Peak grill season may be winding down, but barbecue’s popularity remains eternal.
Which reminds us: despite the all-American portrait of meat on a grill in someone’s backyard, it’s not just in the United States where people bow down at the altar of meat and fire. The irresistible, umami-packed combination of meat and heat is one of the oldest, and most diverse, forms of food in the world—whether that means whole-hog barbecue in the south, or chicken skewers from a street vendor in Japan.
In the interests of inclusion, we’ve defined “barbecue” in the broader sense, combining both “low and slow” cuts cooked for long hours with more straightforward techniques involving just meat and open flame. From goat cooked in pits to lamb seared on skewers, here’s a look at how barbecue is interpreted across the world.
What it is: Americans might think of yakitori as an appetizer at their local sushi joint, but in Japan it’s a popular street food. The bamboo skewers are loaded up with chicken, grilled over white charcoal (which burns longer, at a lower temperature, and doesn’t produce smoke), and often served with alcohol. Yakitori also serves as a general term for grilled, skewered meat, but typically refers to either chicken meat or chicken innards. (Photo: Flickr/Taka@P.P.R.S.)
What it is: If there’s any country more closely associated with the word “barbecue” than the United States, it’s Korea, and there’s no Korean barbecue dish better known than bulgogi. Consisting of thinly sliced beef marinated with sesame, scallions, soy sauce, and occasionally natural tenderizers like pear, bulgogi is served alongside fresh vegetables and herbs. (Photo: Flickr/Chloe Lim)
What it is: “Braai” refers as much to an event as a specific dish. Originating with South Africa’s Afrikaans-speaking white settlers, the braai centers on cooking meat, contributed potluck-style, with a wood-burning braaistand, or grill. Popular components include skewered lamb, sosatie, and boerewors, a South African sausage. A popular, non-grilled component to the meal is pap, a corn-based porridge similar to polenta or grits. (Photo: Flickr/Ian Barbour)
What it is: Besides being the most underrated meat option at Chipotle, barbacoa refers to meat, typically beef or goat, wrapped in maguey leaves and slow-cooked in an underground pit. (Though less hardcore recipes—i.e., Chipotle’s—opt for stewing or steaming the meat). Fun fact to bust out on your next burrito bowl run: originating in the Caribbean before migrating to Mexico, “barbacoa” is actually the origin of the term “barbecue.” (Photo: closetcooking.com)
What it is: A mainstay of Cantonese cuisine, char siu’s name—which literally translates to “fork roast”—derives from its cooking technique: spearing pork seasoned with five-spice powder, honey, fermented bean curd, and other seasonings on long forks, then cooking them over a fire or in a covered oven. Other additions frequently include maltose, to give the sauce a thick, sticky texture, and food coloring (no, that firetruck-red hue isn’t natural). (Photo: Flickr/kattebelletje)
What it is: Churrasco is probably best known for its quantity rather than its quality; churrascarias are infamous for unloading skewer after skewer of meat onto patrons’ plates until they just can’t handle any more. Like asado in other parts of Latin America, churrasco refers to various kinds of meat, but typically beef, skewered and cooked at high heat over either a grill or an open flame; depending on the country, it’s frequently served with chimichurri, French fries, salad, or egg. (Photo: Flickr/Dani Vázquez)
What it is: Though it originated in Spain, lechón is now most popular in the Philippines and Latin America. The premise is pretty straightforward: a whole pig, sans innards, is skewered on a wooden stick and spit-roasted over charcoal for several hours, with occasional basting. The result is extra-flavorful and extra-crispy, though the showy, heavily involved cooking process means it’s generally for special occasions. (Photo: Flickr/Shubert Ciencia)
What it is: Among the many uses of Indian cuisine’s signature clay oven is cooking skewered, marinated meat at extremely high temperatures. Tandoori chicken, for example, involves seasoning the chicken with yogurt, garam masala, and other spices before cooking. It’s now a staple in American Indian spots—and yes, the signature red color sometimes comes from food coloring. (Photo: Flickr/thebittenword)
What it is: Şiş kebap, if we’re being technical about it, is the Turkish version of kebab, a dish that’s nearly ubiquitous in Middle Eastern cuisine. Like all kebabs, the concept is as simple as it gets: chunks of meat on a skewer, grilled. It’s distinguished from similar foods, like churrasco, which uses beef, or even doner kebab, which is closer to a gyro, by its use of lamb as a base and the frequent addition of vegetables to the skewer. (Photo: Flickr/AAB_BAA)
What it is: Like braai, “luau” generally describes a social gathering rather than any particular food served at said gathering. But long before luau came to mean “that thing the ‘all-inclusive’ resort charges way too much money for where the MC hands out more leis than anyone knows what to do with,” it referred to a celebration often featuring a whole pig cooked inside a mesquite-fueled underground oven called an imu. Called kālua, the meat is stuffed with hot rocks (which also line the imu), wrapped in banana or ti leaves, and covered in wet burlap and sand before cooking for a total of six to seven hours. (Photo: wikihow.com)