BBQ & Grilling
From the campfire to the propane grill, open-fire cooking has a storied place in human tradition. Learn the history of grilling and get some great recipes.
Open-fire grilling is surely the oldest method of cooking. From the moment a hungry hominid retrieved that first hunk of steaming hunk of meat from the ashes of a forest fire, humans have eaten and enjoyed the smoky taste of food cooked over the open flame.
But first, it might be best to define some terms. Open-fire cooking, cooking food directly over the glowing coals, is great for chunks of meat and vegetables skewered on a stick and suspended above the heat source. With the right equipment, it’s also well suited to one-pot cooking, so things like stews and chilis are a great option. If you’re going for grilling, then meats and kebabs of various types are the way to go. Barbecue (or BBQ) is widely used as a synonym for this type of food, but more precisely refers to a complex process of smoking heavily spiced meat popular in the South of the United States (to get an idea of the difference, think about the difference between a grilled piece of salmon and some barbecue baby back ribs).
In this article, we’re going to review the history of cooking over the open fire, examine its traditional place in some of the world’s cultures, and check out some inspiring recipes for the best BBQed and grilled food around.
Grilling around the world
As we have already seen, grilling can mean lots of different things for lots of different people. Let’s see how different people around the world make use of the open flame for cooking, baking, and other types of cooking.
Central Asia and the Middle East has a longstanding tradition of grilling meats over the open flames. Some say this is due to the influence that nomadic horse riders have had over the histories of these areas. Unlike traditional cooking, open-flame grilling requires nothing more than a fuel source, some food, and perhaps a long stick to avoid getting burned. This made it easier for the Turkic and Mongolian horse riders to prepare food even as they traveled dozens of miles each day. You can’t exactly cart an oven around on the back of a horse, now can you?
So it turns out that it’s not a coincidence that many of our grilling vocabulary words come from Middle Eastern and Central Asian tradition. Think about it next time you eat a kebab—a word that arrived in English after traveling through Arabic from its Turkic origins.
A recipe that really showcases the diverse origins of grilled food is this delicious grilled chicken kebab with couscous. In this dish, juicy chicken breast is wrapped around wooden skewers and grilled over the open flame and served alongside a gorgeous and healthy couscous salad packed with juicy vegetables.
The simplicity of fire
But grilling doesn’t need to involve heavily spiced meats. Indeed, the oldest cooking method can also be the simplest: the smoke of the fire adds its own spice to meat, and sometimes that’s all you need. When working with delicately flavored ingredients like fish, grilling can be a secret weapon for adding flavor and visual interest to your meal. This simple grilled salmon leverages the primary and most important benefit of grilling—that lovely smokey flavor—to create a meal that is truly more than the sum of its parts.
It also helps that it’s dead easy. The key to this recipe is to get the best salmon possible. This grilled salmon with vegetables recipe can be the difference between simply not being hungry anymore and having a meal that’s truly worth remembering.
Not just for meat
Vegetarians and vegans, listen up! You may have cast aside grilling and BBQ along with the steaks and chicken wings, but hope is not lost. Some vegetables take readily to the grill. Whether it’s potatoes wrapped up in tin foil and cooked directly over the embers or a charred eggplant whipped up into the smokiest baba ganoush you’ve ever had, vegetables belong on the grill just as much as a piece of meat does.
One of the best ways to enjoy vegetables on the grill is to cook a good ear of corn. Just assemble your various seasonings, slather on that butter (or olive oil if you’re a vegan), and grill that baby up! All you have to do is take off the husk and this simple grilled corn is one of the singular pleasures of summer, and now it can be yours.
Grilling—a piece of human history
So the next time you decide to reenact one of humanity’s proudest forgotten moments and put flesh to flame, be sure to try out some of these inspiring recipes for the grill or BBQ. Whether you’re grilling over open coals or cooking up a traditional southern BBQ feast, cooking your food with fire and imparts that delicious smoky flavor you just can’t get any other way.