Barbecue Around the World
March 20, 2023
10 min. read
Being an American family-owned company, we talk a lot about regional food trends from across the country. For example, you may have read one of our many blog posts about American barbecue styles, such as this one, as recent as one year ago.
As much as we love our local traditions, it is no secret that the process of cooking food over fire is by no means a recent discovery. Nations around the world have been cooking what we call “barbecue” for many centuries.
So, in this blog, we are highlighting a few of the many international styles of barbecue that are famous in their native countries and beyond.
Note: As a quick definition—for the purposes of this blog, we are considering “barbecue” to be any variety of cooked meat, whether it be slow-cooked outdoors (i.e., smoked) or cooked hot and fast over direct heat (i.e., grilled).
International BBQ Styles
The idea of cooking cubes of meat on a stick over direct heat seems so simple. Yet, we see unique variations of this cooking method all around the globe, as many countries have their own unique version of skewered grilled meat.
In the Middle East, there are “shish kebabs,” a Turkish term meaning “skewered roast meat.” The origin of the modern kabob, and likely influence for other varieties of skewered meat, shish kebabs are marinated chunks of lamb or other meat, such as beef, goat, chicken, fish, or pork, cooked on a skewer over a fire. They are often grilled alongside cubed vegetables and served with rice or pita bread.
The Spanish variation on kabobs are called “pinchos” (or “pinchitos”), meaning “pierced.” In Puerto Rico, pinchos typically call for chicken or pork that has been marinated and grilled, then glazed with a sweet and savory barbecue sauce. They are frequently served as a street food.
Greek “souvlaki” is another popular street food made from pork, chicken, beef, lamb and/or vegetables. It is often served with pita bread and a dipping sauce such as tzatziki.
The Japanese version of kabobs is called “yakitori,” meaning “grilled bird.” These chicken skewers are marinated in a traditional Japanese marinade, then grilled on a special grill over a charcoal fire. (Japanese barbecue, in general, is called “Yakiniku,” meaning “grilled meat.”)
Next, we have Southeast Asian “satay,” a dish of grilled marinated chicken or other type of meat, served alongside a peanut and soy dipping sauce.
Another popular type of meat skewer is the South African “sosatie,” which includes cubed and marinated lamb or mutton, cooked on skewers over a barbecue grill. It is typically served with dried apricots and grilled veggies.
Featured Recipe: Chicken Spiedies
Of course, the U.S. has its own variation on shish kabobs as well. One example is “spiedies” from upstate New York, an Italian-American dish of cubed, marinated meat, grilled on a skewer, and served on a long bread roll or slice of bread.
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/chicken-spiedies
This whole-hog style of BBQ, loosely translated as “roasted suckling pig,” is found throughout Spain, Portugal, and Latin America as well as the Philippines.
Lechón (or lechón asado) is considered a national dish in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, Portugal, and the Philippines, where it is also often served as a traditional dish during the holidays. It is very popular in numerous other Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries as well. In French-speaking countries, it is known as “cochon de lait.”
This dish is prepared by pit-roasting a whole pig, which has been marinated or seasoned, on a large horizontal spit over an open charcoal fire. Then, the cooked meat is often shredded or chopped and served with a variety of accompaniments (dependent on the country).
One variation on lechón is “pernil,” which is a slow-roasted marinated pork shoulder that is very popular in Puerto Rico and several other Latin American counties.
Featured Recipe: Pork Carnitas Tacos
Mexico has a similar pork dish known as “carnitas,” or pork confit, which is made by slow-cooking pork shoulder in lard until it is tender with crispy outer edges. The resulting meat is then chopped or shredded and served in tacos, burritos, and more.
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/sweet-spicy-pork-carnitas-tacos
All around the world, there is a custom of preparing meat using a spit-roasting, or rotisserie, method of cooking.
This tradition first began in the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) with the “doner kebab”—a stack of seasoned meat shaped into an inverted cone and slow-roasted on a vertical rotisserie spit. The cooked meat is then thinly shaved off the stack and served alongside pita or flatbread and various accompaniments.
The Middle Eastern version of this is called “shawarma,” which is traditionally made with lamb or mutton, but may also use chicken, turkey, beef, or veal. It is often served as a wrap along with garlic sauce or tahini.
In Greece, this is referred to as a “gyro” and is usually made with pork or chicken and served inside of pita bread with vegetables and tzatziki sauce.
Mexico has “al pastor,” meaning “shepherd style,” which consists of sliced pork that has been marinated in dried chilies, pineapple juice, and other spices, then spit-roasted on a vertical rotisserie. It is commonly served as tacos with corn tortillas, onions, cilantro, and diced pineapple.
Featured Recipe: Chicken Shawarma Sub
For an at-home recipe, try our version of chicken shawarma using a 24-hr marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and other spices; cooked on a skillet or grill pan and served on Martin’s Hoagie Rolls with yogurt sauce or tahini, fresh vegetables, and an optional squeeze of hot sauce.
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/chicken-shawarma-sub
This method of cooking, native to India and Pakistan, consists of grilling yogurt-marinated, spiced chicken inside of a cylindrical clay oven called a “tandoor.” The cooked chicken, which is bright red in color due to chili powder and other spices, has a smoky flavor and is frequently served beside naan flatbread or as the base in various curries.
Featured Recipe: Tandoori Chicken Sandwich
To make this at home, marinate boneless chicken breasts in a combination of lemon juice, salt, yogurt, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, and turmeric for 3-8 hours. Next, grill the chicken over medium-high heat until fully cooked. Serve sliced chicken on lightly toasted Martin’s Sandwich Potato Rolls topped with a homemade Indian-style herb mayonnaise.
