The Origins of Barbecue—Part 1
When sitting in a Brazilian-style churrascaria, the server approaches your table carrying a skewer with three perfectly roasted medallions of picanha. And then proceeds to cut a thin slice of juicy medium-rare beef. Not to forget a generous, slightly crispy on the outside, melting on the inside, layer of fat. You most likely don’t waste a second wondering what the origins of barbecue are. That sizzling, enticing delicacy is now resting on your plate, and your only urge is to immediately savor it. But you’re not in a steakhouse, and instead in front of your computer screen right now. So, it won’t harm to take a couple of minutes to explore this delicious slice of history. What do we know about where churrasco came from?
As old as fire
Unfortunately, not a whole lot of information has been preserved on the subject of the origins of barbecue. But it’s generally agreed that this method of preparing meat by roasting goes as far back as man’s mastery of fire. It evidently didn’t take our ancestors long to realize that cooked meat was tenderer, tasted better, and didn’t spoil as fast. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that preparing meat over the fire seems to have been common practice among virtually every ancient people.
The Middle East and the Mediterranean were the home of some of the most ancient civilizations we know. Taking that into account, it seems reasonable to conclude that at least a few customs related to barbecue may have originated there. Doing some research, I found an interesting connection. Consider shish kebab, for example. A traditional Middle-eastern dish. It consists of skewered pieces of meat, sometimes interspersed with vegetables. Such as tomatoes, bell peppers, and onions, and then grilled on the fire. If you go to a typical South Brazilian churrascaria, among the various cuts of meat, locals will certainly offer you xixo (pronounced “sheesho”). They make Xixo by interleaving several pieces of different meats with tomatoes, peppers, and onions and threading them on a skewer. Xixo and shish kebab are basically the same—even their names sound almost alike. But what is the connection?
Churrascos owes its existence to Gauchos
Bear in mind that the traditional South American churrasco owes its existence to the gauchos. Gouchos are cowboys native to Argentina, Uruguay, and the southernmost portion of Brazil. Spanish culture had seriously and strongly influenced them. Spain, in turn, by the time Columbus reached America, had just put an end to over seven centuries of Muslim rule, which had begun with an attack by the Arab army in the year 711. It’s not implausible to conclude that the great influence of Islamic culture over the Spanish people traveled along with them to the New World.
This connection seems logical; however, I can’t claim it to be the ultimate truth, as there are other views. Some hold it, for example, that the gauchos learned their method for preparing meat from local Native Americans called Tupi. Written history on the origins of barbecue in Latin America stop with the Tupi.
Although the origins of barbecue and churrasco may be somewhat obscure, there’s much more to explore in this tasty subject. Would you like to cut deeper into it? Then, don’t miss the second part of this article.