Crawford: What makes barbecue so good?


Colin Crawford, Columnist

Barbecue is one of the best ways to prepare meat, but why is it so delicious? Maybe it’s the sauce or the cut of meat. Or maybe not even the meat at all, maybe the sides: grilled corn, mac and cheese and baked beans are what bring you back for more. But I think something beyond the smoky flavor makes it the cooking style of choice every Fourth of July: community and togetherness.

This past July Fourth, my family and I cooked some barbecue classics together, which made me realize that cooking, especially barbecue, is a communal effort. This annual tradition allows us to work together, cementing our familial bond, not in blood, sweat and tears but in spices, oils and smoke.

The kitchen was a whirlwind of activity as racks of ribs made their way in and out of the pressure cooker before being doused in barbecue sauce and broiled in the oven at a high heat. Boiled corn on the cob was spiced and rubbed with butter before being thrown on the grill to char. Trays of crispy chicken wings cooled on the stovetop, fresh out of the oven. 

Yes, it was a lot of food, but more importantly, no one person was cooking. I shucked the corn and my mom seasoned it before my dad put it on the grill. We worked together on every dish, and it brought us closer together as a family. That’s what makes barbecue so good: it is the embodiment of not just your hard work, but the hard work of the people closest to you, and the reward is in the incomparable feast that follows.

The sweet tang of the barbecue sauce combined with the tender meat of the ribs melted in my mouth. Each time I took a bite, I was instantly transported back to that feeling of togetherness. It was just like that scene from the movie “Ratatouille” when the food critic, Anton Ego, is immediately reminded of his childhood home while cooking. As each kernel of corn hit my tongue, I was right back in our kitchen with everyone else, laughing and cooking together. 

Cooking over an open flame has been around for centuries, and barbecue as we know it today originated in the Caribbean. Hunters would take the game they had captured and roast it over a flame, letting the smoke flavor the meat. Then, the meat would be shared out among the people in the village. As the region was brutally colonized, barbecue spread across the globe. This method of cooking has always been about community, and that’s why to this day, most barbecue is done at large gatherings. 

In the U.S., barbecue has been associated with July Fourth for hundreds of years. There are regional variations of barbecue like Kansas City-style or Memphis-style, mostly due to the differences in the vinegar, tomato-sauce and ketchup usage in the eponymous sauce. But no matter the region, it is essential that barbecue is enjoyed together and not alone. 

Colin Crawford is a Medill freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.