The burning question - who did invent the barbecue?

 
 

The best al fresco dining experience in central London has to be the terrace and wood deck at the Montague on the Gardens. So who better than General Manager, Dirk Crokaert, to give the Americans a good grilling over their claims to have invented the whole idea of the barbecue way back in the 16th century?

 
Dirk Crokaert

Dirk Crokaert

Ribs, burgers, wings, anything they can drench in sticky sauce – North Americans like to barbecue big time. It’s so much a part of their culture that they assume the whole deal must have originated on their side of the Atlantic.

The way they tell it the original Spanish adventurers who arrived in the Caribbean noticed that the natives would slowly cook meat over a wooden platform – the Spaniards described the process of smoking and charring as barbacoa. By the 19th century this method of cooking, with various refinements, had spread across the American South.

Because barbecuing doesn’t require expensive cuts of meat (why bother when you’re just going to slather it in sauce and cook it ’til it falls off the bone?) it became a dietary staple for impoverished Southern blacks. The first half of the 20th century saw a mass migration of African Americans from the rural South to Northern cities, and as they moved, they took their recipes with them. By the 1950s black-owned barbecue joints had sprouted in nearly every city in the US.

Barbecue varies by region, with the four main styles named after their place of origin: Memphis, Tennesee; North Carolina; Kansas City; and Texas. Memphis is renowned for pulled pork-shoulder doused in sweet tomato-based sauce (eaten on its own or as a sandwich). North Carolina smokes the whole hog in a vinegar-based sauce. Kansas City natives prefer ribs cooked in a dry rub, and Texans … well, Texans dig beef. Eastern Texas’ relative proximity to Tennessee puts it in the pulled-pork camp, but in the western segment of the Lone Star State, you’re likely to find mesquite-grilled “cowboy-style” brisket.

Locals defend their region’s cooking style with the sort of fierce loyalty usually reserved for die-hard sports fans. Just as you’re better off not mentioning the Yankees to a Red Sox fan, it’s probably best not to proclaim your love for Texas beef to anyone from Tennessee.

However, if the truth be told, the idea of grilling meat in the open was around long before Columbus set foot in the New World – it goes all the way back to the point where our ancestors discovered how to control fire (about 400,000 years ago)

kebab

A Shish Kebab over coals

Just type the word Kebab into Google and the idea that cooking over hot coals is somehow unique to North America becomes truly preposterous. It is Persian in origin – invented by medieval soldiers who used their swords to grill meat over open-field fires.

The dish has been native to the Near East and ancient Greece since the 8th century – an early variant is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as well as in the in the works of Aristophanes, Xenophon and Aristotle.

Turkey has its Döner and Shish kebabs, while India and Iran have a wealth of regional variations, including the tandoor. Satay is popular in the south east while in Korea they have Bulgogi (literally meaning “fire meat”). Yakitori is the Japanese version of shish kebab. Nomadic Mongolians also like to barbecue meat using hot stones. In Hong Kong, pork barbecue, or char siu is made with a marinade of honey and soy sauce, and cooked in long, narrow strips.

Grilling meat over charcoal is equally popular in Southern Africa, where it is referred to as a “braai”. Then there’s the “barbie” downunder. Asado, or grilling, is considered the traditional dish of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and southern Brazil.

Around the Mediterranean meats are usually marinated in lemon juice and olive oil before grilling. In Alpine countries they have raclette where cheese is melted on a hot surface. Shashlik is the Russian version of shish kebab, while in Germany they enjoy “grillen”.

Spit roast

Spit-roast

So, finally, to London. Grilled food outdoors is incredibly popular here , so much so that as soon as the sun is out every busy pavement from Covent Garden to Chelsea and Camden to Clapham is packed with people desperate for a bit of al fresco – even if the setting is far from idyllic.

That’s when the terrace and wood deck at the Montague on the Gardens comes into its own. As the name suggests, it overlooks the gorgeous private gardens of the Bedford Estate. Green and peaceful, secluded and sunny, totally removed from the crowds of people and the noise of traffic, it’s a little corner of tranquil heaven right at the heart of the city. There’s nowhere better for enjoying spectacularly sophisticated barbecues and refreshing cocktails – eat your heart out Texas!

Every Sunday until 18th September, between 12:30pm and 14:30 why not join us on the Wood Deck for our very special Sunday Spit Roast lunch, with live music it is the perfect place to enjoy the sunshine.