headermask image

sugar cane arrows

Let’s talk BBQ

Whether you like to spell it Barbecue, Barbeque, BBQ, Bar-B-Q or Bar-B-Que, this is apparently the time for dealing with fire and coals and grills. For our more northern neighbours in the hemisphere, it’s because of that season called summer. For us in the tropics, where we don’t get too much variation in our temperatures, it’s probably because of general vacation mode in the corresponding months. As we get into the hurricane season down here, we can’t always rely on dry weather, even where we have warmth!
Lamb on the Grill

Barbecue means different things to different people though – is the method of cooking, the equipment, the meat itself, the sauce or a particular meal combination? What makes a bbq? Growing up in T&T, we would barbecue on Old Years (what better way to pass the time in the one night you were allowed to stay up late?) together with neighbours. Which meant chicken, of course, with the lovely thick and charred layer of yummy, spicy and sweet, ketchupy bbq sauce. One of our neighbours would always wrap a big whole fish of some kind in foil and throw that on the grill too, all seasoned up and piled with onions and tomatoes etc. I remember an uncle trying to get me to expand my horizons beyond chicken with a piece of beef sliced off a big slab he’d grilled to a nice brown outside. Although I was not partial to it at the time (BEEF? no sauce??), I can still remember the flavours of smoky beef (NOT smoked beef which is a different entity entirely), which my more mature palate now can appreciate.  And oh, that’s just the proteins. No bbq in Trinidad can really be complete without the potato salad. All the better to soak up extra sauce. And a fry rice on the side. One year, we (Mom) contributed a lovely creamy cheesy green fig pie.

veggies on the bbqAs we got a little older, we moved onto kebabs – lamb, chicken, veggie…skewered and then tossed in a olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs (Mom always has mint and thyme etc around). For a few years we did the Old Years’ barbecue at an uncle’s house, where we prepped whatever we wanted while he manned the grill. Fresh pineapple grilled, with sweet caramelisation on the outside and juiciness on the inside, together with lamb is just lovely. Once, when Dad wasn’t home to lug out the bbq, Mom got out the old small coal pot and we did lamb kebabs. We probably still did potato salad, or macaroni pie for the sides though.

So, when I was briefly in Toronto some years ago as a student, and was told to come along to the barbecue for the Faculty’s student orientation bbq, I was a bit taken aback by what that turned out to be – hot dogs…with veggie burgers (for people like me) – they fired up a grill for HOT DOGS. Was that all the Canadians meant by bbq? Did this extend to all of North America? Of course, I realised that couldn’t be it. I’d seen ads with people throwing steaks on the bbq. But it did make me wonder, what really do people mean when they say bbq? The Wikipedia entry doesn’t really make matters any clearer, other than identifying different usages and meaning in various parts of the world –

“[Barbecue] is a method and apparatus for cooking meat, with the heat and hot gases of a fire, smoking wood, or hot coals of charcoal or a propane gas grill, and may include application of a marinade, spice rub, or basting sauce to the meat. The term as a noun can refer to the cooking apparatus itself, or to a party that includes such food. The term as an adjective can refer to foods cooked by this method. The term is also used as a verb for the act of cooking food in this manner.”

People can name things whatever they want :-) If you read this blog you know, that is fine by me. Barbecue, at least the word, can be traced right back to the Caribbean, however (see Wikipedia) –

“Most etymologists believe that barbecue derives ultimately from the word barbacoa found in the language of the Taíno people of the Caribbean. The word translates as “sacred fire pit.”[2] The word describes a grill for cooking meat, consisting of a wooden platform resting on sticks.”

BBQ - The MeatsBut let’s move away from things that I am unclear about to things I know. Which, as always, focus on my personal experiences, and people are welcome to contribute their own (different) knowledge! Barbecue for me is about cooking over fire, yes, but to be “Trini” barbecue, the sauce is as important. And I don’t mean that (hickory) smoked American style bbq sauce – I really don’t like that flavour so much so that I hate bbq-flavoured chips (if only they’d invent a shadow benny bbq-flavoured chip). The sauce is important, because while the meat is cooking, you have to keep basting with the sauce, so that by the time the meat is cooked through, it has developed this thick, crusty exterior built from charring and sauce, while the meat is kept moist; with every bite ensuring that you taste the flavours of the sauce. (Of course this can be achieved by that other Trini favourite, of drowning food in sauce 😉 but it’s not quite the same thing…)

The Trini bbq sauce is ketchup based, and while everyone puts their own spin on it, it is essentially meant to be a little on the sweet side, infused with our regular green seasonings and some heat. I like when there’s a touch of tamarind in it – to bring a tang and complexity of flavour that is balanced out by the sweetness and the must-have shadow beni/bandhania. I know some people who add some citrus to the mix. While if you’re in a rush, you can just mix the ketchup together with your other stuff, the best sauce is made from slow-cooking all the ingredients together (watch out for ketchup splatter, and add some extra liquid).

