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Why barbecues are time-honoured social rituals

Barbecues appeal to the fundamentals of human nature, bringing us back to basics with lovingly cooked cuisine. Here are the facts behind why barbecues form the basis of such time-honoured social rituals.

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The humble barbecue dates as far back as the discovery of fire, which is thought to be as long ago as 1.7 million years. As well as offering warmth and protection, fire provided a way of cooking food. Grilling meat on sticks over a fire was the first version of the barbecue, making it one of the earliest human rituals, and one that has stood the test of time too.

A Spanish explorer by the name of Gonzalo Fernández De Oviedo y Valdés is thought to be the first person who wrote down the word ‘barbecoa’ in 1526. It was translated to mean: ‘network of sticks set upon posts’. The word itself is thought to derive from ‘barabicu’, formerly used by the Caribbean Arawak people and the Timucua Native American tribe.

Although the roots of barbecuing span across the earliest human settlements spread throughout the world, many countries have added their own twist on modern-day barbecuing techniques to create unique cultural traditions.

The southern United States is seen as being a global home of barbecue, with finely honed methods for producing flavour-filled barbecued meats and an array of sauces that avid barbecue chefs feel an equal pride in. In Brazil, the churrasco is the term for barbecue, and regional specialities include richly seasoned meats and sausages. In Britain, we’re well-known for rolling out our barbecues as soon as a ray of sun appears, to serve burgers, sausages, baked potatoes and corn on the cobs.

However, the barbecue traditions of some countries have become fictionalised. Putting ‘a shrimp on the barbie’ is widely seen as being an Australian barbecuing tradition. In actual fact, this phrase originates from a 1980s advertisement by the Australian Tourism Commission, where Crocodile Dundee actor Paul Hogan says: “I’ll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you.” Although Australians usually use the word ‘prawn’ rather than ‘shrimp’, Hogan was instructed to say “shrimp” to appeal to the American audience the advert was being aired to. And despite the fact prawns are popularly eaten by Australians at Christmas, it isn’t a particularly common food for the barbecue!

Fact or fiction aside, as well as being one of the earliest cooking methods, the barbecue was also one of the first social rituals known to man. Although food is seen as a social ritual in modern-day life, the social aspect of it typically only starts when food is plated and served. Cooking with friends, however, is an altogether more sociable experience. And if the style of cooking just so happens to be the one that helped society develop and thrive – what could be more sociable than that? You could say barbecuing is almost engrained in human DNA.

Nothing meets our basic human needs of food and sociability more than a good old barbecue. And looking at the human history of barbecuing, it’s easy to see why.

Enjoy the theatrics of barbecuing without having to do any of the hard work at The Runnymede on Thames. Our chefs can cater for parties big and small and will cook up a storm on barbecues from our lawns right by the river. Serving everything from swordfish steaks to grilled halloumi – and perhaps the odd shrimp too – they’ll take you around the world with barbecue inspiration.

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