This week we will be focusing on something that is rapidly gaining in popularity in Barbados, this is the Barbecue (BBQ). When you hear the word barbecue, what exactly comes to mind? It can be a bit confusing as over the years, it has developed multiple definitions.
First of all, barbecuing is referred to as cooking over an open flame generated from hardwood; it is also referred to as a method of cooking to which a specific flavour profile is required, as well as a sauce that accompanies meats that are cooked on open flame, or even an outdoor event at which specially prepared meats are served. Today, we take a look at all of these, as they are all recognized and widely used across the culinary landscape.
You might be interested to know that although there are thousands of BBQ events in the United States on an annual basis and they stake claim to being the BBQ experts in the world, this art form did not start in that region, but is in fact indigenous to the Caribbean but, like most other things, due to a lack of attention and understanding of the importance of our culture, was allowed to slip through our fingers.
Barbecuing, if we go as far back as when they said this region was discovered, was being done by the first inhabitants, even though it was not called that at the time and its original form was usually whole animals, mainly wild pigs, which were cooked on a spit or bars over the open wood flame. So this, for me, still remains the official technique or cooking method referred to as barbecuing.
However, like all other things, with time and greater understanding of heat, heat sources and heat transfer, it has evolved and faster, cleaner and more efficient ways have been developed to execute this style of cooking. Today, pits, grills and even smokers have entered the fray and barbecuing has been elevated to a festive style of cooking that requires tremendous skill, as the meat is generally exposed to the open flame and the true character and flavour resulting from this art form comes in the final taste, texture, aroma and even appearance of the cooked item.
The final flavour usually depends on the choice of wood which imparts its flavour on the cooked item through its smoke, which is generated from the moisture and fat dripping onto the smoldering embers. Therefore, it goes without saying that the selection of wood is one of the most important things in barbecuing. If the wrong type of wood is chosen, the final result could be more than horrible. A good hardwood is best because it takes longer to burn and the heat can be controlled to some extent.
The choice of meat is also paramount, as this is a dry heat method of cooking, so no additional moisture is added to facilitate the breaking down of collagen which renders the meat tender. As such, only tender cuts of meat can be used for barbecuing. Tender cuts usually imply lesser flavour, hence, in steps marinades and rubs, which are also important for building the final flavour profile in the BBQ procedure. After marinating in an oil, acid and herb combination, a good dry rub is usually applied to the meat before it is placed on the open flame. This is where the cook can exercise his/her understanding of flavours and flavour blending, as any number of dry spices can be combined to come up with a personalized flavour.
What is required then is for that collagen to dissolve and the flavour of the dry rub – toasted by the heat of the flame, along with the smoke – to blend with the natural flavours of the meat, resulting in a flavourful bark and a tender, juicy interior.
It is during this process that the attention and skill of the cook is most needed. Have you ever been passing by one of the roadside BBQs and experienced the awful smell of burning flesh? There is nothing more off-putting than being subjected to such and you know straight away that this is someone cooking who would be better served finding a fast-food location and purchasing the finished product. This is why it is important to totally understand product, time and temperature when you attempt to BBQ your piece of meat.
We spoke earlier about the choice of wood and the flavour of the BBQ being influenced by that choice. One of the evolutions in that area is the source of heat, as now there are a number of gas and even electric powered grills which can be seen on the market. Others are powered with charcoal, to which flavoured store-bought wood chips or shavings are added to the flame to imitate that original outdoor, wood-influenced BBQ flavour. So whether it be a spit, metal grill or wooden bars that are set on these open flames, all of the above practices should be borne in mind when you attempt your next BBQ.
By now, I would hope that your interest has been peaked and that you are beginning to understand the diversity of the BBQ whether in word, action or flavour. In our next article we will continue to discuss the other interpretations of BBQ. Also stay tuned in the coming weeks for details on some exciting BBQ training that will take place as part of the 2018 Barbados Sugar and Rum Season