Barbecue or Barbeque – What’s the Difference?

Marcus Froland

If you’re a fan of grilling outdoors, chances are you’ve encountered debates around the spelling of this beloved cooking style, specifically: is it “barbecue” or “barbeque”? While the two terms look and sound strikingly similar, their roots trace back to different origins and have different levels of acceptance.

In this article, we’ll explore the historical background of the term, its various spellings, and what influential sources like Merriam-Webster and have to say on the matter. So, grab your grilling tongs and read on to discover the ins and outs of this culinary debate that goes beyond just a matter of taste.

Unwrapping the Spelling Confusion: Barbecue vs Barbeque

It’s not an uncommon sight to see the terms “barbecue” and “barbeque” being used interchangeably, leaving most people to question which is the correct spelling. Both words refer to the same cooking style and food but differ by just one letter. In order to understand which one is more appropriate, let’s delve into their etymology and history.

“Barbecue” and “Barbeque” differ by just one letter, but have a significant impact on the way people perceive and utilize the terms in their daily lives.

The spelling “barbecue” has a stronger historical foundation, as it directly stems from the Spanish word, “barbacoa”. The term “barbacoa” originates from the indigenous people of the Caribbean and South America who cooked meat on raised platforms of sticks over an open fire. In contrast, “barbeque” has been adopted as an alternative, but less common, spelling.

Interestingly, the abbreviation “BBQ” might give the impression that “barbeque” would be the preferred spelling. However, “BBQ” is actually derived from the pronunciation of “barbecue” as “bahr-bi-kyoo” and is simply an accepted shorthand. It is comparable to abbreviations like “lbs” for pounds or “gr” for grams. This abbreviation is suitable for casual use, but it is not advisable for use in formal writing.

Term Origin Prevalence
Barbecue Derived from “barbacoa” More common and historically accurate
Barbeque Alternative spelling Less common
BBQ Abbreviation derived from pronunciation of “barbecue” Accepted for informal use
  1. Barbecue: Historically accurate, derived directly from “barbacoa.”
  2. Barbeque: Less common alternative spelling, sometimes preferred in informal contexts.
  3. BBQ: Shorthand abbreviation, suitable for informal use but not for formal writing.

Now that you’re informed about the nuances between “barbecue” and “barbeque,” you can make a conscious choice regarding which spelling to use. It’s crucial to remember that “barbecue” is the historically accurate and more common term, which makes it the better option when clarity and correctness are essential. Additionally, using “BBQ” as an abbreviation could make your text appear more informal and relatable. The choice ultimately depends on your specific context and audience.

The Historical Sizzle Behind Barbecue

The history of “barbecue” begins with the Spanish term “barbacoa,” which itself stems from an indigenous South American and Caribbean method of slow cooking meat over a fire, dating back to the late 1600s. This culinary tradition would later be adopted by Europeans and eventually evolve into the modern practice of barbecuing as we know it today.

From “Barbacoa” to Barbecue: Tracing the Origins

When the Spanish arrived in the Americas, they discovered a new, intriguing way of cooking meat over an open fire, known as barbacoa. Familiar only with traditional European cooking methods, this slow-cooking technique sparked their interest and was subsequently introduced to European culture.

Throughout the centuries, the term “barbacoa” transformed into what we now call “barbecue.” This change was influenced by various languages and cultures, but its original roots always remained firmly planted in the slow-cooking method that originated from indigenous South American and Caribbean communities.

How American Culture Grilled Up Different Spellings

As barbacoa made its way into early American culture, various spellings of “barbecue” emerged, such as “barbacue” and “borbecue.” Even George Washington documented the term as “barbicue” in his diary. Over time, “barbecue” and “barbeque” became the dominant spellings, influenced partly by the French “barbe à queue,” which describes the process of roasting an animal from whiskers to tail.

“Went into Alexandria to a Barbecue and stayed all Night.” – George Washington, diary entry, 1769

As the popularity of this cooking method spread throughout the United States, regional dialects and the evolving nature of the English language led to the adoption of different spellings. However, despite these variances, the core meaning of barbecue has always remained the same – the practice of slow cooking meat over an open flame.

The various spellings of barbec^

Barbeque or Barbecue: The Impact on Modern Language

The spelling “barbecue” remains widespread and officially accepted in modern English, prevalent in dictionaries and formal usage. On the other hand, “barbeque” has gained popularity, especially in informal contexts like restaurant menus and branding. In this section, we’ll delve into the factors contributing to the widespread use and acceptance of each spelling.

Over the years, the BBQ world has embraced various spellings and forms of the word, likely stemming from regional differences in pronunciation and spelling preferences. Barbecue remains the dominant form in written work, as well as general usage, while barbeque has found its place as an alternative variation.

“As the saying goes, ‘Language is a living thing,’ and spelling variations are part of the natural evolution.”

Let’s explore the impact of these spellings on different areas of life and communication.

  1. Formal writing and academic research: When it comes to official documents and academic work, the use of “barbecue” is preferred, owing to its historical origins and prevalence in dictionaries.
  2. Restaurant menus and branding: Many restaurants, BBQ joints, and caterers have opted to use “barbeque” as an alternative, eye-catching spelling, possibly for marketing purposes or to stand out from the competition.
  3. Culinary publications and cookbooks: Most publications stick to the formal spelling of “barbecue,” although the alternative forms may appear in some informal recipes or blog posts.

