Wednesday, August 22

Lone Star Dispatch: Barbecue, in a Word

From the keyboard of guest blogger Daniel Vaughn, whose computer smells vaguely of brisket. 

In a world of increasing shorthand, especially on Twitter, you can expect to find BBQ, 'cue, or even Q when referring to smoked meats. If you're going by the AP Style Guide, the only proper spelling is "barbecue." I once asked Aaron Franklin if he spelled out the name of his Austin brisket temple, Franklin Barbecue, on purpose. He confirmed that it was intentional—"BBQ just sounds like you're in a hurry."

On the signs of joints all over Texas, I've commonly seen Barbeque, Bar-B-Que, Bar-B-Q, and even BBCue. I thought I'd seen all of the iterations until last week, when my friend Eric Sandler tweeted a photo of a Houston-area barbecue trailer with "BARBEE Q" stenciled on the side.

Photo by Eric Sandler (@esandler)

It's generally agreed that the etymological precursor to the English word "barbecue" is the Spanish term "barbacoa." In Texas, we've appropriated that term to refer specifically to the head of a cow—or sometimes that of a goat or lamb—cooked in the ground over coals. Even with a clear historical connection between barbacoa and barbecue, there are still legends out there. One claims that "barbe a queue" is the French term for "beard to tail," referring to the use of a whole animal. Another claims that the predecessor is a cattle brand: "— B Q."

Photo by Nicholas McWhirter (@redblank)

I hadn't seen either of these legends given credence in my home state until I walked into the Bar-B-Q Man in Corpus Christi. The owner was a friend of Cecil Cotten, proprietor of the former Joe Cotten's, and Cecil had given him some chairs salvaged from the defunct restaurant. I experienced a rush like you'd get when finding a forgotten relic. But mainly, I just wanted one of those chairs.

You can follow Daniel Vaughn on Twitter at @bbqsnob.