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A Brief History of Smoking Meats

Smoking Fish - HistoricalThe practice of preserving meats in the sun has been done throughout history.  However, this method can result in spoiled or bug-infested meat. Spaniards discovered that people on the Caribbean islands were using small smoky fires to drive away insects and dry their meat.  This is the traditional origin of Barbecue as a method and even its name. The islanders called this process “barbacoa.”


As Europeans immigrated and Africans were brought to the Americas, pigs and cattle were imported becoming the main source of meat.   Hernando de Soto imported America’s first 13 pigs at Tampa Bay, Florida in 1539.  In three years the heard had grown to about 700. That number does not include those consumed by the Spanish, given to Native Americans, or which escaped into the wild.

Pork was favored in the South because pigs flourished in the climate and required very little maintenance.  Pork was preserved by smoking in pits and smoke houses, and by curing with spices, primarily salt and sugar.

It is believed that pit smoking for cooking and preserving pork has its origin in the Pacific islands. History shows that the Polynesians have used this method for thousands of years.  The Polynesians introduced pigs to the Hawaiian Islands. Meat was prepared by flattening it out before broiling it over hot coals, or it was spitted on sticks.  Larger pieces of meat and even entire carcasses of animals would be cooked in the ground over lava rocks heated with embers.  The meat would be wrapped in large leaves before being placed on the hot rocks and covered with earth.

Smoke HouseBecause slaves in the south and other low-income people tended to get only poor cuts of meat, they developed methods of slow cooking the meat at lower temperatures which both tenderized the meat and infused it with flavor. Additionally, like mentioned before, meat had to be either consumed quickly after slaughter or preserved with spices or by smoking.

In the present, cooking and serving methods have been regionally developed.   Four main areas can be identified but there are probably dozens of locations with their own specific variation.

Memphis: Pork BBQ, wet (covered with sauce after cooking) and dry (covered with custom mixtures of dry seasoning before smoking) ribs and pulled meat.  The primary choice of sauce has a tomato and vinegar base.

Texas: Beef, sliced brisket, ribs, and link sausage.  Texas sauce is usually sweet, tomato based with some spicy kick from medium to hot peppers.

Kansas City: Pork, beef and chicken.  Slow smoke-cooked with sauce added just before serving. Kansas City sauce is usually tomato based with molasses added for sweetness.

Carolinas: Pork – pulled or chopped.  Sauce styles vary throughout the Carolinas.  North Carolina tends to be vinegar based red sauce, while South Carolina has regions favoring a tomato based sauce and others choosing a tangy mustard based sauce.

Common to all regions is the process of slow cooking with smoke and low heat.


Smoked SalmonAncient Greeks, Romans, and even Native Americans enjoyed Smoked Salmon. During the middle ages smoked salmon reached a height in popularity on the European continent. Smoked salmon grew in popularity in America during the 1800s, first on the west coast. Salmon, which has been prepared by dry and wet brining, then cold smoked, is called Lox. This traditional method became so popular that all smoked salmon was often called Lox. As long distance transportation and commerce grew, Pacific smoked salmon was transported all over the United States.

After the World Wars, European immigrants brought their methods of smoking salmon to the eastern United States. Even with its west coast origin in America, the growth of European influence in the smoked salmon industry has resulted in Brooklyn, NY, becoming the primary fish-smoking city in the United States.

Smoked salmon is a mainstay of American cuisine, especially popular as breakfast and brunch entrees. Smoked salmon has always been a featured item at celebrations throughout history and remains a favorite option today.

Be sure to check out our Cooking Page for the basic instructions on smoking all types of foods and for recipes you will want to try.  You are also invited to submit recipes, suggestions and other comments on our Comments Page.