History is muddled where the word “barbecue” is concerned. We don’t know exactly from where it was derived, but many historians theorize that the modern word came from the Taino word “barabicu” which described their own sacred fire pits. We now know that the word was stolen by Spanish explorers as early as the 16th century and transformed into “barbacoa.” They used it to describe cooking done on a structure above a fire pit, similar to today’s notion of backyard barbecue. We stole it for ourselves less than a century later.
Central Texas, East Texas, West Texas, and South Texas each have their own distinct style of barbecue cooking. You’re most likely to taste the delicacies of east and west because of their easier-to-follow instructions. These categories were chosen due to style alone.
The four styles are contested by those who feel that cowboy, meat market, and barbacoa deserve respective titles for stylistic barbecue based on ethnic background. Each is derived from an associated population of immigrants. Cowboy barbecue was conceived by ranchers who live throughout the southwestern states, meat markets were made popular by Eastern European immigrants, and African Americans are responsible for giving us the East Texas style.
If you’ve traveled to popular Texas cities like Dallas or Houston and haven’t tried the local barbecue cooking, you’ve missed out on an opportunity. Even so, the first mention of barbecue in American cooking dates back to Salem, Massachusetts in 1733–not Texas.
One of the reasons Texas is so well-known for its barbecue gatherings began at the tail-end of World War II. Churches in particular would organize parishioner meetings that could last for weeks. They were made famous because local farmers would provide the BBQ meat for a meal that seemed like it would never end. New Zion Missionary Baptist Church still provides BBQ after its sermons are completed.
Since then, Texas has built more barbecue stands and restaurants than any other state. It numbers 2,238 restaurants. On top of that, there are another 1,983 at independent locations according to the last census on record.
Another more contemporary reason is the Bush family. BBQ parties were used in order to woo prospective donors at a summer estate in Maine. Bush is from Texas, so it’s no surprise people remember the southern connection over the northern one.
Oh, and if you ever find yourself down in Texas for a BBQ party–make sure you enjoy it with a cold dark brew. Texas BBQ enthusiasts would frown upon a light beer choice over a good stout or porter!