Let’s Barbecue – American Culture Series Part 3

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the U.S., people love any reason to get outside to barbecue and summertime is the prime season to fire up the grill. Whether it is held on a ranch, in a large back yard, on a patio, porch, vehicle tailgate, or apartment balcony, delicious food and getting together for entertaining are the sole purposes for this occasion.

Popular Times to Barbecue

The summer season has three national holidays that are perfect for barbecuing. The season kicks off with Memorial Day that takes place on the last Monday in May. That is followed by Independence Day on July 4th. If the opportunity to grill hasn’t presented itself by then, there is still Labor Day that is observed on the first Monday in September.

Of course, these aren’t the only times for barbecues. In the South and Southwest where winters are mild, outdoor grilling can be used to celebrate holidays such as Christmas or New Years. Grilling might also be part of fun days such as Super Bowl Sunday in late January/early February, and Father’s Day in June. And it does not have to happen when the weather is accommodating. There are plenty of year-round ‘grillers’ who take pride in being able to cook despite inclement weather, including many Alaskans who have no problem with grilling outdoors at temperatures below -25F.


There are ongoing disagreements (typically amiable) over the use of the different words associated with eating outdoors. Barbecue, barbeque, BBQ, cookout, and grilling, are all words used, at times interchangeably, to mean that some sort of food is going to be prepared outdoors over an open fire fed by gas, wood, or charcoal. This food is served up with a variety of side dishes.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At times, the difference in word choice is regional. Northerners are more likely to use the word cookout, whereas Southerners are inclined to barbecue. However, the word differentiation also comes from how food is prepared and what types of meat are being grilled. Commonly, ‘barbecue’ is a long process where the meat is slathered with special sauces and slow roasted over a low fire for hours until tender. ‘Grilling’ is a faster cook method over gas or charcoal, and ‘cookout’ is more general in nature and can involve either of the two. Barbecuing usually serves up savory meats such as beefsteaks and brisket, or pork or beef ribs, whereas grilling involves meats that are quick to prepare such as hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, or bratwurst. Kabobs (beef, chicken or lamb) can also be included with grilling.


Tailgating photo by Ben Vardi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tailgating photo by Ben Vardi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Outdoor cooking may include “Tailgate Party,” “Clambake,” and Hawaiian “Luau.” Tailgate parties or ‘tailgating’ originated at major sporting events when game attendees would bring a portable grill to cook up hamburgers or hot dogs on the tailgates of their vehicles in the parking lot instead of paying the high prices for vendor food inside of the ballpark. This has evolved over the years to major productions that can involve large groups of attendees at games and concerts. A tailgate isn’t necessary to participate, and often the groups intermingle to become large social gatherings and annual events.

The clambake was typically found in the New England area of the U.S. and the meats are seafood based – lobster, crabs, quahogs, mussels, and of course, clams. These were steamed in large pits dug in the sand or ground, lined with rocks that are heated by fire and then covered with wet seaweed alternating with layers of seafood. Clambakes have since spread to other areas of the U.S., particularly in regions where seafood is plentiful.

The Hawaiian luau is a feast celebrated in outdoor areas for special events and holidays. King Kamehameha declared the first luau in 1819 in the Hawaiian Islands. Luaus typically serve up a variety of foods including chicken, fish, pork, fruit, poi and taro chips, and entertainment in the form of music and dance is provided.

Let’s eat

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of amenic181/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether it is a barbecue, cookout, tailgate party, clambake, or luau, these outdoor get-togethers also have beverages (such as alcohol, lemonade, ice tea, and/or soda), side dishes that may include pasta, potato or garden salads, and desserts such as pies, cakes, watermelon, homemade ice cream, or fruit salads. Of course, there are hundreds of variations on side dishes and preparation depending on tastes and traditions. Regardless of what is served at these outdoor eating events, it is always wise to bring a healthy appetite.


Written by Marlene Martzke for English Classes by Skype

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