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A History of South Carolina Barbeque (American Palate) Paperback – September 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Lake E. High, Jr. is president and co-founder of the South Carolina Barbeque Association. He has been in the industry since 2004 and helps train the judges that preside over the many barbeque competitions in South Carolina.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

A History of South Carolina Barbeque

By Lake E. High Jr.

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 Lake E. High Jr.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60949-863-4


1. Myths, Tales and Misconceptions,
2. Barbeque in the Beginning,
3. Barbeque in the Early Days in South Carolina,
4. Barbeque Comes into Its Own,
5. Barbeque Becomes a Cultural Phenomenon,
6. Modern-Day Barbeque,
7. TV, Sauces and Contests,
Appendix I. Charter Members of the South Carolina Barbeque Association,
Appendix II. Sauce Recipes,
About the Author,



Television programs about barbeque always seem to mention that it is a subject of much passion that stirs up many arguments. Thankfully, most of these arguments are of the benign, fun sort, such as, "The barbeque in our area of the state is better than yours," which is sort of like saying, "Our school's football team is better than yours." However, as time has progressed, some of these arguments and differences have actually turned into stubborn dogma. These opinions, sometimes fraught with too much heat and not enough reason or knowledge of history, have given rise to some remarkable misunderstandings. These misunderstandings seem to grow and grow until some of them turn into full-fledged myths. And while barbeque is great fun and most of the disagreements as to whose is the best are part of the fun, there are some real mythologies that need to be sorted out.

In the Introduction, there were a couple of myths touched on briefly, mainly the ones about the poor unfortunate pigs who perished in a Chinese house fire and some misinformed New Yorker who said that barbeque was first tasted in New York. The mention of New York, however, does bring up another myth.

The Pirate Myth

There was a fellow who sent me a long explanation of the origin of barbeque, which he attributed to "pirates" who operated from the Spanish Caribbean in the 1500s. My corresponding friend isn't the only one who saw it that way either, because I had also heard someone on TV say the same thing. Either he got his history from that television show (always a mistake), or they got it from him. Either way, it is in error. But his tale does give us the opportunity to explore what real barbeque is.

Barbeque is pork cooked over very low, indirect heat for a very long time — "low and slow," as the cookers on the barbeque-competition circuit like to say. It also has to be kissed by the airborne marinade of smoke. No smoke, no barbeque. And that is regardless of how tender and juicy and good it may be. Pork cooked slowly in its own juice can be incredibly tender, and depending on the flavor profile that the cook selects, it can also be incredibly delicious. But it's not barbeque.

Another factor is the pork itself. One can barbeque beef, or one can barbeque chicken, goat or almost any meat for that matter, but that meat is barbequed, wherein the word "barbequed" is used as a transitive verb. But "barbeque" is also a noun that describes a specific thing, not an action, and the thing it describes is pork. All proper barbeque is pork. So while one can have barbequed chicken, barbequed beef or even barbequed possum, those meats were "barbequed"; they are not "barbeque."

All this is not simply some modern-day construct; rather, it harkens back to the first real barbeque, which was pork. This is a matter that we will go into in the next chapter, when we get on to the actual invention of America's favorite food.

But speaking of semantics, the word "barbeque" is often used incorrectly as a noun, as in, "Almost every American home has a barbecue." That quote was taken directly from a cable television show called "Food Wars — Barbecue" that was shown on the Travel Channel. In that instance, a grill is mistakenly called a "barbecue." In fact, on the barbeque-cooking circuit, where weekend barbeque warriors battle it out for trophies and cash prizes, they never refer to their grill as a barbeque. They always call it a cooker, a smoker or a grill.

But back to the myth about the Caribbean pirates.

My friend explained to me that the pirates learned barbequing from the Indians on the Caribbean Islands and took it from there to all of the places they then went (he probably saw that on television). Those places still practice true, original barbequing to this day, according to him. "I've seen it with my own eyes," he told me. "Why, in northern Mexico, I've seen them dig a hole in the ground and put a goat in it, cover it up and then several hours later dig it up …then you've got some of the best barbeque you've ever tasted." He continued by telling me that wherever pirates went, one can still find real barbeque today as a living heritage from its original introduction.

Well, let's take a look at that myth. First of all, there were plenty of pirates in New England and New York, not to mention England, France and Spain, but there was no barbeque in those places, so it just isn't true that barbeque followed the pirates.

The Roasting Box Myth

The real problem with the pirate myth, however, is the cooking method described. Digging a hole in the ground and filling it with coals or hot rocks and covering it up with either dirt or leaves or some other cover is not only eons old but also worldwide. Aborigines in Australia did it. Africans in Africa did it. Asians and Indians did it. And all of them have done it forever. In fact, we still do it today in the form of clambakes and oyster roasts. Dig the hole, put the coals in, put the oysters or clams on the coals and cover them up, usually with a wet burlap bag, and have a beer. Since oysters and clams cook quickly, by the end of your second beer, you've got a party going.

