Barbecue vs Barbeque vs BBQ: The Ultimate Grilling Showdown

An age-old debate has raged over the use of the terms “barbecue,” “barbeque,” and “BBQ” in reference to the popular method of cooking food, particularly meat, over an open flame. The variations seem to often appear interchangeably in writing, on signage, and even in conversation. This article aims to shed light on the differences and similarities between these terms, and to establish which one is considered the standard and most appropriate spelling to use.

Barbecue vs Barbeque vs BBQ: The Ultimate Grilling Showdown

“Barbecue” is the traditional spelling and is most commonly used to describe both the cooking process and the food cooked in this manner. This is the spelling that typically appears in edited writing and is prioritized by dictionaries. In contrast, “barbeque” is a less frequent variant, possibly resulting from the influence of the “BBQ” abbreviation. Meanwhile, “BBQ” is a shorter, informal abbreviation widely recognized and adored by casual diners and enthusiasts alike.

Exploring the origins, usage patterns, and regional preferences among these terms can provide valuable insight into the nuances of this much-loved cooking tradition. By understanding their distinctions, we can better appreciate the cultural impact and evolution of this delicious culinary technique.

Origins and Etymology


The word “barbecue” has its roots in the Caribbean, where the native Arawakan and Taíno peoples used a wooden structure called a barbacoa for cooking. Spanish explorers encountered this method and adapted the term “barbacoa” into their language. The modern English word “barbecue” has evolved from this Spanish word, with its first recorded use dating back to the 18th century.

In its noun form, “barbecue” refers to a specific cooking method in which meat is suspended over burning coals on a wooden framework. Additionally, the term can also describe a gathering centered around food cooked in this manner.


The alternative spelling “barbeque” is reportedly influenced by the French phrase barbe à queue, meaning “whiskers to tail”. Although this spelling is used in some regions and contexts, especially the southern United States, it is ultimately a variation of the original word “barbecue.”


“BBQ” is simply an abbreviation of “barbecue” or “barbeque”. This condensed form of the word has gained popularity in recent times and is used in various contexts, such as restaurant names, food labels, and casual conversations. Samuel Johnson, a prominent 18th-century English writer and lexicographer, included the term “barbecue” in his famous dictionary, providing a snapshot of its usage during that time period.

To summarize, the terms “barbecue”, “barbeque”, and “BBQ” all share the same origin, stemming from the Caribbean native word barbacoa. As they spread and evolved through various languages and cultures, their meanings and spelling have also developed, resulting in the trio of terms we recognize today.

Spelling Variations and Usage

Barbecue, barbeque, and BBQ are all variations of the same term, which refers to both the cooking method of grilling food over an open flame or hot coals and the social gathering that typically accompanies it. Despite these different spellings, they all convey the same meaning but are used in various contexts and with varying frequency.

The standard spelling, “barbecue,” is most commonly used in English and is recognized by dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). This spelling originates from the Spanish word “barbacoa” and has been utilized as both a noun and verb in English since the late 17th century.

“Barbeque” is a variant spelling that has become more popular in recent years, particularly in the names of restaurants and products. One possible explanation for this alternative spelling is its association with the French phrase “barbe à queue,” which translates to “whiskers to the tail.” Although it is used less frequently than “barbecue,” it is by no means an uncommon or incorrect spelling.

The abbreviation “BBQ” is often employed as a convenient shorthand for both the cooking method and the associated event. This abbreviation has gained in popularity due to its simplicity and widespread understanding. Additionally, some other variations of the term include “bar-b-cue,” “bar-b-que,” and “bar-b-q.” These spellings, although less common, are still recognizable as referring to the same concept.

In summary, while “barbecue” remains the standard spelling in English usage, alternative spellings such as “barbeque” and the abbreviation “BBQ” are also widely accepted and employed. These variations can be found in a range of contexts, from formal writing to casual conversation, and different spellings may be chosen based on personal preference or regional conventions.

Cooking Techniques and Ingredients

Wood and Charcoal

When it comes to barbecue, the choice of fuel has a significant impact on the flavor of the cooked meat. Two common options are wood and charcoal:

  • Wood: Using wood as fuel imparts a distinct smoky flavor to the meat, with the type of wood used adding unique undertones. For example, hickory, oak, and mesquite are popular choices for imparting strong flavors.
  • Charcoal: Charcoal delivers a more even and consistent heat, resulting in a well-cooked and tender outcome. Charcoal contributes less to the smoky flavor, but it is still a predominant choice for barbecue enthusiasts.

