July Is National Grilling Month: How Grilling Practices and Culture Have Evolved Since Its Founding
When do you do most of your outdoor cooking? If you’re like most Americans, you know that summer is the ideal season for barbecues, picnics, and outdoor family gatherings. Given all this, it makes sense that July is a very special month for grillers: it’s National Grilling Month in the United States!
Grilling has come so far, with tools like the Kick Ash Basket and Juniper BBQ Scraper to make the activity easier, safer, and all around more fun. While it’s an extremely exciting time to be a griller, it’s always important to look back at our roots, and, in our opinion, there’s no better time to learn about bbq history than National Grilling Month!
Let’s take a look at a brief history of grilling:
1. The First Grilled Meats
2. Discovering the Barbecue
3. The Flame is Passed On
4. Backyard Barbecues Haven’t Changed Much
5. The Rise of the Grill
6. A Grilling Evolution
Photo by Taylor Grote on Unsplash
A Brief History of Grilling
Grilling is a staple in many American households. After all, who doesn’t have a charcoal or gas grill on the back deck? And who doesn’t love having family, friends, and even neighbors you’ve never met gather in the backyard for a burger or rack of ribs?
But how did grilling become the popular social activity it is today? Let’s dive in.
1. The Beginning: The First Grilled Meats
It’s thought that “cavemen” were the first grillers. Anthropologists assume that barbecue began when the first humans discovered the deliciousness of chargrilled meat somewhere between 300,000 to 2,000,000 years ago.
It’s possible that a hunter-gatherer stumbled upon some meat that was freshly baked from the hot sun. Maybe the first grill was an accident, and the day’s catch simply got too close to the fire. We don’t know for sure how it began, but what we do know is that the first “grilled” meat wasn’t the product of anything you’ll find at Home Depot.
2. Discovering the Barbecue
In the centuries following the caveman era, grilling techniques evolved in delightful ways, and not just in the United States. In fact, early explorers like Cristoforo Colombo (that’s the Christopher Columbus we learned about in school) were very much enamored with the ways that Spanish people and other cultures used heat and meat.
For instance, settlers in the Caribbean would slow roast meats on a fire covered by green wood. The live wood would keep the animal from burning, drying, or charring, and still give it a smokey taste that Columbo just couldn’t replicate in any other way.
This method of cooking still exists; it’s called barbacoa. Yep, that’s where we get our word for barbecue. Visit Brazil and taste some churrasco steak with chimichurri and you’ll understand why Colombo carried the tradition with him in his travels.
3. The Flame is Passed On
It should come as no surprise that the history of barbecue in the south is rich and robust, although it may be surprising that Christopher Columbus played a role in that history.
There was likely no one better at marketing the early day grill than old Columbus. The Spanish settlers that followed Christopher Columbus brought the art of barbacoa to, most notably, the Chickasaw tribes of what is now Mississippi. Now, let’s not pretend that the indigenous people weren’t already cooking their food over a fire – we simply don’t know enough about Native American grilling to outline their history.
From Mississippi, barbacoa and grilling made its way around the southern part of what is now the United States. People in Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, and Tennessee were all fans of pork (which was super cheap and low maintenance) and other meats grilled over an open flame.
5. Backyard Barbecues Haven’t Changed Much
In the 18th century, barbecues were a blast. People were drunk, loud, and celebratory.
Plus, grilling was accessible to everyone. Grillers didn’t have access to all the backyard bbq essentials that we have today, and barbecues didn’t require expensive slabs of meat. Whether you had a whole hog or just a butt, you could partake no matter what your social or financial status.
As the Civil War broke across eastern America, however, grilling became slightly more subdued. These events were social events, sure, but also community rallies to garner support for troops, no matter whether the support was Confederate or Union.
Photo by Peter Bravo de los Rios on Unsplash
6. The Rise of the Grill
Throughout American history, barbecue has largely held the spotlight. It wasn’t until World Wars I and II that grilling made its way around the country.
During the wars, middle class Americans began to migrate from the South to other parts of the country, and they brought their backyard grills with them.
Black Americans, in particular, became famous for their homestyle BBQ. Black-owned barbecues quickly sprung up in major cities from Philadelphia to San Francisco in the 1950s.
Additionally, 1950s America became way more suburban, meaning backyards were commonplace, and cookouts were “gangbusters.”
As time went on, grills evolved from George Stephen of Weber’s simple grate with legs welded on. Grills became a staple of the American backyard– so much so that we have a word for a group of grills: more than one grill gathered in one place is called a “pride.”
Nowadays, you can not only decide which type of grill fits your cooking style (gas, electric, charcoal, etc.) but which exact charcoal grill is best for you.
7. The Now: A Grilling Evolution
Over the years, humans (especially Americans) have been striving to perfect the BBQ. Grilling is essential to a cook’s reputation in some states. For example, have you ever met a North Carolina man who couldn’t flip a steak on the grill?
To some, grilling is basic. Slap a burger on a grill and cook it to well-done. To others, it’s an art form.
For those of you who believe it’s an art like we do, you understand the importance of the evolution and perfection of all your best grilling tools. To name a few: Smoker boxes. Beer can chicken holders. Rotating rotisseries. Toolbox grills. Hot dog skewers. *ahem* The Kick Ash Basket.
Grilling has evolved from green sticks atop a flame to tools like your Kick Ash Basket and Kick Ask Can. What a wonderful country we live in!
Modern Barbecuing: National Grilling Month & More
Today, July is National Grilling Month in the United States. That’s right, roasting bell peppers, burgers, and hot dogs has become so popular that we’ve devoted an entire month to it.
Turkey. Chicken. Burgers. Shrimp. Even watermelon and lettuce have been tossed on a grill; it’s fair to say that we Americans have tried to grill just about everything.
What started as a means of survival is now a celebration of friends, family, and freedom, and the barbecue is a fundamental piece of the American culture.
Why is July National Grilling Month? Well, if you’re an avid griller, you cook outdoors all year ‘round. But July is truly ideal for grilling. The kids are finally out of school. You want to celebrate Independence Day. Plus, the weather hasn’t hit those flaming August temperatures that make you want to stay indoors.
Whether you’re camping for the weekend or inviting family over, we think you’ll agree: July is the perfect month for grilling. Have a Kick Ash National Grilling Month!