Many early childhood memories are of Mom or Dad grilling on a sunny summer afternoon. Let’s face it, events that include something as delicious as barbecue are hard to forget. But did you know that the history of barbecue and our cravings for grilled food go back further than our most distant memories?
We can’t help but wonder if the earliest cave dwellers played a role in the storied history of barbecue. (More stegosaurus, anyone?) But our research shows that the Arawak tribe – a group of indigenous peoples in South America and the Caribbean – first cooked meat over a fire on a frame of sticks in the 17th century. They called it… barbacoa.
A Symbol of our Independence
Barbecues have been a part of American history and tradition as early as the first Independence Day celebration. In the early years, Independence Day was a formal gathering, during which civic ideals were discussed and reinforced. The traditions of Independence Day moved and developed across the country as settlers traveled to western territories. By the 19th century, the role of barbecue in public celebrations and events increased significantly, becoming most prominent in the South and Midwest.
Here Piggy, Piggy
Pigs are an essential ingredient at many barbecues and became a fundamental part of Southern cuisine in the 18th century because pork requires little maintenance and more efficiently converts feed to meat (six times faster than beef). As a result of the prevalence of hogs in the South, pigs became synonymous with Southern culture and barbecue. They were not only valuable economically, but "scores of hog" were set aside for large gatherings such as political rallies, church events and harvest festival celebrations.
Some historians place the origins of barbecue sauce at the formation of the first American colonies in the 17th century. References to sauce occur in both English and French literature over the next 200 years, and South Carolina mustard sauce can be traced to German settlers in the 18th century. Early homemade barbecue sauces were generally just vinegar, salt, and pepper. In the 1920s, sugar, ketchup and Worcestershire sauce were added, but after World War II the amount of sugar and the number of ingredients increased dramatically. The earliest commercially produced barbecue sauce was advertised by the Georgia Barbecue Sauce Company of Atlanta in 1909. Heinz was the first major company to sell bottled barbecue sauce in 1940.
The first portable gas grill was developed in 1954 by the Chicago Combustion Corporation (known today as LazyMan), paving the way for the convenience of propane grilling. Believe it or not, present-day propane grill cylinders were used almost exclusively before then as a fuel source for plumbers.
Advancements Make Grilling Easier Than Ever
The ease and convenience of propane grilling improved in 1994 when Billy Prim founded Blue Rhino in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Today, Blue Rhino is the nation’s leading propane exchange company and can be found at more than 60,000 locations across the United States and Puerto Rico. Seeking to provide additional options for busy homeowners, the company also recently introduced barbecue tank home delivery in a number of U.S. cities.
No matter how you slice and dice it, propane has a rich history and bright future as the key contributor to our most favorite pastime, delicious meals, and backyard memories. Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s fire up the grill!