But you didn't call it a clam barbeque or an oyster barbeque. That is because even though they were thoroughly cooked (in actuality, steamed), they were not barbequed. By the same token, putting a pig in the ground over coals and covering it doesn't make for barbeque. It makes roast pig. And if it's done right, it's a tender, juicy roast pig, but it is not barbeque. There are various apparatus on the market today that do just that. They are called "Cajun microwaves" on the barbeque-cooking circuit but are more properly known as roasting boxes. The term "Cajun microwave" has become so common that there are several companies on the Internet that offer them by that name.

The reason that roasting boxes are a great way to cook pork and other meats is that because the meat cooks in its own juices, the end product is always quite tender and juicy. But it is not barbeque, and the people who make those roasting boxes know enough not to call them "barbeque boxes"— which is more than my friend with the pirate theory knew.

The First Indians Myth

When the Spanish first came into the Caribbean in the 1490s, they discovered various Indians who were cooking in holes in the ground. This was not unique since that method of cooking was used, to some degree, worldwide. Every culture had discovered it.

The poor Indians on the islands generally found themselves enslaved by the Spanish and made to do the work, and that work included cooking. The Spanish soldiers and sailors were thereby reintroduced to that age-old method, and they carried the knowledge with them as they came ashore in the Americas. They, like the "pirates," carried that simple method everywhere they went. As I say, this was all well and good, but meat cooked in a covered hole is not barbeque.

There has been quite a bit of speculation as to where the word "barbeque" actually comes from. Whether it is true or not, most writers today give a nod in the direction of the Taíno Indians, who Christopher Columbus encountered in 1492. Given what happened to the Taíno, they probably get the credit for barbeque simply because Columbus saw them first and was so happy to see them and impressed by them that he heaped praise all over them in his dispatches back home. That first meeting with the Taíno also gave up the word "barbacot."

Columbus landed on what he named Hispaniola, which is the large island that today we call Dominica and which contains the two countries of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The Taíno were described by Columbus as a wonderful, gentle, happy, friendly people who gave him great aid. Unfortunately for the Taíno, they were the blood enemies of the Carib Indians, whom everyone described as fierce, warlike, cannibalistic and sadistic and who were adept at making poison arrows.

While Columbus did not take a census, rough estimates of the Taíno population range from twenty thousand to fifty thousand. The Taíno were a numerous people that occupied other islands in addition to Hispaniola, including Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica. They spoke a language that the linguists say is similar to Arawak, so they were probably Arawakan, a word that often pops up when people are talking about the origins of barbeque.

By the outbreak of the first smallpox epidemic in 1518, a scant twenty- six years after Columbus's arrival, the poor Taíno had already suffered defeat and enslavement by the Caribs. That coupled with white man's diseases had reduced their numbers to just a few thousand by 1515, when somebody took note. In 1544, a bishop on the island of Puerto Rico placed their number there at no more than sixty. Although modern DNA tests show that Taíno blood lives on in mestizo populations, war, slavery, intermarriage with whites and disease had finished them off by the mid- 1500s.

However, the Taíno did leave behind some cultural heritage. Their words "hamaca," "tobac" and "huracan," for instance, give us "hammock," "tobacco" and "hurricane," respectively. Other Taíno words that are still with us include "iguana" and "yucca."

Then there is the Taíno word "barbacot," which is generally considered the root word for "barbeque." That word has caused a great deal of misinformation to be circulated and has caused many people to assume that barbeque was a Taíno food.

A "barbacot" is a structure of green sticks that the Indians used in roasting small meats. The only Caribbean example that I have seen of this kind of structure comes from an old drawing that depicts a simple, slanted stick, on which the meat roasts over the fire, supported by another forked stick. It was reminiscent of the sort of apparatus a Boy Scout might make. The more elaborate structure that is generally called a "barbacot" today is seen in the drawings of Jacques le Moyne, a Frenchman who made his drawings in North America, not in the Caribbean Islands.

One of the problems with barbeque originating in the Taíno world is that, for the most part, there were no large animals on those islands when Columbus arrived. El Boricua, a monthly cultural publication for Puerto Ricans, has a reasonably complete discussion of the Taíno. The magazine writes, "Not much hunting went on because there was no large game. However, the Taínos did hunt for birds, manatees, snakes, parrots, jutías (small rodents), iguanas, and waterfowl."

The Taíno diet consisted primarily of fruits and vegetables, as those foods were abundant on the islands where they lived. Occasionally, they ate fish, shellfish and other small game. As El Boricua notes: Yuca was the Taíno staple food, and from it, flour and casava bread were made. The Taínos primarily used tubers as a source of food. Also harvested were guanábana, yautía, squash, mamey, papaya, pineapple, achiote, sweet potatoes, yams, and corn. Peanuts, lerenes, guava, soursop, pineapples, sea grapes, black-eyed peas, ajíes caballeros, and lima beans grew wild. They would also crush roots and stems of a poisonous shrub and cast it into the rivers. As the fish became stunned by the poison, they could be caught by hand; the poison did not affect the fish for eating. The men also harvested conch, oysters, crabs, and other shellfish.

