Where Did the Word BBQ Come From?

We love chatting about barbecue. It is, without a doubt, our favorite subject. Much like the beloved Bubba went on endlessly about shrimp; we feel the same about barbecue. Have you ever wondered where did the word BBQ come from? Or about the origin of the art of the barbecue?

Much as any prized method it is steeped in tradition, mixed in with a little bit of superstition and passion. While today the word has come to have a universal meaning, it was an evolution that occurred throughout the world.

where did the word BBQ come from

The Caribbean

We have to go back to the West Indian island of Hispaniola in the seventeenth century to begin the search for this word. In the Caribbean Tainó people’s language, barbacoa means, literally, a framework of sticks. The indigenous peoples constructed a frame of wooden sticks over a fire to dry meat. However, the actual meaning and origin are a bit hazy. But, it seems like throughout time, folks used it referring to everything from a cooking tool, a storage apparatus, to a bed-like mechanism, a shelter, even including even the food cooked on it. The Spanish eventually brought the term back with them to Europe.

The Ancient Americas

Mexico has a unique centuries-old tradition of barbacoa. One that still prevails today. However, with slight variations among the regions of the country. Traditionally made with cow’s head wrapped in banana leaves (today foil or burlap). And, now, depending on the locale, they may favor goal, lamb or pork. The method dates to the Chichimeca Indians of Northern Mexico. It involves digging a pit and filling it with logs and rock. The fire is stoked for hours until the coals and rocks glow red hot. The meat goes into the pit, covered with, more leaves, then covered back up with the dirt to cook overnight. Consequently, still today, there are regions in Mexico making barbacoa this way.


Many folks credit the word barbecue to the French. They believe it’s a combination of barbe à queue. Meaning, from beard to tail, and referring to roasting a whole pig. While this origin is shrouded in barbecue controversy, it is another example of the folk history of the word.

The United States

Barbacoa came to the good ole U.S. via Texas. The state was once a part of Northern Mexico and continues to embrace its history of Tex-Mex fused traditions. There are still markets in Southern Texas making barbacoa the traditional way. The word barbacoa slowly transformed, in time to barbecue. As a result, barbecue has evolved throughout all of the U.S. You will find varying styles, each as delicious as the next.

Chad’s Tradition

At Chad’s, we like to think we are channeling the ancient barbacoa tradition with every piece of barbecue we serve. We smoke it for hours in our outdoor smoker, patiently attending to the meat in a meditative manner. While we are partial to the North Carolina style, we never refuse the opportunity to chat about where did the word BBQ come from. And, most of all, we love eating it!