Whether you spell it barbeque, barbecue, Bar-B-Q, or just BBQ, it is a popular item for outdoor events. Barbecue can be loosely defined as meat plus fire plus sauce. The meat can be any of a variety of cuts and types, including pork ribs, a side of beef, half a chicken, lamb chops, or shrimp kebabs.

One thing to keep in mind: Ribs are a messy food and require guests to pick them up and eat the meat off of the bone. So you should only serve them at casual events when guests are not dressed up. And remember to always separate them from the rack, for the convenience of the guests.

Cooking Methods

There are two basic cooking methods for barbecue. One style is to cook the food by direct heat and flame over a grill. Hamburgers, hot dogs, sausage, and steaks are normally grilled. Chicken and ribs can also be grilled, but they should be pre-cooked, either by oven baking or boiling. This will keep the outside from over-charring and becoming crusted while the inside is allowed to tenderize. Vegetables and even pizza can be grilled.

The other type of barbecue is slow cooking with indirect heat and smoke, usually inside a cylinder-style smoker. Ribs and chicken are normally cooked using this method. Most regions, particularly the South, have vendors that supply portable smokers to picnics, fairs, and barbecues.

Sauces

People are passionate about the sauce used. The ingredients vary depending on the region. The earliest recorded barbecue sauce was a vinegar dip used in the 1800s in Virginia and North Carolina. Many versions are still based on vinegar, but gradually other ingredients such as tomatoes, mustard, sugar, peppers, herbs, and spices have been added. The consistency of some sauces may be very thin, but many styles are very thick. Barbecue sauces can be sweet, sour, spicy, or any combination.

Sweet ingredients include sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, and maple syrup. Sour ingredients can be vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, or Worcestershire sauce. Spicy ingredients include mustard, onions, chilies, garlic, black pepper, curry powder, and cumin.

Mopping sauces are slopped on the meat while it is cooking. Just remember to avoid tomatoes and sugar during the cooking process, as they burn easily and can affect the taste of the meat.

Finishing sauce is used as a condiment when eating barbecue and is not used during the cooking process.

Regional Differences

The perfect sauce adds flavor and moisture to meat, and every region has its own style.

Georgia: thin tomato, vinegar, and mustard sauce

Florida: lemon and lime juice in a tomato base.

North Carolina and Virginia: thin, vinegar sauce with sugar, black pepper, and crushed red pepper

South Carolina: sweet mustard and vinegar

Smoky Mountains: thin sauces with tomato, ketchup, sugar, and vinegar. They are sweeter with less vinegar than sauces popular along the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia.

Kentucky: Worcestershire sauce and vinegar are the basis for a dark sauce.

Texas and the Southwest: hot and spicy with the addition of hot peppers in a sauce with a tomato base. Fiesta-type receptions are popular, and they call for grills and smokers (which generally require a 110 volt outlet, gas, Sterno, Bunsen burner, or propane).

Midwest and Plains: sauce with tomato base that is thicker and sweeter than in other regions and may also be quite spicy.

International versions of barbecue include tandoori cooking from India. A tandoor is a clay oven. Food that has been marinated overnight is placed on skewers and then baked in the oven. The skewers can also be grilled. The sauce is yogurt-based and includes white vinegar, garlic, onions, ginger and fresh herbs. Greek barbecue includes shish kebab, which is chunks of marinated meat, usually lamb, placed on skewers with vegetables and grilled or broiled.

Patti J. Shock, CPCE, is director of distance learning, Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.