Grammar

Barbecue or Barbeque? What’s BBQ Stand For?

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What do you think about when you see the abbreviation BBQ? Before your mouth starts watering, let’s look at how to correctly spell out the word, just in case you ever need to know.

I was working on a church announcement video when one of the topics was an upcoming “BBQ Competition.” This particular contest happens to be happening next month in the Silicon Valley, not necessarily the first place one might assume such an event would happen.

The write-up I was given only listed “BBQ” in the title. But the design of the video required a longer word to be more visually appealing, so this left me with a problem: how do you actually spell out the abbreviation BBQ?

There seems to be a great deal of confusion over whether the correct choice is barbecue or barbeque.

Here in the south, I see it spelled quite often with a Q.

Wrong answer.

The American word is correctly spelled out without the Q. Its first use, according to Mirriam-Webster, dates back to 1690, and is traced back to the Spanish word barbacoa, which referred to the framework for supporting meat over a fire.

The confusion with the Q seems to come from two sources.

First, there’s a French phrase that’s very similar: barbe a queue, which means “whiskers-to-tail.”

Let’s forget that we ever knew that. It will only mix you. Even more confusing, I think, is the abbreviation. Using the Q leads people to believe the word must be spelled out that way.

So we have to think about how the last syllable is pronounced: like a cue.

This becomes important when you consider how que is pronounced in either French or Spanish. The French pronounce que as “kuh.” In Spanish, it’d be “kay.”

If you pronounced barbecue as “bar-buh-kuh” or “bar-buh-kay,” you’d get some strange looks. Remember that the last syllable is pronounced “cue” and you have the correct spelling of the last syllable of the word.

With the spelling issue solved, it’s worth pointing out that barbecue means different things to different people. In the deep south, it often refers to a specific kind of meat that has been grilled and then slathered in some sort of barbecue sauce. In college, I had a Geography professor who’d written a book about the different “zones” of barbecue sauce bases used in the southeast. Some prefer a mustard-based sauce (my favorite), while others prefer a tomato-based sauce and still others like theirs based with vinegar.

In much of the rest of the country, barbecue simply means grilling out. In the south, if we were just going to cook burgers over a grill, we’d call it a cookout, not a barbecue.

Such regionalizations make life that much more interesting, don’t they?

I hope you have plenty of chances for a tasty barbecue (or cookout), depending on your preference, this summer!

4 Comments

  1. Locally, I seek out some good Blues music at Fiery Ron’s Home Team BBQ. I checked…they spell it out correctly.

  2. At my nephew’s wedding in Asheville they had a barbecue with smoked pulled pork, beef brisket and chicken salad with corn bread and coleslaw. They slowed cooked the meat for 12 hours in a smoker and basted with a tomato-based barbecue sauce.
    Up here in CT we are like Cathryn and call anything cook on a grill outside barbecue. 
    With all this talk of barbecue, I put some country ribs in a slow cooker and covered it with a 1 cup of barbecue sauce, ½ cup of Bourbon and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar.

  3. Here in PA, a barbecue is a cookout -whether there is barbecue sauce involved or not! 🙂  
    Another confusion might arise if one is talking about a barbecue sandwich.  I’m not sure if it a regional thing or not, but a sloppy joe is called a hamburger barbecue sandwich around here.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.