Summer is on its way, bringing with it both inevitably poor weather and a national hankering for a barbeque. According to British law, everyone across the length and breadth of the country must flood into open spaces and cook meat to varying degrees of hygiene. This is a universal truth, but there are some surprising things about the humble barbeque that remain uncommon knowledge.

First off, a quick history lesson. Prehistoric men were the first to sample the delights of meat cooked over an open fire around 1.5 million years ago. The first documented citation of the word barbeque in English was in 1697, although the term is thought to have originated from the Native American word ‘barbacoa’, referring to the greenwood structure used to support food over hot coals.

The barbeque is thought of as a fairly informal cooking method, associated mostly with overt alcohol consumption and sunburn, but it has long been an American presidential tradition to invite the good and the great to a barbie. Thomas Jefferson kicked it all off during his presidency, and other notable barbequers include Lyndon Johnson, who introduced the Texas barbeque rib to the Whitehouse garden back in the 60s.

Barbeques are a serious business in the United States, and no more so than in Memphis, Tennessee. This is where the World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest takes place, hosting teams from as far afield as Estonia to compete for coveted meat cooking awards. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this competition is the team names, such as Natural Born Grillers, and my personal favourite – Aporkalypse Now.

So the next time you fire up your 24-carat gold plated Australian Beefeater (yours for a mere £100,000), or flick matches at a B&Q disposable, spare a thought for the history and distinction of the barbeque. Who knows, one day you might find yourself in Memphis representing your country with a roasting pig.

William Robertson

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