Differences in spelling, much like culinary preferences, are often a matter of regional variation and personal choice. While barbecue remains the standard form, the use of barbeque in specific contexts can still convey the intended meaning as long as it communicates the same concept effectively.

The Correct Spelling According to Dictionaries

The debate between “barbecue” and “barbeque” extends beyond regional preferences, and it comes up frequently in various writing contexts. Thankfully, two of the most renowned sources in the English language, Merriam-Webster and, provide guidance on this matter.

Merriam-Webster and Weigh In

Both and Merriam-Webster list “barbecue” as the primary and preferred spelling. In other words, the respective dictionaries regard “barbecue” as the standard spelling with the proper history, etymology, and usage. However, both dictionaries also acknowledge “barbeque” as a less common variant, which means that this spelling is not wrong per se, but it is less acceptable in formal contexts.

Merriam-Webster: “…’barbeque’ is a variant spelling of barbecue, but it occurs much less frequently.”

Dictionary Preferred Spelling Alternate Spelling Barbecue Barbeque
Merriam-Webster Barbecue Barbeque

Both dictionaries also mention alternative spellings such as “bar-b-que,” although this form is highly informal and not recommended for formal writing. The fact that these alternative spellings are acknowledged highlights the linguistic diversity and widespread acceptance of various forms in different contexts. Nevertheless, when it comes to formal writing and traditional use, “barbecue” remains the most suitable and advisable choice.

The Abbreviation Conundrum: Why BBQ?

It may seem perplexing how the abbreviation “BBQ” became related to both “barbecue” and “barbeque” as it doesn’t correspond directly to either of the two spellings. But, in reality, “BBQ” originates from the pronunciation of the word “barbecue” as “bahr-bi-kyoo.” The abbreviation has no direct connection to the less common “barbeque,” even though it can create some confusion.

The use of “BBQ” as shorthand for “barbecue” is akin to other abbreviation usages like “lbs” for “pounds.” It’s worth noting that such abbreviations are typically recommended for informal contexts rather than formal writing.

BBQ originates from the pronunciation of the word “barbecue” as “bahr-bi-kyoo” and is not directly related to the misspelled variant “barbeque.”

To better understand the different abbreviations and their common uses, let’s examine other examples:

Abbreviation Word Usage
BBQ Barbecue Informal contexts like menus, event invitations, and social media posts
lbs Pounds Weight measurements, often used on product labels, grocery stores, and gym talk
ft Feet Measurement of length, used in construction, sports, and personal height
mi Miles Distance measurement, used on road signs, maps, and GPS devices

Overall, the use of “BBQ” as an abbreviation is not directly influenced by the variant spelling “barbeque.” Rather, it has emerged from the phonetic pronunciation of “barbecue” and is primarily suited for informal settings. So, the next time you come across “BBQ,” you’ll know that it is not related to any particular spelling but simply a convenient abbreviation.

Culinary World’s Take on the Barbecue Terminology

In the world of barbecue, different regions have their own local traditions, including variations in spelling and pronunciation of the term. Regional BBQ societies such as those in North Carolina and South Carolina showcase these differences, reflecting the lively debate around the “correct” form. This controversy is similar to the pronunciation differences in terms like “pecan.” Let’s take a closer look at these variations in regional BBQ societies.

Variations in Regional BBQ Societies

Regional BBQ societies work to promote the unique barbecue styles of their areas. They often showcase their expertise through local competitions, festivals, and fairs. With each event, these societies foster a sense of community and camaraderie among barbecue enthusiasts. Despite sharing a passion for the art of barbecue, these societies are known to have differing preferences in how they spell the term itself.

Region Spelling Preference Barbecue Style
North Carolina Barbecue Pulled pork with vinegar-based sauce
South Carolina Barbeque Mustard-based sauce on a variety of meats
Texas Barbecue Smoked beef brisket
Kansas City Barbecue Sweet and tangy sauce on a variety of meats

As the table demonstrates, spelling preferences are just as diverse as the unique barbecue styles they represent. From North Carolina’s “barbecue” with a vinegar-based sauce to South Carolina’s “barbeque” featuring a mustard-based sauce, these variations showcase the importance of regional influences not only in spelling, but also in flavor.

Choosing the Right Word for Your BBQ Experience

As you plan your next BBQ event or draft an article on the topic, it’s essential to select the appropriate spelling to convey your message. While both “barbecue” and “barbeque” are prevalent, they have distinct implications in terms of formality and accuracy.

For formal writing and traditional usage, opt for “barbecue” – the more accurate and widely-accepted form. This spelling is based on the historical term “barbacoa” and aligns with dictionary definitions from leading sources like Merriam-Webster and Although “barbeque” has gained traction, particularly in casual food settings and on menus, it is advisable to stick with “barbecue” when clarity and correctness are crucial.

Ultimately, the choice between “barbecue” and “barbeque” depends on personal preference and context. Familiarize yourself with the history behind the terms and regional variations in culinary circles to make a well-informed decision for your BBQ adventure. By doing so, you can confidently navigate the BBQ world and satisfy your audience’s discerning palate.