we put whatever we want on top of it. But again, American pizza is a product of the 20th century, and its history in the US begins around the same time as the hamburger’s.
Barbecue has burgers and pizzas beat by at least one hundred years. Hamburgers and pizzas follow the same rough trajectory in that they were invented around 1900 and really came into their own around the 1940s and 50s. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the West Indies in 1492, barbecue was already there. To be sure, people have been slow roasting and smoking meat for hundreds of thousands of years, but the word “barbecue” is derived from the word “barbacoa” used to describe the West Indian meats that pre-date Columbus.
Barbecue is a specifically American form of slow roasted and smoked meat. Even McDonald's, which has done so much to bring the hamburger to all corners of the world, was originally a barbecue joint. It is only natural that the McDonald's hamburger was nurtured within such a quintessentially American establishment.
George Washington loved barbecue, as did Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Harrison, and Lyndon Johnson, among others. Barbecue is presidential. Barbecue is inspiring.
There are no extant sources to back me up, but I have always imagined that during the harsh winter in Valley Forge, with food supplies low and his soldiers diseased and despairing, George Washington roused his troops by reminding them what they were fighting for. I'm sure he mentioned liberty and defense against tyranny, but what better symbol of the homes and lives they protected than barbecue? Fed with these images of tender, seasoned pork, how could a soldier not be ready to go to battle against the British troops who threatened to destroy this food and everything it stands for?
America (including me!) loves burgers, and there is not a person alive today who doesn't like pizza. Barbecue, however, has a history as storied as the country itself.