Why Picnics are the Best for Summer Barbecues

Written by D'Anne Hotchkiss

June 11, 2024

…. INati

Why Picnics are the Best for Summer Barbecues

For me, the Memorial Day weekend marks more than the unofficial beginning of summer. It’s also the kick-off for summer barbecues, often eaten as part of picnic gatherings.

Barbecue holds a position of honor in American culinary traditions and is a quintessential part of American culture. Barbecue is probably second only to apple pie as Americans’ favorite gastronomical treat.

There are as many ways to make barbecue as there are people who make it. You probably have your favorite combination of type of meat and cut, cooking method, wood for smoking, and spices. 

In our family, we grew up eating Memphis-style barbecued pork. We echo that distinctive regional style with our Memphis BBQ pecans. Their down-home taste comes from slow-roasting and then finishing with a dry rub of 8 spices, plus brown sugar to sweeten.

While technically our Memphis BBQ pecans are vegan, made without dairy or meat products, we did not set out to make a vegan snack. Our intention was to make a barbecue-seasoned pecan that lets the flavor of the pecans shine through, combined with a traditional barbecue taste. But, unlike highly processed snack foods, our Memphis BBQ pecans are minimally processed and made with only as much sugar and salt as necessary to achieve the right taste. That means you get a healthful snack, naturally full of nutrients and fiber. (Fun fact: we tried to use no salt at all. But it wasn’t until we added salt that the combination of spices gelled to create a barbecue taste.)


A Short History of American Barbecue

Whether you spell it barbecue, bar-be-que, or just BBQ, people have been barbecuing meats for hundreds and hundreds of years. In America, we owe our unique form of barbecue to both Native Americans and enslaved Africans.

“The history of BBQ is intertwined with the history of American slavery,” says Adrian Miller, author of “Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue. Enslaved Africans combined their own cooking styles and flavors with local ingredients.

Likewise, Native Americans introduced colonists to the side dishes in a typical American barbecue meal, such as corn and beans.  They also shared their spices and chilies that we still use to flavor barbecued meat. “You can’t really tell the story of American food without including the Indigenous perspective,” says chef Sean Sherman, founder of Minnesota-based The Sioux Chef.

Side note: Pecan wood can be used to give a milder, sweeter taste to the smoked meat. For several years I purchased bags of small pecan wood chunks at my local farmers’ market and used them in my grill. For more on the history of barbecue, I found this article.


Summer Barbecues and Picnics

My fondest memories of enjoying fine barbecue almost always include a picnic setting. We have an innate need to create memorable experiences through shared meals such as a leisurely picnic on a weekend afternoon. For us, it was usually barbecued pork ribs or hamburgers cooked over an outdoor grill and dressed in a sweet and spicy sauce.

Since early America, picnics have been a reason for families to leave their homes and embrace nature while enjoying good food and company. The word picnic itself is a combination of two French words, the verb piquer (pronounced pea-kay) and the noun nique (pronounced neek). It refers to any social gathering where people eat. According to the Trésor de la langue française, an extensive dictionary of 19th– and 20th-century French, the term dates to 1694.

Here’s another French connection. The consensus is that the word pecan comes from the French word pacane. It, in turn, came from an Algonquian Native American word for nuts requiring a rock to crack.

Today, picnics continue to be a beloved leisure activity. They’re cherished for their ability to bring people together and celebrate the joy of outdoor dining. No pleasure is simpler than an outdoor meal with friends or family. Dining al fresco evokes a feeling of leisure shared with good company, a marked change from our typical hurried routines. Picnics issue their own invitation to gather with loved ones, slow down, converse on a deeper level, savor the moment, and indulge in a sumptuous feast.

Plan a Summer Barbecue Picnic

If you haven’t had a picnic yet this summer, you still have plenty of weekends ahead of you. And don’t forget, Independence Day, summer’s midpoint, will be here in just a few weeks. Before Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, I’m sure you can squeeze in one or two picnics. If you do, you’ll create memories for you and your family that will last a lifetime.

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