A Pirate, a Sheep, and Henry Ford walk into a Bar-B-Q…
By Toby J. Swaford
Education Coordinator, Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center
With summer in full swing, it’s time to break out the grill and do some outdoor cooking.
While most folks are pondering what to throw on the grill, I of course am looking at the
scientific and historical nature of this activity.
Some may argue that the act of cooking outdoors goes back to the first guy that created
fire, only to burn his thumb, put it in his mouth and discover that it tasted better. Going
back this far may take a little longer than we have, so instead let’s look at some of the
possible origins of the term, barbeque. Whether you spell it out, or shorten it to the very
American Bar-B-Q, it’s still a fairly odd sounding word – so, where did it originate?
Like many words, its etymology is up for debate, but here’s one version of its
introduction into current usage. The custom of slow cooking over low heat was known as
bucan on the island of Hispaniola, through consonant migration as the word was
introduced into different cultures the phrase shifted to, barbacan, barbacoa and
Some theories have the modern barbeque coming from the French, barbe meaning
whiskers and queue which translates to tail, the combined barbe a queue literally
translating to mean from whiskers to tail, the part of the animal usually cooked over the
fire pit. Interestingly, most word scholars disagree with this account. The French did
however use the original bucan to describe the criminals that escaped to Hispaniola as
buccaneers, so named for the style of cooking popular to the region. It wouldn’t take long
before the phrase buccaneer was synonymous with pirate.
Another item associated with outdoor cooking is charcoal, which brings us to the
technical bit. Charcoal is created in a process known as pyrolysis, the scientific term for
heating wood or other organic material in the absence of oxygen. What this slow, low