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Barbecue is a cooking technique that traditionally involves cooking meats over, or in the proximity of, charcoal or wood fires, generally outdoors; today gas and electricity are also frequently used as heating sources. The cooking process is usually, but not always, lengthy, but it always involves some transfer of flavoring to the food. The flavor can be from fragrant smoke, dry spices rubbed onto the meat, a basting liquid, or a combination of these.

The word "barbecue" can be extended to cover the equipment used or the food prepared this way. It is also frequently misused (according to purists) to describe food that is cooked over an open heat source, such as a "barbecued hamburger"; more accurately, this should be called a "grilled hamburger". "Barbecue" itself derives from the Mexican Spanish word barbacoa, but many styles, each with its partisans proclaiming it to be the best, can be found throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Some Asian styles, particularly from Korea and Mongolia, have enough similarities to be called barbecue. Their cooking process is usually faster and higher-heat than Western methods, but still rely on heat to force flavoring into food.

Style Aspects of cooking Flavoring
Traditional Mexican Wrapped food in a pit; steams and smokes Smoke, peppers
Texan Open rack over smoky fire, preferably mesquite wood Fairly sweet liquid baste; prominent tomatoes
Eastern North Carolina Smoker/grill Vinegar dominates the liquid baste; sweet-sour, no mustard or tomatoes
Western North Carolina Smoker/grill Vinegar and mustard in the baste; sweet-sour, no tomatoes
South Carolina Smoker/grill Tomatoes, mustard and vinegar glaze
Memphis Open rack over smoky fire Dry-rubbed with spice mixture
Korean Grill; thin sliced; sufficiently fast-cooking to make crust Marinated with ginger, soy, molasses, chiles


With the long-cooking or thin-sliced methods, otherwise inexpensive and tough cuts of meat may be used. Beef is probably most common, then pork; chicken is also popular.


Depending on the meat, it may be served sliced or chopped, and usually wetted with the basting liquid. Barbecued spareribs, which are held in the hands to eat, are popular, as are chopped or sliced barbecue sandwiches.


Side dishes vary, but beans are common, as is cole slaw, potato, or other cold salads. Fried potatoes may be served.

Beer is a popular beverage, as is iced tea.