BBQ Chicken on the GrillThe most common barbecued meat is chicken…well, that’s just the most common meat in T&T isn’t it? And there are different schools of thought on achieving the best balance of cooked-but-not-dry meat and crusty exterior. Most people favour pre or par-cooking the chicken, particularly when cooking for a large group, or in a rush. Because getting a quarter of a chicken to cook properly all the way through, takes some time…it’s not like a flat, relatively thin lamb chop, or a steak which can take some rareness. So many people will steam the seasoned chicken till almost fully cooked (sometimes even with some sauce), or microwave it, and then start the basting and grilling process. This is fine for a crowd, when you only have a single relatively small bbq, but I like the flavour of the chicken when you’ve cooked it long and slow, basting all the time, and then charring. The photo on the left was from a couple months ago, when I visited home, and since it was just 4 of us, Lilandra and I convinced Mom to put the chicken raw on the grill. And yes it took long, but without exposing it to too much high heat while it cooked, it worked!

Roasted Sliced PotatoThe foil packets around the chicken (and the lamb in the first photo) contain potatoes and carrots, tossed in olive oil, garlic and green stuff, and just left on the edges of the bbq, turning occasionally, while we cooked the meat. The result? Tender on the inside, crispy-skinned potatoes with nice flavour, and really nice carrots that made us wish we had tossed in some honey with the olive oil.

Of course, Trini don’t necessarily barbecue EVERYTHING with sauce…chicken, lamb, beef, steak-fish…sure..shrimp too I am certain…but we’re a people interested in food generally. So I am sure there are nuff people out there who bbq hot dogs and burgers too. And kebabs with olive oil dressing. And veggies straight on the grill. I mean, what else is that roadside favourite roast corn?

One thing you do have to keep in mind about the Trini BBQ culture…if someone comes up to you and says “ey, we having a barbecue next weekend…”, get your wallet ready. Chances are the next words will be “I have some tickets here to sell. Is for the child school/mosque/church/mandir/sick person”.

Yes. In T&T the BBQ has become almost synonymous with a fundraiser.* It’s the method of choice for all – sell some tickets, buy some boxes,** fire up some coals, fry the rice and boil the potato for the salad…and fix-up. It’s a time-proven technique for which everyone knows the routine and can lend a hand. In fact the Q has become so common, that it has given rise to variations in the true spirit of the country. Chinese-Q – keep the fry rice, but use chinese-style chicken*** and chow mein. Curry-Q – roti (mostly paratha/buss-up shut), with curried chicken, channa and aloo and maybe pumpkin or curry mango. Veggie-Q – this can be any of the Qs without the meat, and some additional veggie preparation. I think we’re still missing out on some demographic, however, and I look forward to the Syrian/Lebanese-Q (or maybe Mediterranean-Q or Arabian-Q). I’ve gotten pelau in boxes before, but not sure why or where…was that a Creole-Q?

Now, if someone comes up to you and says, “we going to bbq tonight” as opposed to “having a bbq”, you might be safe to just walk with your belly and enjoy the goodness.

* I have seen a similar BBQ for fundraising in Guyana, but I am not sure how pervasive it is or if there are other variations here.
** Who here has never folded boxes??
*** In the words of Alton Brown, that’s another show…

If you liked my post, feel free to subscribe to my rss feeds

13 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. I love BBQ and always like to read about different BBQ traditions. I’m as shocked as you about the hotdogs. It’s a waste of a good fire.

    My family loves to BBQ in the summer. When I was younger we had a BBQ nearly every weekend. Now it’s something we usually do for birthdays, guests and sometimes in between. 😉
    We usually start with sausages. Not hotdog sausages, but real ones. (German sausages). The most common meat for BBQ is pork here. Chicken the next, seldom lamb or beef. We make the chicken always at the end of the BBQ, because it needs longer and it tastes better on smaller heat.
    We had potatoes in foil too, when I was younger, AFTER the meat. We placed the potatoes in the coal, not on the grill. Because it took too long we cook the potatoes now and eat them with the meat. Other things to eat with the meat are bread and salad.

