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What is a Barbecue?

For many people, the word "barbecue" means anything cooked on the grill. But for aficionados of the real thing, "barbecue" means foods cooked slowly on a grill or in a smoker so that they tenderize and take on the flavour of wood smoke. When we talk about barbecue, we mean slow-cooked food.

The difference between grilled and smoked/barbecued food is as follows:-


Grilled Foods

Grilled foods cook fast over a hot fire that can range from 200 degrees Celsius (400F) upward to slightly char and give them flavour. Because the foods cook fast, you usually grill foods that are already tender, such as chicken breast, pork chops, tenderloin, steaks, fish, shellfish, and vegetables. Lean meats grill well and are less likely to cause flare-ups than can leave your food a little too charred.


Smoked or Barbecued Foods

Smoked or barbecued foods cook slowly next to a low fire at temperatures between 110 and 121 degrees C ( 230 - 250 F) in most charcoal barbecues.  Because the foods cook slowly and at a low temperature, you usually barbecue foods that need a longer cooking time to tenderize - beef brisket, pork loin, spareribs, pork shoulder (butt), and lamb shank. The great thing about barbecuing however, is that you can also smoke foods that you grill such as chicken breast, sirloin, vegetables, duck, and shellfish. These foods may take longer to cook than when grilling, but you will get the bonus of wood smoke flavour. Smoked foods don't have grill marks, but are rather a burnished or darkened appearance.

You can smoke or barbecue anything you can grill, but you can't always grill anything you can smoke. Grilled beef brisket or pork shoulder would be too tough to contemplate eating. On the other hand , foods like smoked tomatoes and beef sirloin are delicious.


The History of the BBQ

Since the first caveman put a haunch of meat over the fire all those millennia ago, people have loved cooking over a live fire. From a stick over an open fire to a proper BBQ, nothing beats the aroma and taste of this primal cooking method. Over the years it has developed into almost an art form in the USA and American BBQ is known the world over.

What most people don't know is that there isn't just one style of BBQ. There are many different types in the US alone, plus many others from around the world.

We're not going to bore you to death with a long involved history of BBQ the world over. We'll just give a brief rundown of the part we are really interested in - the start of American BBQ.


American Barbecue

BBQ in the USA (as it is known today) really started when European and African migrants came to those shores. Cattle and pigs were transported with them and became the primary meat source. The largest and least palatable cuts of meat were often the only meat source for lower income people, migrant workers and slaves. The only way to make these cuts of meat in any way edible was to cook them long and slow over a low heat.  This made the meat tender and with a distinctive (and very tasty!) smoky flavour. Although it took effort to make, the barbecued meat was inexpensive, fed quite a few people, and became the centre piece of family and friend gatherings. Over the years this method of cooking food has surged in popularity and has spread from the US, much to the enjoyment of others.

What we at Firefly BBQ are most interested in are the varied styles of American BBQ.  From the sweet and smoky Kansas BBQ rubs and sauces to the fruity styles of Memphis BBQ , to the heat of Texas BBQ, and the tang of the Carolina style BBQ, we love 'em all. Trying to get this in the UK however, has been a bit of a headache. In fact, it's been ridiculously difficult. So, we decided to make our own. The research and development has been great fun (though I'm sure that I'm not supposed to admit that part!) and we think that the result have justified the many, many hours of work that we have put in. Not that we are stopping, oh no! There's much more for us to do...



Seasonings are different from rubs in that salt is the main ingredient and they are used just before and during cooking. Rubs are the mix of spices, herbs, seasonings and, quite often, sugars that imbibe an underlining flavour to the meat.



Rubs are the main factor in creating a crust. There are two types of rub - a dry rub contains only dry ingredients and are used by being sprinkled onto the food like a powder. A wet rub (or paste) is formed by mixing a dry rub with a liquid (usually water, oil or yoghurt) and mixed to form a thick paste, which is then spread onto the food. This then works in the same way as a marinade. Marinades are a liquid form of seasoning, a mix of herbs, spices, aromatics (garlic, onions, etc) and flavourful liquids (lemon juice, yoghurt, etc).



Marinades work by soaking into the meat and imparting its flavours that way. The additional benefit of a marinade is the fact that, because of the added lemon juice, wine, or other acids it contains, the meat becomes tenderised. The other liquids keep the meat moist during cooking, which is particularly useful when using lean, dry meats and poultry.



Cures are a type of marinade with a very high salt content. The salt draws out the moisture from the meat, thereby preserving it and also adding a distinct, briny taste.



Bastes refer to liquids applied to foods as they cook., which serve two purposes- 1, it keeps the food moist during cooking and 2, it helps form a flavourful crust. Bastes range from a simple spraying of apple juice to a complex flavoured butter mixture. The choice is up to you!



Flavoured oils are used in lots of ways from basting to being an integral part of a marinade.



Glazes are used towards the end of cooking time. Containing different types of sugar (depending on the glaze), a glaze will caramelise during cooking and give a sweet and highly flavoured crust.



The other important thing to remember is the difference between Direct and indirect grilling.

Direct grilling involves placing the food directly over the fire. On a three zone (hot, medium, and unlit across the grill) you start the cooking on the hottest part of the grill and move the food around as required. You can also just use a two zone (hot and unlit) if you are only cooking a couple of things.

Indirect grilling involves having the lit coals piled to either side of the grill, leaving the centre clear, and placing a drip tray in the middle. This is the best for long and slow BBQ.

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