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BBQ Culture, a Trip to BBQ University & Your Electric BBQ Grill

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When we think of a cultural phenomenon we rarely think of barbecue, but it really is an American cultural experience. Dating as far back as 1697, it's one of America's most beloved pastimes. It's how we socialize on numerous occasions.

For most events, whether you're celebrating the 4th of July, Father's Day or Labor Day, friends and family gather for an outdoor grilling experience.

Many people pride themselves on their barbequing skills. It's such a popular pastime that it's become a goal to create the best cooked burgers, steak, and chicken. Slow cooking brisket has become a skill many strive to obtain.

So if you love the grill, and you're eager to become a culinary expert, the information below will help further you in your goal.

Cultural History

No one knows from where the word barbecue is formally derived; however, barbecoa is a Spanish term commonly used in the West Indies. Barbecoa refers to the indigenous method of slow-cooking meat over a wooden platform. This form of cooking was adopted by Americans, and by the 19th century the culinary techniques were conventional to the American South.

Because pigs were readily available, pork became the primary source of meat. Corn grew well in humid Southern climates so corn bread became a popular side dish. Barbecue became a common way of preparing meals because it fed many people in one setting. It was especially used at church socials and neighborhood gatherings.

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Great barbecues were a way to host political rallies. They would serve food, lemonade and whiskey to those attending. This practice brought different types of people together and was a great way to lobby votes.

Barbecue wasn't a class-specific food either. Large groups of people from all stratums could eat, drink, and mix together to listen to stump speeches. Because BBQ was a relatively inexpensive way to prepare food, it became a popular form of cooking for African Americans from the South, too.

Their barbecue was served with vegetables like okra and sweet potatoes. As they migrated North they took their recipes with them. In the 1950's African American owned barbecue pits began showing up all over America, serving some of the best pork, hush puppies and corn bread available. This quickly became known as "soul food," a continued association today.

Before forced integration in the 1950's and 1960's, barbecue pits were interracial meeting places. In a strange reversal of Jim Crow traditions, African American Southerners and whites stopped into the local barbecue pit to eat. It wasn't until later that these pits became segregated by race.

Barbecue varies by region: Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina, and Kansas City. For each region style differs. Tennessee style is typically pork and includes a tomato-based sauce. North Carolinian barbecue usually includes smoking the whole hog in a vinegar-based sauce, Kansas City barbecue typically consists of ribs with a dry rub, and Texans love the beef. In the Lone Star state, you'll find mesquite-grilled brisket and beef ribs.

BBQ University

Hot dogs on grill

According to Forbes magazine BBQ University is a premier getaway for anyone looking to build impressive skills. Located in Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor Resort holds the Forbes 5 Star ranking for 52 consecutive years, making it one of the best places to retreat from the world and unwind. BBQ University is a yearly event you can attend to hone your grilling skills. So if you're going to learn grilling techniques, this is place to go.

What does this school consist of? This is a 3 day cooking event focused on barbecue technique. It's an intense education on everything that has to do with a grill. Whether you cook on an electric BBQ grill, charcoal or gas grill, or even wood pellets, you're guaranteed to walk away with the best grilling education money can buy. It's taught by Steve Raichlan, a "professor" of barbecue known for hosting the TV show called BBQ University. Students cook 30 of his recipes hands-on over the course of 3 days.

Steve Raichlan's credentials are impressive. He studied culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu and La Varenne cooking schools in Paris, France. Since then, he's published a number of books including The Barbecue Bible,How to Grill, BBQ USA and Healthy Latin Cooking. He's currently hosting Primal Grill on PBS. This show focuses on how-to cook over a live fire and employs different grills for each technique he displays.

Raichlan is the founder of Broadmoor's BBQ University. He's won the James Beard award 5 times for his cookbooks, and in 2003, Bon Appetit named him "Cooking Teacher of the Year." If you want to learn barbecue, this might be the best way to do it.

Light up the Grill this Season with these Sure Fire Tips

Man Holding Salmon

Looking to slow cook something great? "Low and slow" requires a BBQ pit. Cook your meat on low heat for half a day or more in the style of a Southern or Texas pit master.

If you're going to grill over wood, the simplest dishes work best. For example, swordfish steaks marinated in olive oil and lemon juice with basil caper butter. The idea is to keep the focus on the wood smoke flavor.

Want to grill some salmon? Place the fish on cedar grilling planks. According to Raichlan "plank grilling deftly dodges two of the main problems with grilling fish: its tendency to stick to the grate and to fall apart when flipped."

If you're using a gas grill, turn the grill on high to preheat then turn off all the burners except the ones on the far left and right sides. Place the planks over the unlit burners.

Camping with a charcoal grill? In Field and Stream magazine, Steve Raichlan recommends the following:

  • Use a chimney starter to light the fire, create a 3 zone fire: searing, cooking, and safety zone. The safety zone shouldn't have any coals under it.
  • When the grill is hot, clean it with a stiff wire brush. Dip a tightly folded paper in olive oil and using tongs run it across the grate. The grill should be hot, clean and lubricated. This results in great searing marks.
  • Next, hold your hand over the fire and count: one Mississippi, two Mississippi...if you get to three just before saying ouch, you're fire is hot and ready.
  • Following a few simple tips, a trip to BBQ University and a little extra knowledge, you'll be ready for your next big day of grilling.

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