I was very confused when someone in conversation was adamant that Barbecue came from the Caribbean, primarily from Jamaican jerk and well, yes and no. I thought why would this person think such a thing. Well, history shows the word “Barbacoa“, (remember, Barbecue derived from this word) came from the Caribbean because that is when it was first recorded not to be confused with Jamaican jerk that was actually created on the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean. Barbecue has become an American pass time with many techniques and regional differences in the marinade recipes used to make wet sauces and dry rubs. Before we get into that let’s talk about the history of Barbacoa. Let’s understand the process of Barbacoa before you can understand why this has been around since fire was discovered by humans.
Barbacoa was brought to the Caribbean (Cuba, Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico) from the Taino Indian that came from South America and later in the time of conflict with the Caribs, another indigenous group deriving from South America as well, to the northeast Caribbean. Not to get too much into how Jamaican Jerk was born but the process in which it is made can be confused with barbecue. The American word “Jerky” derived from Jamaican Jerk and the spice rub used is known as “jerk spice” referring to a spice rub. One theory that is more concrete is that the original spice rub originated in South Africa and it was brought to the Caribbean by the African slaves via the Spanish and when the British conquered the Caribbean the Africans fled to the mountains and intertwined with the Taino Indian. Over the years it has been modified in many ways but yet holds the name Jamaican Jerk.
Barbacoa is the process in which meat is cooked, generally over an open fire. In northern Mexico, what I have grown up to know Barbacoa to be, was this delicious fatty meat (of course over the years we have cut back on fat, lol) cooked in its own juices and the beef head was usually prepared. Where I grew up (So Cal) it was a special occasion kind of meal considering it took a long time to cook and pork butt (pork shoulder) was used instead. Traditionally, in Mexico, it was primarily cooked over an open fire, pit or hole dug in the ground covered in the leaves of the Maguey plant and served with corn tortillas, guacamole, salsa, cilantro, and onions.
Cochinita Pibil, found in the Yucatan, is similar only suckling pig is used and marinated in acidic citrus juices, seasoned with annatto seeds and wrapped in banana leaves before cooking.
The cooking process of Barbacoa was brought to the southwestern areas of the U.S. via Texas and later called barbecue. The word barbecue was cemented when the word “Barbacu’d” was published by an English writer who voyaged to Jamaica.
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