Grilling and Smoking

Barbecue involves two primary cooking techniques: grilling and smoking.

  • Grilling: Grilling involves cooking meat quickly over a high heat source, usually an open flame. It is ideal for smaller and thinner cuts, such as chicken, pork, or lamb, and delivers a crisp, caramelized surface with perfect grill marks.
  • Smoking: Smoking is a low and slow approach to cooking, using indirect heat and smoke from wood chips to infuse the meat with flavor and tenderness. This method is preferred for larger cuts and tougher meats like pulled pork, ham, or whole-hog barbecue. It often requires 12 to 24 hours of cooking time.

Regional Flavor Profiles

Different regions lay claim to unique flavor profiles that set their barbecue styles apart:

  • Tangy: Some regional barbecue styles incorporate tangy vinegar or mustard-based sauces, creating a sharp and biting taste that complements the smoky meat.
  • Spicy: Other areas may prefer spicy barbecue, using flavorful rubs or sauces with hot peppers or spices to add a kick to the grilled or smoked meats.

In conclusion, barbecue encompasses various cooking techniques and ingredients that contribute to diverse flavor profiles. The choice of wood or charcoal, grilling or smoking, and regional preferences, such as tangy or spicy flavors, all significantly impact the final result.

Regional Variations and Traditions

American South

In the American South, barbecue traditions are deeply rooted in regional variations. For instance, North Carolina is known for two distinct styles: Eastern style, which typically uses whole hog and a vinegar-based sauce; and Western style, focusing on pork shoulder and incorporating tomato-based sauce.

Similarly, South Carolina has its own unique approach to barbecue, mainly using pork with sauces ranging from mustard-based, vinegar-based, to tomato-based varieties. Notably, St. Louis in the West Coast of the United States is famous for its thick and sweet sauce, coupled with meaty spareribs cut in St. Louis style.


In Australia, barbecue—or barbeque as it’s often spelled locally—refers to a popular outdoor meal where a variety of meats are grilled or smoked. Australians largely use the term to refer to the event and the cooking method.

The traditional Australian barbecue features a wooden structure and a framework of sticks, with the food cooked directly over open flames or hot coals. This differs from the American technique, which generally involves slow cooking over indirect heat.

South America

South American barbecue styles also display regional variations, with countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay boasting their own unique techniques and flavors. Argentine barbecue, known as “asado,” traditionally uses beef ribs seasoned with “chimichurri”—a sauce made of parsley, garlic, oregano, red pepper, and vinegar. Brazil’s “churrasco” includes meats marinated in unique flavors and slow-roasted on skewers, while Uruguay’s “parrillada” relies on a wood-fired open grill system.

These regional barbecue traditions have been influenced by local culinary cultures, preferences, and available resources throughout history. Famous Americans like George Washington have attended barbecues, witnessing the growth and spread of these varied cooking methods across continents and generations.

Social and Cultural Aspects of Barbecue

Parties and Gatherings

Barbecue has been a popular form of social entertainment in many cultures throughout history. The practice of cooking food over an open flame or grill not only unites people but also adds a unique flavor to the dishes. In English-speaking countries, barbecue gatherings or cookouts have become a common way to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays, holidays, and sporting events. These events typically involve family and friends coming together to enjoy a meal of various grilled delicacies, such as:

  • Whole hog
  • Burgers
  • Steaks
  • Chicken
  • Sausages
  • Vegetables

The informal setting of a barbecue party fosters a sense of camaraderie, relaxation, and enjoyment of the outdoors.

Restaurants and Products

The popularity of barbecue has led to the establishment of numerous barbecue-themed restaurants across the globe. These eateries offer an array of slow-cooked, smoked, and grilled dishes that appeal to a wide range of consumers. In regions where barbecue is deeply ingrained in the local cuisine, restaurants may specialize in specific types of barbecue, such as:

Region Specialty
North Carolina Whole-hog barbecue
Texas Beef brisket
Memphis Pork ribs
Kansas City Beef and pork ribs

In addition to restaurants, barbecue has inspired a thriving market for related products and equipment. Companies produce a variety of grills, smokers, cooking utensils, and other accessories for home and professional use. The demand for barbecue sauces, rubs, and marinades has also spawned a diverse selection of products, catering to different tastes and regional styles.

In summary, barbecue transcends the simple act of cooking food over a fire, symbolizing a mode of social and cultural expression that resonates with people worldwide. Its presence in our gatherings, restaurants, and products underscores its importance as a cherished culinary and social tradition, appreciated by a multitude of English writers, linguists, and enthusiasts.

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