By - May 1, 2019

Up in smoke — History of the barbecue


The cookout — a great American pastime that almost went up in flames.

More than 56 percent of Americans will fire up their grills on Memorial Day. As for the other half, well, someone has to bring the beverages. But do you know how our obsession with grilling got its start? Read on to become the most knowledgeable grill master at your next holiday cookout.

While cooking over fire has been around for centuries, our modern-day barbecue first became popular during the early days of American politics. So much so that our first president, George Washington, wrote in a 1769 diary entry about how he “went to Alexandria to a barbecue and stayed all night.” Who knew George was such a partier?

Barbecues and cookouts continued to grow in popularity, but it was President Andrew Jackson who turned his cookouts from a social event to a political one. He often gave speeches and fed the masses to get others to buy into his ideas. This became known as barbecue diplomacy. The tradition carried on for a few years before it was nearly extinguished.

In the early 1800s, a newspaper reporter, calling himself the Barbecuensis, wrote editorials about the public drunkenness and debauchery that took place during these political pig roasts. It picked up enough steam to eventually become illegal in Tennessee in 1833.

Fortunately, the sentiment had changed by the 1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson held the first barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House. Later, President George H. W. Bush started the annual tradition of hosting an old-fashioned cookout for Congress members and their families, and it has been carried on by every president since.