    1. Billigflug Kanada on August 20th, 2009 at 5:15 am
  2. And I had barbeque today, at a place called, Chinese Barbeque! In my family we had a similar tradition on Old Year’s Night, lots of chicken, beef and some lamb, barbeque grill fired up with one or other uncle manning the fire, roast potatoes, potato salad and a host of other sides, endless talk. I’m beginning to think we’re related….

    2. coffeewallah on August 20th, 2009 at 4:49 pm
  3. Hello people – I think the bbq stories and traditions are great, because those occasions are always about a lime and family/friend time, no matter the country!

    Coffeewallah – sharing common traditions is great :-) we must be pumpkin vine or something!

    3. Chennette on August 20th, 2009 at 8:25 pm
  4. Last time we were home (carnival 2009) my sister took us to a spot down south by Jenny’s on cross crossing, run by staff who all seemed to be Muslim (larger out door tent). Supposedly this was the best place to get BBQ in TnT and they DELIVERED! WOW! I’m a “Q” king, so I know good “Q” and this was absolutely BOSS!

    However, their lamb was not up to par. I now know why there was such a huge line to get served. Can’t wait for September to hit that place again. No lamb this time and double the chicken order 4 sure.

    4. Chris De La Rosa on August 20th, 2009 at 8:53 pm
  5. That might have been David’s or D Original BBQ Hut? It’s part of our arriving in Trinidad tradition for those siblings overseas – doubles as you land in the airport, bake and shark in Maracas, roti from Amin’s and somebody will go down there and pick up BBQ at the long lines. The lamb is sometimes good – we tend to get a mixture, but I like the chicken, and occasional splurge on the shrimp. And ooohh, the garlic sauce!!!

    5. Chennette on August 20th, 2009 at 9:11 pm
  6. The red hot coals with the meat on the fire looks amazing; not to mention tempting. Maybe a book cover or start of a chapter 😉

    Last Sunday I took some photos of a particular chicken leg I had my eye on for some time. It was being barbecued. I finally ate the chicken leg but not before overcooking it. That is the problem with a nonlinear meat like chicken, there is a fine line between cooking it right and cooking it wrong.


    Last year I was in Texas and tried several places for barbecue and was never disappointed. I think the meat has to be right to start with but the sauce is what makes the difference. Some sauces were too hot, even by Trini standards.

    6. aka_lol on August 21st, 2009 at 9:01 pm
  7. Thanks Aka – the difficulty in taking photos while barbecuing as these last 2 times, I was manning the grill and the ingredients, so I was happy I at least got that glowing coals one!
    That chicken leg looks great – even though I can see unsauced flesh :-)

    7. Chennette on August 21st, 2009 at 10:09 pm
  8. Glad to see you posting again. We love barbecue, any time, any where. In North Carolina, where I’m originally from, barbecue means only one thing – a huge piece of pork cooked slowly in a wood pit for a very long time. Anything else (steaks, chops, sausages) cooked on over coals or wood is considered “grilling”, not barbecue. I’ve taken to the use of the all-purpose word barbecue, but my dad refuses to acknowledge anything else as BBQ. Oh well, what’s in a word???

    8. Abigail on September 2nd, 2009 at 4:19 am
  9. Hey Abigail – I have been seriously enjoying your traveling through Italy – so envious 😀

    9. Chennette on September 2nd, 2009 at 7:29 pm
  10. Chennette, just want to say that I loved your post on barbecue; learnt something along the way too. Like you, I would like to try a Syrian/ Lebanese Q. :-) It’s funny though how the word Barbecue would stir up so many ideas and meanings to different people. But, to me, it’s all in the sauce. Thanks for sharing!

    10. raz4125 on September 5th, 2009 at 9:03 pm
  11. Yeah, I think we could do with a box of falafel, kibbe or kufta and maybe kebabs/gyros. :-)

    11. Chennette on September 5th, 2009 at 10:15 pm
  12. I really loved this article even if was abt bbq. I added u to reader but it has not updated since the mango post.In my pre vegan days when I went to Canada and someone invited us to a bbq I was shocked to see hotdogs and burgers because I was so use to the Caribbean tradition of bbq

    12. Taymer on September 21st, 2009 at 10:49 am
  13. Hi Taymer – thanks!
    I wonder if something is up with the RSS – I have noticed that with a couple other blogs I (try) to follow. Although the Google Reader has updated for my own blog – maybe if you try re-adding it?

    13. Chennette on September 21st, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *