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Another “Angle” on Barbecue

When I think about traditional barbecue as practiced by Native Americans, I picture smaller cuts of meat being smoked on a raised framework over a slow fire, or large chunks of meat wrapped up and cooked in trenches filled with burning hardwood coals. History has shown me that some Native Americans had a third way with barbecue—the “inclined stick” technique. In his book, The Southeastern Indians(1976), Charles Hudson culled from eighteenth-century sources that the Native Americans in the Lower Mississippi Valley “barbecued fish, small animals, and pieces of meat of larger animals by impaling them on one end of a sharpened stick; the other end of the stick was stuck in the ground with the stick inclined toward the fire. They turned hte stick from time to time to cook the meat evenly.” [emphasis added]

Roasting—make that barbecueing!—salmon today in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Andrea Johnson

This barbecue technique was not limited to the American South, for tribes in the Pacific Northwest have long used the same approach to cook salmon. Sometimes the salmon was hung above an alder or cedar wood fire, and other times the fish were splayed on a specialized wooden frame that was then angled toward the fire. The cook could adjust the level of heat and smoking by moving the frame closer to or away from the fire. So, the next time you get into a heated discussion with someone about defining authentic barbecue, lay this angle on them.

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