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/tandoori-chicken-sandwich
Much like the U.S. word, “barbecue,” the South African “braai” can mean many things: 1) an outdoor grill, 2) a method of cooking food, 3) the food cooked using this method, or 4) an outdoor social gathering (a.k.a., a cookout). A braai may include a wide variety of grilled meats, from chicken and ribs, to pork chops, sausage, and kabobs. These gatherings are an important part of South African culture and are used to celebrate special occasions or to connect with family and friends.
Featured Recipe: Barbecued Burger
Host a braai of your own and grill up some burgers, hot dogs, chicken, or bratwurst! These tasty barbecued burgers are grilled to perfection and topped with a homemade barbecue sauce made from ketchup, brown sugar, honey, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and some liquid smoke for that extra chargrilled flavor!
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/tailgating-burger
This style of cooking is specific to Jamaican cuisine, where it refers to meat that is dry-rubbed or marinated with hot spices and then smoked or grilled. This technique may be used to cook everything from pork and chicken to fish or seafood. The hot spice mixture, called Jamaican jerk spice, is made with allspice and scotch bonnet peppers as the primary ingredients.
Featured Recipe: Jamaican Jerk Chicken Tacos
Try your hand at Jamaican Jerk Chicken with this easy homemade recipe! First, mix your own special seasoning blend. Then, season a pound of chicken tenderloins on all sides and cook in a medium skillet or grill over medium-high heat until cooked through. Serve atop flattened Martin’s Sandwich Potato Rolls with shredded cabbage, cilantro, and a drizzle of jerk-spiced mayo.
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/jamaican-jerk-chicken-tacos
This is the origin of American barbecue, both in name and in practice. “Barbacoa” began in the Caribbean with the Taino people and later evolved into what is now seen as Mexico’s distinct style of barbecue. Traditionally, it involved slow-roasting meat over an open, wood-burning fire—the equivalent of today’s method known as “smoking.”
Today, it is more closely associated with the specific method of slowly cooking meat in a pit dug in the ground, which is covered with agave leaves, making it similar to Peru’s “pachamanca,” and Hawaii’s “kalua pork.” This method of cooking gives the meat a smoky taste while also steaming it at the same time.
Barbacoa is generally associated with beef, but may also be made out of goat, lamb, or mutton as well. Typically, tougher cuts of meat are used since they require a longer, slower cooking process in order to break down the connective tissues.
This famous Mexican style of barbecue is often seasoned with a variety of hot peppers, shredded, and eaten as a taco with accompanying garnishes.
Featured Recipe: Barbacoa Beef Sliders
Try our slow-cooker variation of Mexican barbacoa with these savory, spicy, shredded beef sliders on Martin’s Sweet Dinner Potato Rolls, topped with mayo-ketchup, caramelized onions, pickles, and/or prepared coleslaw!
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/barbacoa-beef-sliders
The Australian version of a community barbecue is called a “sausage sizzle.” The predominant food item at these events, which goes by the same name, consists of grilled pork or beef sausages (a.k.a., “snags”) served on a slice of white bread or a hot dog roll. Common accompaniments include tomato sauce, mustard, or BBQ sauce, and grilled onions.
Featured Recipe: Sausage Sizzle
Make your own sausage sizzle by grilling up some “snags” until nicely seared and heated through, then serve on Martin’s Old-Fashioned Real Butter Bread (or our Hoagie Rolls), topped with your choice of preferred condiments.
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/sausage-sizzle
Bulgogi & Galbi
Korean barbecue (or “gogi-gui,” meaning “grilled meat.”) has been gaining popularity in recent years. One popular dish is “bulgogi” which is thinly sliced beef or pork that has been marinated, then grilled on a barbecue grill or frying pan. It is often flavored with soy sauce, sugar, and garlic, and served with grilled onions and peppers or traditional Korean accompaniments like gochujang (spicy chili paste) and kimchi (fermented cabbage).
Another popular dish is “galbi,” or grilled beef short ribs. It may be marinated or non-marinated, and is often served raw and then cooked in real-time by the diners using a built-in tabletop grill. The cooked meat is commonly wrapped inside lettuce leaves, along with ssamjang (a thick, spicy soybean paste).
Featured Recipe: Bulgogi Style Pepper Steak Sandwiches
Enjoy a taste of Korean BBQ with these pepper steak sandwiches on Martin’s Big Marty’s Rolls! Using thinly sliced sirloin, ribeye, or brisket, marinate the steak in a simple soy sauce and ginger marinade, then quickly sear both sides over high heat, and serve on buns with grilled peppers and scallions.
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/bulgogi-style-pepper-steak-sandwiches
Asado & Churrasco
“Asado” (from the Spanish word “asar,” meaning to roast or barbecue) is both a cooking technique and a social event in numerous South American countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Chile. It also describes meat that has been marinated and grilled, as in “carne asada.”
Similarly, “churrasco” is the Spanish and Portuguese word for grilled or spit-roasted meat, typically marinated skirt steak. Churrasco is very famous in Brazil, particularly a cut of steak known as “picanha,” and is frequently enjoyed at Brazilian steakhouses called churrascarias.
Featured Recipe: Churrasco Sandwich with Chimichurri
In Argentina, grilled steak is commonly served with chimichurri, a green sauce made from olive oil, vinegar, parsley, garlic, and spices. Try this classic combination as a steak sandwich on a Martin’s Hoagie Roll!
Get the recipe: https://potatorolls.com/recipes/churrasco-chimichurri-sandwich
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