The Taíno simply did not have any animals of any size that needed barbequing. Roasting a parrot or a rodent is quite sufficient to get it cooked. It was the Spanish who brought domesticated horses, goats, sheep, cows and pigs. These animals are all old-world animals, and they simply did not exist anywhere in the western hemisphere. Well, actually, wild goats and sheep did exist in the Western part of the Americas, but they were never domesticated. There were no goats or sheep on the Caribbean Islands.

One of the problems in this area of myths and misunderstandings is that people who know nothing about the subject will say in some book or on some television show, "Here we see a picture of meat being barbequed by an Arawak Indian," when what they should more properly say is, "Here is a drawing of someone cooking meat over an open flame." The problem then becomes that the reader or viewer, thinking he is getting some real history, will stash that thought away in his mind and later share it.

Another problem that we face when trying to delve into the origins of barbeque is the word itself. As mentioned above, some think "barbeque" is a Taíno word, but that is because of the word "barbacot," which probably evolved into the word "barbeque" much later.

I once saw a program on some cable channel that showed a nice Indian- looking young lady who was being touted as a "princess" or a "priestess," I forget which. She was addressing the camera with a big smile on her face while gliding around in a nicely manicured backyard somewhere in Miami, Florida. She was demonstrating that the "Sacred Fire" of her tribe, which I'm most sure she said was Arawak, was a godly and holy thing. I was obviously missing lots of the details, but the thing that I'm 100 percent positive of is that what she was showing was a roasting box. In fact, I pointed it out to my sweet wife and said, "That's what the boys on the cooking circuit call a 'Cajun microwave.'" Of course, this comely young lady was talking about barbeque, often using that word and saying how barbeque was sacred to her people. That was all well and good, except for the fact that a roasting box produces roast pork, not barbeque, and that she was using the word "barbeque" incorrectly.

This problem with the word "barbeque" is one that all of us are at least vaguely aware.

When a South Carolinian uses the word, he means pork cooked slowly at a low temperature over coals. When a Texan says it, he generally means beef. When a northerner says it, he means a grill or a cookout in the backyard. And when Paul Hogan, the Australian movie star who played Crocodile Dundee, said it on those famous TV ads, he meant the apparatus on which he put a giant prawn, which he facetiously called a shrimp. Apparently, when that young lady who was talking about the Sacred Fire of her people said barbeque, she meant meat roasted in an enclosure built for that specific purpose. In short, the word "barbeque" can have entirely different meanings in different places. So the use of the word "barbacot" in Dominica, even if it was truly a barbecuing structure (which I've seen no evidence to support), does not mean that real barbeque was invented there.

The Origin of the Word Myth

This misunderstanding of the word used to describe barbeque has led to all sorts of speculation and conjecture regarding its origin. One oft-repeated tale is that it derives from the French phrase "barbe à la queue," which supposedly means "from beard to the tail." However, I have my doubts about this tale. Heaven knows the French certainly know their food, but barbeque isn't one of them. Plus, the French were not poking around in the Caribbean when the Spanish were there.

Indeed, the French, who were also looking for colonies in the 1500s, entered the waters of America generally from the north, trying to avoid the Spanish, who would open fire on them at first sight. It was a wise choice for the French, who finally decided to stick close to the American middle, along the Mississippi Valley, where we find New Orleans, Mobile, Dubuque, Des Moines, St. Louis, Sault St. Marie, Quebec and many other remnants of French sites still proudly sporting their French names. For the most part, after 1566, the French left the East Coast of the Americas to the English, and they left the Caribbean to the Spanish. They certainly were not sitting around eating and talking with any Arawaks in the Caribbean, although they did meet plenty of Indians in Florida when they first boated down there to look for colonization opportunities.

Writers today give more credence to the idea that the word "barbeque" derives from the word "barbacoa." Wikipedia, the world's most used and most incorrect encyclopedia, states, "barbacoa is a form of cooking meat that originated in the Caribbean with the Taíno people, from which the term 'barbecue' derives." This submission from heaven knows who (anybody can submit anything to Wikipedia, and if it isn't challenged or corrected, then it stays in) is probably the generally accepted origin of the word. It brings to mind Napoleon's observation: "History is the lies that are agreed upon."

Indeed, the next sentence in that same Wikipedia article goes on to say, "In contemporary Mexico, it generally refers to meats or whole sheep slow-cooked over an open fire, or more traditionally, in a hole dug in the ground covered with maguey leaves, although the interpretation is loose, and in the present day and in some cases may refer to meat steamed until tender." Well, that little bit of a dog's-breakfast definition happily contains some obvious red flags. For one, the Taíno didn't actually use the word "barbeque" but rather "barbacot," which referred to a structure, not a food. Secondly, they didn't have any large animals to "steam." And lastly, the hole in the ground is a steaming technique, not a barbequing technique.

(Continues...)Excerpted from A History of South Carolina Barbeque by Lake E. High Jr.. Copyright © 2013 Lake E. High Jr.. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ The History Press (September 3, 2013)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 192 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1609498631
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1609498634
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 11.2 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.31 x 9 inches
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