There’s nothing as tantalizing as the savory, smoky smell of barbecue, grilled to perfection and slathered with homemade sauce. While many of us might think of barbecue as classic all-American cuisine, it actually originated in the Caribbean. The first reference to the spicy dish, known as barbacoa, was published in a Spanish explorer’s account in 1526. From there, the cooking method of grilling spiced meat traveled to the rest of the world, including Colonial America. Today, we can enjoy barbecue dishes from around the world, sometimes without even leaving our own backyard. But whether it’s flash-grilled or slowly charred, barbecue always seems to taste better when you’re eating it at the exact spot where it’s been prepared, whether it’s Bangkok, Tokyo, or Kingston.
The United States ranks high not only for the quality of its barbecue but also for the wide range of cooking methods and sauces you’ll find there. Favorite barbecue styles include:
As a major beef exporter, Brazil takes its barbecue — known as churrasco — seriously. Churrasco meat (typically beef, chicken, lamb, pork, or fish) is cut into large chunks, salted, placed on long, sword-like metal skewers, and cooked slowly over rotisserie grills or wood embers. Argentinian chimichurri sauce, made from garlic, vinegar, parsley, oregano, oil, and vinegar, is served on the side for dipping.
As one of the islands where it all started, Jamaica celebrates barbecue as its national dish, focusing on one method alone: jerk-style spicing and grilling. Jerk dry rub ingredients include thyme, allspice berries, cloves, ginger, scallions, cinnamon, and Scotch bonnet chilies. Pork, beef, fish, or chicken are marinated or rubbed in these seasonings, then gently grilled over a smoky wood fire.
The South African braai is a beloved barbecue event featuring plenty of meat — including lamb chops and sausage, steak, chicken, and fish — cooked over wood fires. Favorite dishes include lamb chops (seasoned with garlic, rosemary, and thyme), ostrich steaks, and crayfish tails. For a truly authentic braai experience, try beer-can chicken, a whole chicken cooked with an open beer can inside to keep the chicken moist.
For centuries, India has perfected the art of grilling meat, with methods that include burying it on top of hot coals in a Tandoor pot or grilling it in brick charcoal ovens. Meats are marinated in citrus juice, yogurt, or coconut milk and rubbed with spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, ginger, and cumin seeds.
Classic Korean barbecue bulgogi is comprised of beef tenderloin, sirloin, brisket, or ribeye that’s thinly sliced, marinated in soy sauce, quick-grilled, and served with a spicy-sweet sauce enlivened with Korean chili powder. For more adventurous travelers, another must-try dish is samgyeopsal, strips of tender grilled pork belly.
Authentic Chinese barbecue (known as shaokao) is characterized by its huge variety of meats and sauces (including items unfamiliar to western stomachs, like barbecued silkworms). Chinese street barbecue is considered one of China's greatest culinary pleasures for locals and visitors. Meats are typically served on skewers and marinated with sesame oil, soy sauce, ground chilies, and spices, then grilled on braziers. If you like lots of heat, opt for Sichuan spices (warning, they can be blistering).
Like Jamaica, Mexico has a long history of preparing barbacoa grilled meats, typically grilling them slowly over wood until the meat falls off the bone. Mexico also helped develop the barbecue sauce we know today, in the form of mole sauces flavored with cinnamon, cloves, chile, onions, garlic, and chocolate. Popular dishes include carne asada, grilled flank steak marinated in peppery citrus juice, then thin-sliced and grilled. Another favorite is pollo al carbon, chicken that’s marinated in citrus, achiote paste, and bouillon powder, then charcoal-grilled.
Thanks to Australia’s eternal summer climate, it’s always time to throw another shrimp on the barbie. Popular barbecue dishes include lamb chops, beefsteaks, pork ribs, prawns, and sausages — and sometimes emu and kangaroo. Meats are dry-rubbed or marinated (often with a generous dollop of beer), then slow-grilled for maximum tenderness.
Japan’s popular yakiniku barbecue is inspired by Korean bulgogi and features bite-sized beef, ribs, or organ meats that are quick-grilled, then served with sweet and savory sauces that include garlic, soy, brown sugar, and ginger. Also popular are yakitori, skewered, charcoal-grilled chicken, and pork.
Locally known as moo kata (which means skillet pork), popular Thai barbecue dishes include beef, chicken, and pork, as well as liver, tripe, squid, tiger prawns, and crab legs. The meat is marinated and spiced with flavors like lemongrass, garlic, and peppers, grilled in a hot pot over burning charcoal, then served with sour/sweet-spicy dipping sauces made from soy, honey, or peanut butter, then heated up with Thai chili paste.
Like Brazil, Argentina is a major exporter of beef, which tops its list of favorite barbecue meats. Barbecue in Argentina is always grilled over wood at low temperatures, so it develops a tasty crust that locks in the juices. Sauces are simple, the most popular being chimichurri, made of red pepper, oregano, garlic, parsley, vinegar, and oil.
Filipino-style barbecue is famous for its signature dish — skewered pork, which is first marinated, then sliced thin and grilled over wood charcoal. The marinade is a sweet barbecue sauce made with dollops of soy sauce, lime or lemon soda, banana ketchup, and brown sugar, plus garlic, salt, and pepper. Be sure to do as the locals do, and dip your bamboo-skewered meat into a sauce full of special spicy vinegar.
Known as mangal, Turkish barbecue typically features chicken, mutton, beef, and various types of fish. These are marinated (sometimes in tomato paste and spices), then grilled over hot charcoal. One popular dish is Köfte, ground beef or lamb mixed with spices, eggs, and breadcrumbs and slow-grilled for extra flavor.
Indonesia puts its own spin on barbecue sauce, often including distinctive tastes like curry or lemongrass. One famous dish is pork satay, skewered pork that’s marinated, grilled, and served with sweet-sour soy or peanut sauce. Another favorite is ayam bakar, chicken that’s marinated in sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), cloves, ginger, cumin, and hot chilies before grilling.